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Paradise Lost or Found? The Shifting Sands of Thailand’s Koh Kut Tourism and the Surprising Rise of Koh Mak!

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With a startling 50% decrease in European tourists arriving in the picturesque Koh Kut district in Trat, the sparkles of this beach paradise seem to have slightly dimmed down this year. As someone who not only governs the district but also runs a highly acclaimed resort on the island, the chairman of the Koh Kut administrative organisation has firsthand experience and data on this unforeseen shift. Just last year, a contingent of 160,000 to 170,000 tourists filled the bustling resorts, gastropubs, and scenic parks of the district, pumping hundreds of millions of baht into the inimitable Trat economy. The district, famous for the breathtaking islands of Koh Kut and Koh Mak, was a magnet for travel enthusiasts the world over.

The clouds seemed to part when a significant resurgence in tourism numbers was seen this year. The year brought a promising figure of almost 100,000 visitors, a record in this tumultuous era of the Covid-19 pandemic. This revitalisation of the local tourism industry was majorly possible due to the easing of travel restrictions allowing tourers from mainland to visit these jewels of the Trat coast. However, this was still clouded by a remarkable drop in the count of foreign tourists, particularly from Europe, which could still be felt despite the surge in domestic tourism.

The dip was significantly harsh during October, a month that typically sees an influx of enthusiasts ready to explore the pristine beaches and indulge in an array of exciting water sports. The hospitality industry was hugely hit due to this downturn, with establishments ranging from local restaurants to exotic vehicle rental services feeling the brunt. The chairman indicates this could be due to several prevailing global issues, such as the intensified conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the recent unsettling event at a Bangkok mall, and heightened tensions in the Middle East.

It is a known fact that foreign tourists typically outdo domestic ones in terms of numbers in Trat during the colder seasons, while Thai tourists are seen flocking to the cooler northern regions. However, the situation is expected to take a turn for the better with an expected rise in temperatures and consequent rise in domestic tourism in December.

The chairman is of the opion that the Srettha Thavisin government could learn from the Prayut administration’s approach to tourism promotion, emphasizing the need to offer more than the current visa exemption policy to attract tourists, as reported by Bangkok Post. In stark contrast, however, the neighboring island of Koh Mak reported an impressive 20% boost in tourist arrivals, according to the chairman of Koh Mak TAO.

This commendable rise in Koh Mak’s popularity could be attributed to the recent honors received by the island. The island was chose to feature amongst the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories 2022 by the Green Destinations Foundation and its partners. Adding another feather to its cap, it bagged the second place in the category of Governance, Reset & Recovery at the Green Destinations Story Awards at the grand ITB Berlin 2023 in Germany, following closely to the famed Normandy in France.

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