The truth is that nobody really knows how many people visit Koh Phangan or how many attend the monthly Full Moon Party. In the case of the latter they can look at the number of ferries entering Koh Phangan waters just before the party and guessimate how full the boats were. Koh Samui with its airport has a better handle on the slippery business of calculating visitor numbers. You would expect a bit more transparency from a sector of the Thai economy that is now supposedly worth 10% of Thailand’s GDP.
In Koh Samui (from http://www.kohsamuisunset.com/koh-samui-tourism-statistics/) visitors arriving at the airport from January to June 2013 was 490,572. In 2014 the same statistic had dropped to 487,899. But that is just the airport figures. Many backpackers (and those with wheelie suitcases but less cash) still arrive on Koh Samui by boat.
Koh Samui is more developed than Koh Phangan and has more 5 star resorts. It also has a strong presence in the tour group market. So it is safe to assume Koh Phangan has less tourists over the same period.
Part of the strategy with tourism in Thailand is to accentuate the positive and completely over-look the negative. This approach is epitomised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). They are always upbeat even in the wake of bad press such as terrorist attacks, tourist murders and tourist related attacks. TAT claims in the first quarter of 2017 visitor numbers to the Kingdom were 9,194,057, up 1.72% on the same quarter in 2016 (http://www.thaiwebsites.com/tourism.asp).
So, in short we cannot find any quality statistical evidence on Koh Phangan visitor numbers. As far as room capacity goes Trip Advisor shows the steady year by year increase in hotels has halted around the 90 mark. In 2017 it stands at 92.
Thus, we have to use anecdotal evidence and make extrapolations. TAT figures show the rise of Chinese and Asian tourists to the Kingdom. Russian numbers have dropped over recent years due to the falling value of the Rouble.
As we all know Chinese tourists mostly come in tour groups and head to large and established tourist centres such as Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui. I have never seen a Chinese tour group at the Full Moon Party or doing the bars in Haad Rin. Those running the Chinese tour groups don’t see the logistical sense of taking Chinese nationals to Koh Phangan when they can bus people directly from Bangkok to a large mid-range hotel in Pattaya that will heavily discount room prices.
Traditionally the Koh Phangan tourist scene has been dominated by Europeans and especially British people. Over the last year UK visitors to Thailand halved from 800,000 to 400,000.
The evidence on the ground suggests that the mid-range room sector is haemorrhaging guests. Families from Europe staying in mid-range accommodation on the island are dropping. Hence the growing number of hotels on Agoda that have taken large swathes of accommodation off online booking. They seek to re-coup money by avoiding online travel agent fees.
In contrast the high end resorts in Thong Nai Pan (Rasanada, Santhiya, Panviman and Buri Rasa) still have high occupancy levels.
Clearly the high end tourists who can afford $1,000 a night accommodation are still coming to Koh Phangan. Whereas, those on more modest incomes are coming in smaller numbers. No surprise since the British Pound is now worth less than the Euro. Wages in real terms have fallen year on year in the UK thanks to government austerity measures. Moreover, Brexit has left a lot of UK families in a great deal of financial insecurity. Consumer spending is down in the UK. Simply put for many that promised trip to Koh Phangan is a luxury that has been put on hold.
At the same time the lure of the Full Moon Party is waning. Despite charging an entrance fee and supposedly having better medical resources and money to clean the beach the party really hasn’t got any better. As with all trendy things, the next trendy thing is always around the corner to steal the attention and cash of the young. Expect the FMP to become less and less a bucket list item for the young.
If only Koh Phangan was a Hollywood franchise that could be re-booted like Star Wars and Star Trek. For me, I would like the $3 wooden bungalows without toilets back. I would like empty beaches and locals ready to hang out with tourists rather than fleece tourists. I would like guitars on the veranda to replace DJs on computers.
If only the world could forget Koh Phangan and so it could return to its relaxed, informal old self.