Thailand to start flying tourists to islands by seaplane and right to the hotel's doorsteps

In this file photo taken on Nov 1, 2021, tourists walk on a beach on the Thai island of Phuket. - AFP

BANGKOK, March 11 (dpa): Seaplanes are rather exotic in Thailand. After the pandemic, however, the kingdom wants to focus more on quality tourism and new attractions. Landing in the sea directly in front of a hotel is one of them.

Part of Thailand's allure as a holiday destination is its hundreds of beautiful islands. But the smaller ones in particular are difficult to reach from the mainland, often requiring several stop-overs and ferry rides.

Starting this year, Thailand has come up with a solution to this problem: seaplanes.

Dennis Keller, who co-founded the company Siam Seaplane in 2019, plans to fly people to world-famous destinations in the Gulf of Thailand, using planes that are able to take off and land on land and water.

They are to depart from one of Bangkok's two airports and land at Ko Tao or Ko Kood in the turquoise sea. Tourists then only need a couple of minutes to reach the shore by boat.

"But don't worry: we'll land far enough away from the coast so that the holiday guests on land won't be disturbed by noise," says Keller, who handles finance and marketing as chief business officer.

Seaplanes, though widely used in other remote areas worldwide from the Maldives to Alaska, are not yet available in Thailand.

But Keller expects the new service will be able to run in 2022, after delays due to the pandemic.

The Cessna Caravan amphibious seaplanes will fly directly to Jomtien near the seaside resort of Pattaya, to the seaside resort of Hua Hin and to the Samui archipelago, among other spots.

Later, he's planning a hub on the largest island of Phuket to expand the route network onwards from there.

The planes take trips of an hour and a half at most, for reasons of comfort as well as economy. So far, the longest connection is from Bangkok to Ko Samui.

One factor hindering longer journeys is that there are no toilets on board for the maximum of eight passengers.

On the plus side, seaplanes fly much lower than other planes, so you have an amazing view, says Keller, who also has a pilot's licence. That means sightseeing is part of the package. "For the guests, it almost feels as if they are travelling in a private jet."

Tickets are due to cost between 5,000 and 15,000 baht ($140 to $450), depending on the destination. People will be able to book online, using an app or from their hotels.

There is also to be the option of chartering the whole plane, which is cheaper for a larger group than buying individual tickets, says Keller.

He founded Siam Seaplane in October 2019 with two French aviation experts, just before the pandemic broke out. "For us, it turned out to be a great opportunity in the end," he says.

Keller, a German from Baden-Baden who studied in Utrecht and London, says the coronavirus caused Thailand's tourism to collapse completely, before it became one of the first long-haul destinations to open up to international visitors again.

"The government authorities saw that they had to do something differently after the pandemic, and Thailand had to distinguish itself from neighbouring countries in order to revive tourism," says Keller.

In the future, Thailand wants to focus more on quality tourism rather than mass tourism, the authorities say. Siam Seaplane is already an integral part of this recovery plan, according to tourism authority chief Yuthasak Supasorn. - dpa

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