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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Koh Samui and the impact of air travel - February 2011

Air travel has its benefits but also its downside. In fact the advent of long haul flights had a huge impact on everything we do. Forty years ago if you wanted to travel from Europe to “Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names”, you had little choice but to get on an Ocean Liner in Southampton or Tilbury and spend five weeks at sea if you were lucky enough to travel before the Suez Canal was closed or six weeks if not, to get to Australia and longer to the Far East. The big white liners of the P&O – Orient Line (as it then was) together with Shaw Savill, Union Castle and many others plied their trade between these foreign destinations. Passengers were varied, from Diplomats taking up or returning from foreign postings, to assisted passage immigrants to Australia. Cruising was in its infancy and these ships spent more than three quarters of their time carrying people from one port to another. You could of course fly, but it still took a few days and several legs with stop overs in the Middle East, India and Asia.

What changed all of that was the introduction of the Boeing 747 in the mid 1960’s with its ability to carry large numbers of passengers great distances quickly and relatively cheaply. Almost over night this killed the Liners. Most had been built just after the Second World War with reparations from the British government for ships they had lost. Without a doubt they were in any case approaching the end of their useful life and only a few new ships such as the Oriana and Canberra had been built since.

Air travel changed the world and made it smaller. No longer were foreign vacations confined to Teneriffe or Majorca and these “Far Away Places” suddenly became accessible to far more people. Television also had its place in opening peoples eyes to what was over the horizon, and the Brits in particular, always ready to conquer new lands, set off to explore this expanding world. The Far East, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, could all be reached in a day. The tourist markets in these countries opened up and as wealth increased with age, the possibility of owning your own piece of Paradise became a reality for many people.

The world became more accessible to back-packers on limited budgets and eventually they found Koh Samui. Undeveloped, with few roads and very basic infrastructure. Travel here was by road or rail and ferry. Nothing much changed until in 1989 Bangkok Airways opened Koh Samui Airport. Once again air travel was the catalyst of huge change. It took a few years, but gradually word spread of this idyllic island and of course Alex Garland’s book “The Beach” was another influence. With the airport came people with money although it was not until about ten years ago that the influx of wealth started to have an effect on land prices and developers came to the island. Would they have come without an Airport? Almost certainly not. So air travel and in this case Bangkok Airways have a lot to answer for. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view. A subject for future discussion perhaps.

1 comment:

Ko Samui Villas said...

I think it's easy to underestimate just how much impact the film version of 'The Beach' had on tourism in the region, especially in areas like koh phangan.