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A Tale of Two Islands

Category: , Posted:15 Sep 2012 | 06:00 am

Sunday morning often brings a decided blur to the tropical island landscape outside my window in Phuket.
It's 9am, and even two large lattes can't shake off the ever so slight after effects of one too many drinks.
Or perhaps two, but who's counting anyway? Shaking the sleep from my eyes, I find myself talking to a nearby empty chair in latter day Clint Eastwood fashion.
Why oh why Clint? You could've been anything – just not a Republican.
The mighty C's are rolling out of my mouth like tiny toy soldiers on attack – Confusionism (my current state of mind) turns to Confucianism.
Chinese culture has given us those defining symbols of shadow and light, Yin and Yang.
While it's common wisdom to easily dismiss these as exact opposites, in fact they are closer to kissing cousins – second cousins say – in Jerry Lee Lewis fashion.
Flicking on Wikipedia – the source of all knowledge – they are referred to as interconnected, interdependent and dualities.
In the more local context of our own island, we could compare the Yin and Yang to Rawai and Bangtao, same same but so very different.
Adjusting our Google Earth view outward, we arrive at Thailand's two leading resort destination islands: Samui and Phuket.
Having just wrapped up our most recent 'C9 Hotelworks Samui Mid-Year Hotel Market Update' the cover catches my eye.
Figures that even Barack Obama would not have to spin in his quest for a second term jump off the page.
Market-wide hotel occupancy is up 8 per cent compared to the first six months of 2011.
Airport arrivals surged 16 per cent and international flights rose 23 per cent to the island, with new services from Singapore, Malaysia and Greater China (this includes Hong Kong).
Comparing the two islands, it's not really apples to apples.
Phuket has nearly 43,000 registered accommodation units with Samui coming in at just over 15,000.
As for the main travel indicator, total airport passengers to the former weighed in at 4.74 million in the first half of the year, and the latter at approximately 456,000.
The two tribes have started to separate over the past few years as our distant neighbor in the Gulf of Thailand has seen a boom in the upscale and luxury hotel market, with international brand names including Four Seasons, Starwood's W, Conrad and InterContinental playing starring roles.
Oddly, investor sentiment went into a deep freeze in what has become a blessing in disguise.
New hotel development of major hotel projects is now just three hotels with 371 rooms.
Switching to Phuket, the number is over 5,000 in waiting, which will be an 11 per cent increase to existing supply.
Of course, my own favorite buzz phrase for tourism remains, "you can't stay there, if you can't get there", and this underpins the tale of the two markets.
Phuket's airlift continues to pump up on steroids the way Lance Armstrong allegedly did.
Our own airspace is starting to resemble that iconic scene from the Hitchcock thriller The Birds.
Those images gave me nightmares for years as a kid.
As for Samui, this scene has been played out many times on these very pages, detailing the private airport, controlled by Bangkok Airways, which continues to lord over Samui.
A runway too short for widebody aircraft, few low-cost airline carriers servicing the destination, and environmental restrictions on the total number of flights allowed are creating barriers to growth.
Going into the numbers, airline seat capacity is increasing as more Airbus' are taking over from the smaller ATR-72s, and a slow but sure growth in the international network reaching some key regional hubs.
I was on a tourism panel last week with the President of Bangkok Airways Puttipong Prasarttong- Osoth, who said the airline was looking at revisiting flight restrictions imposed under the airport environmental permit.
Given a fleet of newer, less noisy Airbuses, the possibility exists that traffic numbers can potentially be increased.
For now, many Samui hoteliers find themselves humming the innocuous 80s MTV hit The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.
Even the much maligned luxury property market is waking up, with two multimillion dollar sales this year at The Estates, which is part of the Four Seasons resort.
I'm not quite sure who is Yin and who is Yang in our story, but I am certain that if Confucius were around today, he might be heading to Samui for a little me time.

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