A slice of Thai paradise all to yourself  

A slice of Thai paradise all to yourself

Recent airport demonstrations combined with the economic downturn mean that usually packed resorts are relatively deserted and there are deals to be found

Ko Samui beach, Thailand

Pick your spot ... Koh Samui beach. Photograph: Jon Arnold/JAI/Corbis

In mid-December, I was standing on a white sandy beach on the Thai island of Koh Samui, getting ready to take a dip in the crystal-clear sea. The deepest blue sky and gently swaying palms provided the exotic backdrop to a perfect day, but not everything was as it should be. The beach was empty.

"We had a very slow December," said Craig Douglas, the general manager of Sala Samui which, located on Samui's Choeng Mon beach, is the kind of luxury villa resort that Thailand has become famous for and which, at this time of year, would normally be packed. "Occupancy picked up over Christmas and New Year but forward bookings aren't looking so great. We're putting together some special offers and should get through OK, but there has definitely been a downturn."

The effect of the 10-day occupation that hit Bangkok's two main airports from late-November to early-December is now slowly filtering through the entire circulatory system of the Thai tourist industry. For each empty luxury villa, the knock-on is a cleaner laid-off and a farmer who can't sell his produce. The reality on the ground for the hundreds and thousands of Thais who work in the nation's huge tourist sector is stark with some analysts, such as Global Travel Industry News, predicting that up to one million Thai tourist industry workers could lose their jobs due to the combined effects of the deep global recession and the airport occupations. Only time will tell if the grimmest predictions come true but the immediate consequences have been serious.

While the airport occupation was in full swing, I was visiting the popular capital of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, and the direct results of the kingdom's political upheavals were immediately apparent. Reliant almost entirely on connecting flights from Bangkok, the normally bustling streets were empty, and you could almost sense the fear. "Because of the wider economic downturn, we've just had one of the quietest low-seasons on record," said David Unkovich, an Australian ex-pat who has worked in Chiang Mai's tourist sector for 25 years. "To follow that with a high-season like this will put a lot of people out of business." The tuk-tuk drivers I spoke to voiced similar fears: "No tourists come here, many people lose their jobs," said one; while the Thai concierge at one of Chiang Mai's top hotels told me that occupancy rates were lower than for a bad day in the quietest part of the year. "Only about 15% of our rooms have guests," he said. "It's terrible."

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/jan/06/thailand-winter-sun-deals

 

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