Interview with Dieter Ruckenbauer, General Manager, Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui
Please update us on the situation regarding tourist arrivals in Koh Samui, especially health checks and other requirements.
he island community is very happy to see that domestic flights from Bangkok have commenced again starting the beginning of September while we also see arrivals with regards to the “Samui Plus” in cooperation with the “Phuket Sandbox” initiatives. Nevertheless, air-travel from Bangkok to Samui will remain key. It is important to point out that current situation is very fluent and guidelines as indicated below may change.
• Tourists should come from a country on the approved list and must be stayed there at least 21 days prior to departure.
• Been fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by Thai FDA/Thai Ministry of Public Health/WHO for at least 14 days and has a valid Vaccine Certificate.
• Children under 18 are not required to be vaccinated if traveling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians.
• All must possess the result of a COVID-19 RT-PCR test within 72 hours and medical insurance with minimum coverage of at least USD 100,000.
• A certificate of Entry (COE) is required. Reference link for Samui Plus Model https://www.tatnews.org/2021/07/samui-plus-faqs
• Tourists will be transferred from the airport to the pre-booked Samui Extra Plus hotel.
• The first Covid-19 test will be performed and tourists will need to wait for the negative test result in the hotel room before getting out of the room.
• After getting a negative result of the first COVID-19 test, allow leaving the hotel room for designated areas in the Samui Extra Plus hotel only.
• Tourists can leave their hotel and travel within designated routes and on tour programs on Koh Samui only.
• Travelers need to undergo the second COVID-19 test on Day 6 or 7.
• If the second test is negative, tourists can travel freely in Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, or Koh Tao and stay at Vana Belle Koh Samui (SHA+ Certified Hotel)
• The third COVID-19 test needs to be performed on Day 12 or 13.
• If the result of the third COVID-19 test is negative, tourists can go anywhere in Thailand.
Although frequent updates or changes domestic tourist arrival requirements include Negative PCR or Antigen test no less than 72 hours prior to arrival and either two full doses of an approved vaccine alternatively 1 dose of Astra Zeneca at least 7 days prior to arrival as well as registration through Samui Health Pass via QR Code.
Clearly it will be a long time before anyone can say the island is back to normal, but what is expected of Koh Samui in the second half of 2022 and beyond?
Koh Samui will start seeing gradual recovery post pandemic from the second half of 2022, and will remerge as upscale most favourite tourist destination in Thailand for international and domestic tourists. However the recovery will be slow.
What overseas markets are likely to return to the island first?
Prior to COVID 19 outbreak, top international geographical source markets for Koh Samui were Germany, Mainland China, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Italy and the Nordic Countries. Considering ongoing country specific restrictions on outbound travel, Mainland China and Australia markets will take longer time to return to the island. We anticipate
a surge in Russian travellers after Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) approved Russian Sputnik vaccine.
How important is the domestic/Thai market going forward?
First and foremost, we would like to thank all domestic travellers for their support in past months. Koh Samui always relied heavily on international visitors while domestic market traditionally contributed to 16% of total visitors to the island. As we are evolving to new normal, Koh Samui market will take longer period to recover to the 2019 level of international tourist arrivals compared to other Thailand destinations. Hence it is imperative to focus and grow domestic market demand for Samui. To boost domestic demand, government has to further develop infrastructure which shall grant easy connectivity to island by road and thereby reducing dependence on air connectivity.
Are you working closely with Bangkok Airways (or any other airline) to offer special air fares?
Yes, Bangkok Airways is our key business partner. As we are a member of the flyer bonus program, travelers enjoy great rewards in exchange of points in order to enjoy our service and the luxury resort.
Tell us what guests can expect at Vana Belle?
The Vana Belle family delivers authentic cultural experiences of a lifetime. As a 100% pool suite and pool villa 5-star luxury resort, we significantly differentiate ourselves from the 7,000 plus Marriott International properties around the world, as there is only one Vana Belle around the globe. While we are still considered as the hidden gem within the domestic and international market, the Marriott Bonvoy community already recognized Vana Belle for its butlers. Vana Belle butlers create an unique, highly personalized and anticipatory experience.
Guests are provided with meaningful connections to the destination, discover unique indigenous experiences, learn and collect memories of a life time. All of this in a luxurious setting with a hardware in perfect condition and the outmost safe environment as heightened cleaning protocols are in place in line with Marriott’s Commitment to Clean Program alongside governments local safety measures. Vana Belle has also been awarded a SHA+ certificate with all front of house associates being vaccinated.
Congratulations on winning an Excellence Award in four categories of the 2021 Haute Grandeur Global Hotel Awards. As the awards are based on quality feedback from guests, what was your strategy to win their approval?
The real strength of Vana Belle is the culture of its associates – ‘The Vana Belle Family’. We put people first at Vana Belle. We believe that in order to be successful in that what we do we have to take good care of our associates in order to create memories of a lifetime for them, too. The resort provides competitive benefits, efficient individualized training, coaching and focuses on career development. Our canteen offers healthy, wholesome meals, accompanied by our ‘Take Care Activities’ that focus on body – mind and soul and the resorts sustainability approach.
It starts from back of house and runs like a golden thread through all departments. Working for Vana Belle gets you on transformative journeys that touch your spirits and enrich your lives. Our final product is evaluated by the voice of our honorable guests. The local, regional and global award recognitions proof this foundation as the Vana Belle family is here to create memories of a lifetime.
Are you back to full strength in terms of staff?
As a family, you support each other in good times and in bad - no difference. It comes without saying that last months have been more than difficult for all of us, but we stayed true to our Vana Belle family culture to put people first and take care of each other. We have not laid off any of our associates.
In your own words, what makes Koh Samui a special destination?
Koh Samui is one of the most popular and thethird largest island in Thailand after Phuket and Koh Chang. It is the most significant island in Chumphon Archipelago situated in Gulf of Thailand, apart from Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and the islands of Mu Ko Chumphon National Park. Samui is a favorite destination for upmarket travelers from around the world, considered as the perfect hub to the best diving places in the world.
This beautiful island is famed for breath taking oramic views, pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, dense forests with stunning waterfalls, impressive temples including the very famous landmark the Big Buddha temple. For beach lovers it is important to point out one of the island’s best kept secrets located in the east of the island “Chaweng Noi-beach”. This stretch is considered to be one of the finest beaches in South East Asia with the most amazing sunrise.