According to a recently released report by hotel and property consultancy C9 Hotelworks, names in the pipeline include InterContinental, Le Méridien, Conrad, Accor and Moevenpick, who will all be intent on luring travellers to Samui by the end of 2011.
Samui is already experiencing a surge in luxury brand resort openings, with hotels already managed by Four Seasons, Starwood’s W, Banyan Tree, Six Senses and Orient Express.
Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9, described the influx of new big-brand hotels as good news for the island. “Leading hospitality brands have been proven to induce demand into a destination and are a strong catalyst for sustainable growth,” he explained.
“A key comparison is luxury retail; upscale shopping malls rely on ‘anchor brands’ to attract upscale shoppers. Travel and retail track a strikingly similar customer-driven model.”
Mr Barnett said the island seemed to be making a solid recovery from the doldrums brought by the 2008 global financial crisis, with hotels hitting an overall occupancy of 62 per cent in the first half of the year.
Now, however, air connections have become a choke point, with the increasing popularity of the monthly Full Moon Party on neighbouring Koh Pha Ngan filling aircraft to the point where Samui’s mainstream visitors find it difficult sometimes to get a seat.
“A stalemate over the issue of a new airport shows an absolute disconnect between government policy and private sector development ambitions,” Mr Barnett added.
The airport on Samui is privately owned by Bangkok Airways, a fact that has caused friction in the past between the island’s aspirations and Bangkok Airways’ commercial agenda, seen by some as selfishly narrow-minded.
“We don’t fault Bangkok Airways [for this],” said Mr Barnett, who blames the government for its lack of any kind of policy. “Look at the epidemic problem over the lack of a long-term government-managed tourism strategy,” he remarked.
Bangkok Airways founder Prasert Prasarttong-osoth said recently that the airline was studying the possibility of divesting a 30-per-cent stake and possibly launching shares on the stock market. If this happens it may signal change for Samui, Mr Barnett said.
Another likely factor for change will be the market liberalisation that will come in 2015 when the Asean Economic Community comes into being, with an open skies policy likely to be a positive force.
Whether all of this will change Bangkok Airways’ view of who can use it airport and how, and at what price, will be something the island’s travel industry will be watching carefully.