Work hard, play hard in Koh Samui

Tropical beach Bang Po, Koh Samui, Thailand

Vibrant nightlife and luxury resorts make the palm-fringed island off Thailand’s east coast a popular corporate destination, writes Greg Lowe

Koh Samui continues to emerge as a key destination for executive retreats and incentives driven in part by a recent revival in corporate spending budgets, travel specialists say.

Most corporate groups visiting the island are doing so either for senior level meetings or as the luxury element of a longer incentive trip to Thailand or the region.

“MICE business to Samui has performed well, mainly on the incentives side of the business as Samui is perceived as a party destination which offers a good mix of incentives programmes, and also offers luxury accommodation,” said Philip Wigglesworth, Thailand business development director at Destination Asia (Thailand). “Luxury incentives are back and companies are definitely looking to boost incentive travel for employees.”

Clients selecting the island must have access to healthy budgets, however, as Samui boasts some of the highest ARRs in Thailand due mainly to its scarcity of land and restricted access through Samui International Airport, which is privately owned by Bangkok Airways. Recent research by C9 Hotelworks shows Samui achieved  an ADR of US$195 across the island’s branded properties last year, rising to more than US$500 in the luxury segment with respective occupancy of 67 per cent and about 90 per cent. Moreover, this strong performance was achieved in the face of fallout from the country’s political crisis.

“We’ve seen a definite increase in interest for Samui over the last 18 months,” said Tim Upchurch, MICE manager at EXO Travel Thailand. “It’s still far behind Phuket, but more higher-end clients, who are not put off by the increased airfares and accommodation rates for the premium hotels, are now asking about the island.

“In the last six months, we’ve had two MLM clients who’ve held international conferences on Samui, plus several other incentive groups.”

Upchurch said a recent trend has been an increase in conference-focused groups of 60 to 100 pax wanting to combine business and pleasure. Conference groups tend to opt for a Samui-only experience, while incentives tend to use the destination as an extension to Bangkok or as the beach element to round off a wider South-east Asian trip taking place in countries such as Myanmar or Cambodia.

There has also been a notable rise in delegates bringing their spouse or partner with them on such a trip, especially to Samui, Wigglesworth told TTGmice. “We’ve seen a huge surge in this. The knock-on effect is that we benefit from pre- or post-travel from the incentive.”

In terms of activities, beyond combining work and pleasure at a luxury resort, groups often make the most of Samui’s reputation as a party destination with other popular elements, such as water sports, yacht cruises, jungle safaris and private villa parties.

“Private villa parties, which are fully catered with luxury food, drink and entertainment, (are becoming especially popular) with the rise of villas on Koh Samui,” said Wigglesworth. “Unique beach experiences are the best on Koh Samui and its adjoining islands, (including attending a Full Moon Party on nearby Koh Phangan). This is the main reason for choosing this beach destination.”

DMCs cite Europe, the US and Australia as key source markets for Koh Samui’s MICE business, with Hong Kong remaining a key regional player. Brian Seagrave, general manager of W Retreat Samui, where meetings and incentives accounted for 20 per cent of the property’s group revenue, said Asia is now the core focus for the all-pool-villa resort.

“From 2011–13, our main markets were Australia and Europe,” he said. “However, due to currency fluctuation and the EU’s economic downturn, the EU market dropped in 2014. Now our main target is Asia; for example, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, mainly due to W Hotel’s strong brand within Asia-Pacific and additional direct international flights (from these regional markets) to Samui International Airport.”

Seagrave also agreed the budgets of corporate groups coming to the island have increased in recent times, resulting in the addition of more leisure elements to their meeting and incentive itineraries, such as lavish coffee breaks, spa experiences, day trips and parties.

Incentives groups tend to stay on the island for two nights on average, rising to three nights for meetings groups, he said.

Focusing on smaller luxury corporate groups has had clear benefits for individual business and the trade in general, said Seagrave. “(W Samui’s) group ADR has increased by 30 per cent since we started focusing more on small groups, high-end incentives, executive meetings and weddings.”

