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Snow and Neglect on an Island Paradise

Category: , Posted:02 Sep 2011 | 12:20 pm

Asian snowbirds may soon no longer have to head overseas to Hokkaido, Queenstown or the Alps, following the recent announcement of plans for an indoor ski slope at Koh Samui.
Skiing and surfing on the same day have long been heralded as a unique selling point by tourism marketing types in Southern California. This might just scuttle their uniqueness.
Thailand's third largest island, Samui – which is the yin to Phuket's yang – remains caught up in a bad case of teenage angst, wondering what it will become when it reaches adulthood.
Of course much of the recent media flurry over the proposed mega-ski project has been overplayed, because it is a later phase of something that is being launched as a residential-led hospitality project called Club Samui.
First comes the hybrid hotel condos and villas, and then at a later stage, the winter wonderland along with a high-speed gondola system from which you will be able to view the island from dizzying heights, and other mass-travel attractions.
Vast ambitious developments of this nature often stretch the imagination and boggle the mind. I'm not going to be judgmental. Sitting in Phuket, one of the long-standing demand generators, the Fantasea at Kamala, has been a solid and well managed enterprise that continues to pack them in.
Expectations are that the Siam Nirimit cultural attraction and floating market will be equally well received. It will open later this year on the by-pass road.
But both of these are standalone enterprises.
Going up north to Mai Khao, the up and down West Sands residential, hotel and Splash Jungle waterpark has never quite been able to get its mojo working. Fresh news of a management agreement with Thailand's Centara Hotel Group bodes well, considering the success of a somewhat similar project in Pattaya managed by Centara.
However, a reminder of how mega-property projects can go wrong has resurfaced with the news that CBRE Thailand is marketing the last remaining land parcel of the once-vaunted project The Cove at Krabi. Aiming to become Thailand's leading destination resort, the project's size at one point was set to tip 1000 rai, with a championship Colin Montgomery-designed golf course, a marina, hotels and yes, those elusive condos and villas everyone wants – or, at least, should want.
I'm not going to judge Club Samui on whether it meets market demands, will enhance or detract from the charm of Koh Samui, or when and how it can be fully executed. Time and the market will determine those issues.
My concern for Samui and its future lies elsewhere. My hair stands on end over the lack of any apparent long-term planning, zoning, or infrastructure-development strategy by the powers that be in the nation's capital.
Breakneck development by the private sector, with the government dozing off to sleep for the past few years over Thailand's tourism sector, has created an epic problem.
Simply put, there has to be a plan in place for a new airport on Samui – given the island's increasing population, number of hotels, businesses and properties. It's that black and white.
Hello, Bangkok! Is anyone out there listening?

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