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Monday, 1 October 2007

News from Koh Samui for October

Statistics issued by the Association of Thai Travel Agents indicate a sharp drop in foreign tourist arrivals through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport for the first eight months of this year. This may not be indicative of tourist arrivals overall as the figures do not include international arrivals into Koh Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. What is interesting about the figures is that the main fall in numbers is from Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea, the suggestion being that tourists from these countries are saving for the Olympic Games in China in 2008 which is an interesting concept to consider in relation to what will happen to tourism in Thailand next year. Major sporting events around the world are now so popular and well attended that they do appear to have an effect on the tourism of other destinations – sometimes positively. If I think back to the Rugby World Cup in 2003 which was held in Australia, there was no doubt that Samui and probably Thailand benefited as people travelled through and stopped over on their way there and back. Some even stayed here for the whole tournament as the television timing was friendlier than in Europe and it was considerably cheaper than going on to Australia. The Soccer World Cup in 2006 had the opposite effect with many people taking their vacations in Germany, although there was one group who found the cost of tickets so expensive that for the same price they flew out to Koh Samui for four weeks and still watched all the games in various bars around the island! So will the Beijing Olympics be good for Thailand or not? The implication from the statistics is that it will not, at least as far as other Asian tourists are concerned. However, the statistics also showed that there was an increase in tourists from Europe, in particular France, the UK and Russia. People are still travelling despite the hassle of modern airline security procedures and perceived political problems here, so will we see the same phenomena as we saw in 2003 as people travel to and from China, or will the Games and China itself be too attractive for them to take side trips? We must wait and see.

This year has seen a number of high quality hotels open, or announce their intention to open, on Koh Samui. This includes The Four Seasons which opened earlier this year on the north west peninsular, Banyan Tree due to open in 2008, Conrad in the south west, W in the north, Club Med in an as yet undisclosed location, although thought to be on one of the small islands off the south west coast, Park Hyatt in Tong Krut Bay due to open in late 2009 and word on the grape vine is that there are two more world class operators also about to announce their intentions. We are also working closely with a major hotel group in the acquisition of a property here and expect an announcement to be made early in the New Year. Koh Samui is without doubt becoming a major destination island and the hotel brands coming here are all the top of the range within their groups. Koh Samui is definitely going up-market and the constant moan is that the island has lost its charm. Well I would suggest that this may be true for the ageing backpacker who first came here 20 years ago, but for anyone coming here for the first time it still has a great deal to offer. Has the infrastructure kept up with development – well obviously not but it is slowly and gradually improving and it is the pressure of development that has made this happen. If all the houses and hotels that have been built over the last few years had not been built, there would have been no need to increase the electricity supply, address the water issue and, whether you like it or not, attract the likes of Lotus Tesco, Makro, Big C and Home Pro. When I first came here six years ago power cuts were frequent even before development started, many places relied solely on shallow wells with water of dubious quality. Shopping was a hit and miss affair with limited choice and poor quality. Since then a second electrical supply cable has been laid from the mainland a desalination plant built and a water ring main installed round the island. Obviously this has been of benefit to the tourist industry and business generally but it has also improved the living standards of the local Samui population, something that probably would not have happened without the pressure of development. Complaints are heard that Tesco, Makro and Big C are harming small supermarkets. The same supermarkets I shopped at six years ago are still here and where do they buy their stock? Lotus, Makro and Big C and at wholesale prices. So there have been many positives to the development that has taken place, but probably the biggest negative has been the effect on the roads with so many concrete lorries and construction vehicles continually on the move. The main roads are the responsibility of the Surat Thani Highways Department and anyone taking the ferry to Don Sak must wonder how they manage to build such a quality road from the ferry port into Surat Thani but cannot do the same on Samui. No one at any level of government has been able to answer that yet. Is Samui overdeveloped? Possibly in the short term in relation to current demand, but once the political situation has clarified itself after the General Election in December I believe that there is a large pent up demand waiting to come here. Is Samui over developed as an island per se? Take a boat trip round the island and look inland. I did this a few weeks ago and was quite surprised at the vast areas of totally development free land there – a great deal of course high in the hills under the control of the Forestry Department and therefore safe from development. Almost all the development that has taken place and is planned, with the exception of the Choengmon peninsular, is within one to two kilometers of the sea. There are indeed some eyesores that have appeared and I am sure that some judicial use of colour and/or landscaping would lessen their visual impact. The Local Authority has taken some steps in this direction by only allowing earth tone colours for roof tiles. The real estate market has taken a breather but it has not collapsed as some people thought it would. Sales are still happening if at a slower pace, but we have not seen any significant drop in values. Samui is definitely emerging as a high value resort destination and for those with spare cash, the Thailand Elite Card, details of which I can send you if you contact me by email, offers freedom from the hassle of border runs and visa renewals. Certainly not for everyone due to the cost, but for those with a high net worth who play golf and use spas and who are seeking an easy life – well worth considering.

A quick reminder if you are planning a trip to Samui in November – Loh Kratong falls on the 24th November this year. If you have never seen this before it is well worth planning your visit around this Festival where hundreds if not thousands of candle lit Kratongs are set afloat in the sea, on lakes and rivers. More details on that in a future Newsletter.


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mysamui said...

If it matters, a bit of spacing in your paragraphs might be easier on the eyes. Thanks for the good words from Samui

mysamui said...

If it matters, a bit of spacing in your paragraphs might be easier on the eyes. Thanks for the good words from Samui

koh samui hotels said...

As mysamui said it would be helpful if you spaced out your paragraphs. Interesting article nevertheless.