“(Such groups know that on Samui, we) transform your dreams into reality. Whatever you want. Whenever you want it.”

Ideas – 3D2N of island living

Day 1

Begin with a one-day speedboat tour of the picture-perfect Ang Thong National Marine Park, home to 42 limestone islands and beaches. Beyond island hopping, a range of activities are available, from short walks through the jungle, to snorkelling tours and kayaking. Lunch will be served on one of the beaches.

Return to the island and head to Fisherman’s Village in Bophut, which is transformed into a walking street every Friday night. Clients can peruse the myriad shops then indulge in a traditional Thai street food experience.

Day 2

Teambuilding fun and games start at 10.00 at Escapology Samui, where teams of six have to prevent nuclear armageddon by solving the Cuban Missile Crisis in 60 minutes.

Have lunch at The Larder, a relaxed gastro pub which serves high-quality no-nonsense international cuisine and cocktails.

Relax with an afternoon at Tamarind Springs, where clients can choose from a range of spa and massage packages, sweat it out in the steam caves or take part in a yoga class.

Finish the day off at Tree Tops Sky Dining at Anantara Lawana, which serves progressive cuisine bolstered by an exceptional wine list, where individual tables are located on private cabanas in the canopy.

Day 3

Sunday Session brunch at Beach Republic. Fine wines, craft beers and cocktails complement a buffet of Thai, Asian and international dishes, while a deejay plays chilled-out funk, soul and rare groove.

Return to the hotel for an afternoon nap.

Finish the three days off with a private beach party/BBQ, complete with deejays, fire dancers and an acrobatics display at SIP, W Retreat Koh Samui.

Need to Know

Mojitos with a view

Mo-Hee-Toe Madness at W Retreat Koh Samui is a regular Thursday night promotion offering music and seven types of mojito cocktails on free flow from 18.00 to midnight for 1,300 baht++ (US$39) per head.

The setting is stunning — WOOBAR itself offers brilliant panoramic views of Bophut Bay and Kho Phangan — and a great place to watch the sun go down. The property occasionally brings in international deejays such as David Starfire and Kellam, with the latter recently becoming the resort’s resident deejay.

New hotels rising

This year and the coming few will see a number of rebrandings and new openings in the local hotel market.

Buddy Oriental Samui Beach Resort in Lamai was converted and re-opened as the 15-key Manathai Koh Samui in February, the same month Prana Resort Nandana opened in Bophut.

The luxury segment is due to welcome the 120-room Sofitel So Samui in Choeng Mon next year. Holiday Inn Express Samui Bophut is set to open with 200 rooms in 2017, followed with another 150 keys at Holiday Inn Resort Samui Bophut the following year.

More flights into Samui

Samui International Airport will increase its daily return flight capacity from 36 to as many as 50 after the Civil Aviation Department approved raising the cap late last year.

Reservations on direct flights from Bangkok, Singapore (up from seven flights a week to 10) and Kuala Lumpur (up from seven flights a week to 11) have already increased, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Increased capacity will see the airport, increase its daily direct international flights to five.

Scoring the perfect shot

Art-Samui Museum ( features 71 large-scale works of art which use optical illusions and other techniques to create a 3D effect.

The museum provides guests the chance to surf a perfect tube, sit in King Kong’s hand and escape a charging herd of elephants, among other things.

While the whole purpose of the venue is to provide unique photo opportunities, (sadly) selfies will be in short supply as the illusions need to be shot from afar to work.

The great escape

Escapology Samui ( opened late last year, adding a new option for teambuilding activities on the island.

Teams of two to six people are locked into a themed game — options range from being Shanghaied aboard a Chinese junk to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and must collaborate to earn their freedom within 60 minutes.

Escape Hunt (, a similar product which has already proven to be very popular in Bangkok, will be opening on the island this year.


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