LVH exclusive - Samui’s tourism boom

Private villas are also becoming particularly popular with larger groups travelling to the island

Businesses involved Koh Samui’s tourism industry anticipate continued success this year following a return to form achieved throughout 2012, when hotel occupancy averaged 68 percent, up from 59 percent in 2011.

The first quarter of 2013 saw a continuation of high visitor numbers, with the private villa rental market doing particularly well as more international tourists sought out personalised luxury accommodation that suits the island’s increasingly upscale, boutique reputation.

According to consultancy firm C9 Hotelworks, the growth in the number of visitors to Samui is partially due to new direct international flights to the island and also thanks to upgrades to many of the aircraft already flying to the island. Bill Barnett, the firm's managing director, said one of the key catalysts for change has been the continuing upgrades made by Bangkok Airways to its fleet, which added more than 189,000 airline seats to its services to and from Koh Samui.

“Koh Samui’s primary air carrier continues to modernise its fleet with new Airbuses, and phase out older ATR 72 propeller planes," said Barnett, "but the ominous restriction on total daily flights to 36 is a non-moving ceiling,” he added.

In addition to larger planes, the recently announced launch of a new retail shopping complex by Thai-listed Central Group is also indicative of Koh Samui’s growing tourism economy. The complex is being developed on 48,000 sqm of land in the island's main tourist area, Chaweng, which is already home to Samui’s most popular beach, as well as an array of smaller shops, restaurants and bars.

“Hot on the heels of a rising Asian middle class and the resurgence of the group travel segment is the trend of Thailand’s resort markets becoming urbanised playgrounds," said Barnett. "It’s not just about the beach anymore as shopping and attractions are gaining momentum as strong demand catalysts.

A high proportion of the travellers that visited Koh Samui last year were from Germany, the UK and also other parts of Thailand, together accounting for a 27 percent share of total arrivals. The island is also seeing growing demand from tourists arriving other parts of Asia.

In terms of supply, 459 new hotel rooms will be added to the island’s existing stock of 17,479 this year, but an increasing number of visitors look for privacy and exclusivity whilst on vacation, and therefore opt to rent out one of the island’s growing portfolio of luxury villas. Private villas are also becoming particularly popular with larger groups travelling to the island, as well as with couples for destination weddings.