With a new report predicting one million visitors for Khao Lak this year, the destination has undergone a huge transformation, following the dark days of the Asian Tsunami in 2004.
In the year following the tsunami, hotel guest arrivals in Phang Nga Province fell sharply to under 300,000 for the entire year, but in a remarkable sustained upswing, the number pushed upwards to 962,020 at the end of 2015 and is expected to break the one million mark this year.
Key drivers, according to the report by hotel consultancy C9 Hotelworks, are rising Chinese and Australian visitors, adding to the European guests that still dominate the market with 80% of arrivals, resulting in a new surge of hotel development.
Khao Lak’s hotel market has 104 registered accommodation units with 7,822 keys, compared to its neighbour Phuket, whose total supply is close to 50,000 rooms. However, over the past five years the destination has seen a compounded annual growth rate of 16%, a rising performance not gone unnoticed by both Thai and foreign hotel developers, with 1,213 new rooms coming into the supply pipeline.
C9 Hotelworks’ managing director Bill Barnett said: “The upward cycle in tourism is highlighted by the planned return of Bill Heinecke’s Minor Hotel Group and more international brands coming on stage such as IHG’s Holiday Inn brand.
“Geographically within Khao Lak we are seeing the push north for the newest and larger resorts with Bangsak in particular seeing a number of large-scale properties.”
“Snowbirds or winter visitors from European countries, especially German-speaking nationalities, have traditionally been the legacy market. These were in fact the main drivers of the destination in the period after the Tsunami. However, by 2006 foreign visitors eclipsed domestic demand for the first time and the trend has grown ever since.”
“Over the past few years Khao Lak has attached itself to Phuket’s fast rising airlift and China and Australia in particular, with strong arrivals in the traditionally lean summer months, driving the growth and market maturity as it becomes a year-round market as opposed to the disruptive seasonality it used to be known for.”
Barnett added: “Khao Lak has been able to attract an increasing number of visitors from nearby Phuket who have destination fatigue and are disconnected by the wide-spread urbanized of the island’s resort atmosphere. Though the destination is firmly connected to the bigger Greater Phuket infrastructure including the soon to open expanded airport, in the long-term Phang Nga will have to develop its own gateway airport in order to control its own tourism destiny.