Update: Moving out of Covid it is important to book the best tour possible to experience life again as was intended before the events of 2020 struck. Keep reading as we explain why higher price tours does not necessarily spell bad news.

This is one of the most common questions we are asked!

For the holidaying tourist, boat trips can be one of the most financially driven decisions made when visiting some of the best Islands in Thailand. In an increasingly competitive marketplace there have been an growing number of tours marketed as a ‘Sunset Boat Tour’ at different price points and understandable this can cause confusion amongst holiday makers.

boat trip with snorkeling

Here we try give you an unbiased view of the tour boat adventure market in Phuket, and explain what to look out for in helping you make up your mind which company is right for you.

Of course we understand Simba’s pricing won’t be suitable for every budget but we do think it is important to shed a little light on what drives the cost of providing a tour and in turn how these factors can and will impact upon the price of a tour. There is a reason why people ask the question “why are yachts so expensive to hire” when they go to book a tour in some cases.

Think of the following as a bit of a checklist to help guide your choice and please remember that the old adage ‘you get what you paid for’ has no more suitable application that the Phuket Motor Yachts market!

Broadly speaking there are 3 quality tiers in Phuket

  • Budget (under 2,000 baht per adult): 40 – 45 passengers per boat; limited program; very limited on-board catering; potential for hidden costs; heavy reliance on supplement income sources.
  • Mid-Market (2,500 to 3,500 baht per adult): 30 to 35 passengers; deeper tour program; improved on-board catering; limited hidden costs; reliance on supplement income sources.
  • Premium / Private Boat (4,000 per adult plus); 15 – 19 passengers per boat; detailed and carefully managed tour program; strong on-board catering; no hidden costs; significant emphasis on boat quality and safety standards

It will probably come as little surprise to most readers that the single biggest determinant of the price of boat trips is the passenger load per boat. Put simply, costs per passenger can fall dramatically when a boat regularly carries 40+ passengers versus a solid commitment to carry under 18. Compounding this issue is the fact many core running costs (fuel, boat replacement cost, parts replacement, crew) are very similar between a 16 person 2-engine boat, such as a Sealine sc35, and a 45 person 3-engine boat.

Image display four speed boats in Phi Phi Island

As a result, the decision to adhere to maintaining a high quality of experience through guaranteed limits on passenger loads must come at a cost and accordingly the tour price is somewhat higher to ensure operations do not run at a loss.

Notwithstanding the higher cost small group bring some significant advantages for those looking to maximise experience with a private charter boat tour:

  • Much improved ability for the crew to monitor passengers whilst in the water
  • Ample space in the boat to relax whilst transiting

Most importantly, however, is the vastly reduced boarding time required when managing boat trips with a small group versus a large group. This factor is often over-looked but in critical in 2 circumstances – (1) maximising snorkelling time (i.e. waiting for 40 people of have snorkel masks and fins fitted can be a LONG time) and (2) the speed in which you can get people off the boat should an emergency arise. Seems obvious right?

Pursuing the safety theme further it would be remiss to not touch on the commitment to maintain a quality boat safety and maintenance program. In recent times safety has emerged as the number one driver behind reputation (should it ever not be??) and the operators at the upper end of the market understand this well. However implementing boat safety and maintenance programs are not cheap and there needs to be sufficient profit margin to ensure money can be allocated. Without a doubt a high quality maintenance program can run into millions of baht per year and our experience at Simba has necessitated an expense reserve per passenger of over 300 baht! We are still trying to figure out how a 2000 baht per adult Phi Phi operator can ever hope to fund a similar commitment to boat quality and safety.

Another less obvious impact on the ‘before’ and ‘after is of course the standard of transfers employed. Lower cost boat trips usually necessitate the use of a crowded van with 5 or 6 stops and this may require a journey of 75 minutes + each way versus 35 minutes with only 2 or 3 stops. For some people this will be important.

The use of supplemental income sources is very common across the entire market and indeed we are only aware of 2 operators that don’t rely on such techniques. These income sources will often take the form of picture / DVD packages, additional beverage spend, sun chair hire and water sports (usually jet skis). In aggregate these additional revenues can be very attractive to a tour operator and indeed may help subsidise the cost of the tour.

Yes – a good thing and of course it is very easy for the individual to simply choose to not ‘upsize’ the tour cost. But….it can be become a problem if the tour program is compromised or reduced in depth to allow the operator to dump customers in a ‘shopping’ location in order to earn undisclosed commissions. Koh Khai (halfway to Phi Phi) and Naka Noi (Phang Nga Bay) are great examples of ‘honey pots’ for the unsuspecting tourist!

Finally – a few words on hidden costs. When comparing tour programs and costs make sure it is clear what costs are included in the published rate. Some pointers:

  • National Park fees: will range between 300 and 400 baht per adult
  • Snorkelling equipment: does a rental fee get charged and what is the policy in the event you lose the mask or fins?

So there you have it – a few pointers as to why the cost boat trips can vary greatly. Quality of experience (and this includes safety) is the constant underlying factor behind the cost of a tour. Many of you travel a considerable distance to come to Phuket so make the most of the trip. As we like to advise spend as much as your budget allows and all the best with whoever you chose to travel with.