Thai islands: Take your pick

Thai islands: Take your pick

When Leonardo DiCaprio discovered an island paradise in the film The Beach it was hardly surprising that Thailand’s Phi Phi was chosen as the fictional backdrop. Thailand is home to some of world’s most beautiful islands – the only issue is choosing the right one for your clients.

Last year was tough for Thailand, but it’s bouncing back. In the first quarter of 2011 UK visitor arrivals totalled 250,000, an increase of 1.5%, and many operators are strengthening their Thailand product.

When it comes to selling the islands, Joanna Cooke, marketing manager of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), says understanding seasonality is the key.

“There are two key times of year to get the best of the tropical weather,” she explains. “For November to March recommend the Andaman Coast, so the islands of Phuket, Koh Yao, Phi Phi, Khao Lak and Koh Lanta. For June to September, the Gulf of Thailand, so the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.”
 
New for Travel 2 this year is the five-star Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket. Set in a landscaped water park with a lazy river it suits couples and families and leads in at £1,199 for eight nights’ B&B in September. Also look out for the opening of Conrad Koh Samui in early July. The only western-facing luxury resort in Koh Samui will benefit from sunset views and will feature 80 freestanding pool villas.

“Koh Samui has continued to perform really well for us,” says Kuoni’s market manager Dagmar Marrocco. “The appeal lies in the range of product available to suit all budgets, and of course the sun, white sand, shopping, bars and great restaurants. It’s also gaining a reputation as a ‘foodie island’.”

Kuoni has a new exclusive hotel on Laem Nan Beach in Koh Samui called Silavadee. The stylish retreat is great for couples and honeymooners, with newlyweds guaranteed an upgrade, candlelit dinner and a couple’s massage.

Seasons reports a massive 50% increase in sales to Thailand this year. Sales manager Joanne Clarkeson says: “We’re thrilled by the surge in enquiries and bookings, which are a combination of late breaks and bookings for the year ahead and 2012.

“Thailand offers variety, with diving, great food, climate and culture, and fantastic value for money once you’re there. Our most popular destinations are Phuket, where the bestsellers are Trisara and Banyan Tree, and Koh Samui, for Six Senses, Four Seasons and Banyan Tree.”

Gill Standeven, product development manager Middle & Far East at Virgin Holidays, suggests an island holiday combined with a short stay in Bangkok, providing clients with an exciting contrast. There are also short and cheap Virgin Atlantic connections from Hong Kong to Koh Samui and Phuket.

“For guests who want to go more off the beaten track we are seeing significant demand for our new island hideaways in Koh Samet, Phi Phi, Koh Yao and Koh Racha, all of which are experiencing double-digit growth for 2011,” she says. “We are continuing to strengthen our Thai beach programme for 2012 and will have new and exciting resorts on sale later this year.”

It’s a similar story at Cox & Kings. “We have seen an increase in bookings to Koh Samui, and Phuket is also becoming more popular,” says Yaow Butwisate-Lok, Far East product manager.

“There are a number of new, exclusive resorts opening on Phuket that are less focused on the mass markets and appeal to those looking to relax in smaller, more boutique hotels. We have also seen more honeymooners wanting to combine a short stay in Bangkok with a beach stay on the islands.”

Bookings are up by 40% for some of the islands featured by Hayes & Jarvis, such as Kho Phangan, Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Yao. The mainly boutique properties have a more intimate, hideaway feel and can easily be twinned with the larger islands and mainland resort areas.

Banyan Tree, Koh Samui, Thailand

Perfect for: Nightlife

Phuket is Thailand’s largest and best-known island, where the younger market will find lots of facilities and 25 miles of beaches. Patong, the largest resort area, has restaurants and a buzzing nightlife.

Being connected to the mainland by bridge also makes it easy to go further afield. Phuket is a good choice for families. Hayes & Jarvis is offering 45% off an accommodation-only 10-night stay at the four-star-plus Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, leading in at £899, and Gold Medal is also featuring the new Centara Grand Beach Resort from £1,119 for five nights’ B&B.

Perfect for: Couples

Koh Samui’s beautiful small airport sets the scene for this tranquil island. It offers a good selection of properties including the five-star Banyan Tree Samui, which opened last year, with 78 all-pool villas and the island’s first hydrotherapy spa.

Kuoni and Gold Medal both feature the property and prices lead in at £1,689 for five nights’ bed and breakfast.

Perfect for: Activities

Still relatively unknown, Thailand’s second largest island Koh Chang is a good option for clients who want to combine a beach holiday with activities.

The island offers excellent diving, snorkelling and beach sports plus elephant rides and jungle treks.

Perfect for: Natural beauty

Although best known for its full-moon parties, Koh Samui’s smaller sister Koh Phangan has developed from a backpacker paradise to a more sophisticated island retreat.

Still relatively undeveloped, with pristine white-sand beaches, properties such as the eco-chic Santhiya Resort & Spa, sold by operators such as Tropical Sky, offer a natural hideaway.

Getting around

For island-hoppers, Thai Airways’ Domestic Discover Thailand Airpass is excellent value. Valid for three months from date of issue, it costs $278 (£171) for three internal flight coupons, with additional coupons available at $92 (£56) each. Thai Airways will start operating its new A380-800 aircraft on its London-Bangkok service in September.
Book it: thaiairways.co.uk, 0844 561 0911

Sample product

Hayes & Jarvis offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the four-star Paradise Koh Yao Noi Boutique Beach Resort & Spa departing on September 16. The lead-in price is £1,095, a saving of £523. Includes Jet Airways flights from Heathrow and transfers.
Book it: hayesandjarvis.com/agents, 0871 200 2211

Seasons has seven nights’ all-inclusive for the price of five in a Hill Villa Suite at Soneva Kiri on Koh Kood, a new product for 2011-12,
from £3,075 for travel until October 22, including flights and transfers.
Book it: seasons.co.uk, 01244 206000

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