Caught in New Virus Fear, Koh Samet is Empty of Tourists Again

The empty Na Dan Pier at Koh Samet on July 15, 2020.

KOH SAMET — The popular tourist island of Koh Samet saw a sharp drop in visitors after news broke that a coronavirus-infected Egyptian visited public spaces on the mainland, business operators said. 

Despite its distance from Rayong city where the Egyptian airman wandered, about 30 kilometers away, hotels witnessed massive cancellations in the wake of the incident, which threatened to upset the long awaited return of tourism to the island. 

“On Samet we were so strict with social distancing measures,” Rungrojtawee Popet, operator of a seaside bar Talay Bar on Koh Samet, said by phone Wednesday. “But one person destroyed the entire province.”

Rungrojtawee, 38, said he’s lost more than a million baht in operational costs after Koh Samet was closed from visitors on March 25 amid the coronavirus outbreak. Hotels and restaurants only reopened July 1. 

He estimated that as much as 30 percent of hotels and restaurants went out of business for good during the 98-day closure. 

 “Everyone lost trust in coming here,” Rungrojtawee said. ”We’re so far offshore and not actually a risky area, because the Egyptian did not come here.”

One tourist walks on Sai Kaew Beach on July 15, 2020.

Media reports say many travelers also cancelled their reservation in the entire province of Rayong following the foul up at the Egyptian’s hotel quarantine. 

Sirinthip Tappamongkolsup, president of the Koh Samet tourism association, lamented that it was government officials who neglected to maintain proper quarantine procedures, and the private sector now has to bear the consequences. 

“The government let their guard down, even though citizens like us were fully on guard,” he said. “Tourism operators waited for months to reopen. We haven’t even been reopened for a month before everything went to heck,” Sirinthip said. 

Sirinthip said hotels tried to explain to customers that the infection happened on the mainland, to no avail.

“Everyone is struggling and lacking income because the government was sloppy and gave privileges to foreigners, resulting in disaster,” Sirinthip said. “Who will take responsibility for this?”

A survey by Khaosod English found that four and five-star resorts on the island, such as Paradee Resort and Sai Kaew Beach resort, suffered from fewer cancellations than cheaper hotels or homestays. Receptionists who refused to give their names at these two resorts said they had only a few cancellations.

A tourist sits on Sai Kaew Beach on July 15, 2020.

It’s a different story for local businesses, like Runa Runa Guesthouse, which says about 80 percent of their bookings were cancelled over the weekend. As soon as the sole guest at the two-star hotel I-Talay Zone Sea leaves within Wednesday, the 16-room resort will be completely empty.

“Almost 100 percent of my guests are gone. People are panicking and cancelling,” owner of I-Talay Phanthira Maksomboon said by phone Wednesday.

“We lost so much money since we closed for 98 days. When we opened July 1 we were able to breathe a bit with 10 days of tourists. Now everything is dark,” Phanthira, 46, said. “If a second wave ripples out from Rayong, Samet will be completely destroyed. I don’t know what to do.” 

Wichian Aunjuntaloon, the owner and sole proprietor of the currently-empty two-room, low-priced Yellow House guesthouse says he’s lost around 400,000 baht since opening earlier this year. 

Wichian said he had to apply for the 5,000 baht government cash handout to survive. 

“The entire island tried so hard to build our reputation,” he said. “The government must find a way to help. All the islanders are affected and it’s the government’s fault.” 

Sai Kaew Beach on July 15, 2020.