Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Can't see the pics? Umm, me neither...

I deleted an overcrowded Picasa album without realising that Picasa hosts the blog pics - doh! Working to restore from the top down. Bear with me...

Friday, 12 June 2009

A boost to Thai tourism? And an advert for Airbus...

Along with many others dependent on the Thai tourism sector we have an expectation that tourist arrivals from the Middle East to Thailand will substantially increase following the launch of a daily A380 Emirates service from Dubai to Suvarnabhumi Airport on 1st June.

Emirates' A380 can carry 489 passengers and features luxurious facilities such as onboard shower spas, lounges, flat beds, massage-equipped private suites in first class and a new generation of intelligent seating and flat beds in business class. Other revolutionary features offered across all classes include mood-lighting to reduce jet lag and an award-winning, bespoke entertainment system featuring 1000-plus channels of on-demand entertainment.

The A380 is the world’s only twin-deck airliner that has 35 per cent more seats than its closest rival.  It is the most environmentally-advanced commercial aircraft in the sky today, offering better fuel economy than most hybrid passenger cars. The A380 burns up to 20 per cent less fuel per seat than today's next largest aircraft, and is quieter, generating less than half the noise of other aircraft on takeoff.

Emirates currently operates 21 flights per week to Bangkok from Dubai, but such is the interest in experiencing a ride in the new A380, usually reserved for longhaul flights, from Dubai based expats and locals alike, there is genuine optimism that visitor numbers can increase in the coming months.

The giant aircraft were originally destined to serve the airline’s Dubai-New York route, but due to a huge fall in the number of passengers flying to and from US destinations, Emirates made the decision to redeploy the A380s to Bangkok and Toronto. 

We need all the help we can get. Hotel occupancy rates on Koh Samui are expected to average 40-50% this year, a drop from 70-80% in previous years, mainly because of visitor concern about Thailand's political tensions and the world economic recession.

Seni Puwasetthawon, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said visitors from the Middle East had great potential because of their high levels of spending, they travel in large groups, and they like Thailand's medical services.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects Middle East visitors to grow by 6.5 per cent to 500,000 this year from 470,000 in 2008. Mr Seni expected visitors from the Middle East to Koh Samui will double to 10,000 this year.

The association expects one million foreign visitors to Samui this year, down from 1.1 million in 2008, with revenue down by 30-40 per cent from 20 billion baht. Tell me about it.

Samui prepares for the pandemic - H1N1 detection at SIA

Photo: Bangkok Post

Doing it's bit to thwart the spread of the H1N1 virus declared yesterday by WHO as a global pandemic, and as the foreign toll rises Samui International Airport has installed a thermal scanner to detect arriving passengers with a temperature of over 37 degrees Celsius.
Depending on other symptoms and their recent travel history, passengers will be sent to hospital for observation and treatment.

The scanner is identical to those installed at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (pictured above) and will be a permanent feature of the facilities at Samui airport to make sure that, as far as practicable, all passengers coming in are free of infectious diseases that record elevated body temperature among their symptoms. It seems likely that visitors suffering with common colds or ordinary flu symptoms could get pulled-in and subjected to hospital confinement for a few days, but the inconvenience to the few is far outweighed by the benefit of reducing the potential for Swine Flu on the island.

Sirichai Charoenrat, senior director of Samui airport, has said, “We have no intention of causing panic among the passengers over the situation. We just want to make sure that this flu outbreak never spreads to Koh Samui.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the anti-viral medicine Oseltamivir, used to treat bird flu patients, was effective for people infected with the swine flu. The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation said it had a stockpile of 170,000 tablets of Oseltamivir which is enough to treat 17,000 patients.

In the case of an outbreak, the GPO could produce a million pills of Oseltamivir within four days.

Samui airport receives international direct flights from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. It's not known if similar precautions to limit the spread of H1N1 will be taken at the island's ferry ports.

I used to be a bit of a cheerleader for TripAdvisor...

I still believe their repository of guest reviews the best thing that could have happened to independent travelers who can choose their accommodation and build an expectation based on the experience of previous guests. But I was disappointed when TripAdvisor localised Baan Bophut's ranking and irritated when they didn't answer my mails asking for an explanation. What possible benefit could an organization dedicated (I thought) to serving independent travelers gain from pushing us into a mashed-up backwater ranking? A little research revealed the answer to this artless fool.

TripAdvisor is now owned by and is little more than a marketing tool for the World's biggest online travel agency and our previous placing among the top end of Koh Samui's hotel ranking is now, with few exceptions, mainly populated by Expedia Inc's affiliate hotels.

TripAdvisor no longer make the claim to be independent - with good reason

It seems inevitable that our target guests, independent travelers that book their own flights and accommodation, will progressively surrender to the ease of simply clicking on TA's 'Check Rates!' button, rather than hunt-out a hotel's site and book for themselves.

Expedia Inc's stranglehold on user generated feedback increased last year with TA's acquisition of Virtual Tourist

So, what to do? Do we maintain our independence and accept that Baan Bophut's former prominence (and occupancy) will continue to diminish over time? Or do we join them; consent to pay Expedia's commission rate to restore our standing in their rankings and keep our little hotel in business?

Unlike TripAdvisor and many others in the travel industry, we're not ready to sacrifice our independence just yet.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A tardy announcement of sad news...

Family and regular readers of this blog know how I loath to neglect its upkeep and they've become familiar with the way I look for vindication after a period of slackness, such as this, to sooth my remorse. No surprises then, when I tell you I've been busy. A couple of business trips (including my first to Moscow); overlapping visits from my brothers to our home in Dubai and a week later, from nephew Nick with a friend. All have robbed me of blog-posting time, and although they stand-up pretty well as legitimate excuses there's actually more to my negligence than simply failing to make the time to write.

It's over a month now since the hotel's much loved dog, Blackhead disappeared. After surviving a poisoning attempt in early March, Lucy's pretty certain the sicko succeeded this time. Blackhead wasn't really the hotel's dog; she adopted us. We were her hotel, and only one of several feeding stations she would visit throughout a typical day. Never the most active of animals, she would spend most of her days dozing on the decking or under a guest's sunlounger and at least some of her nights keeping Pee Mek, our watchman, company. Lucy had traveled to Chiang Mai on the day she disappeared and the staff, all of whom had been out searching for her, wouldn't tell Lucy until her return, rather than spoil her short break.

A favourite of family, staff and guests who appreciated her gentle ways, Blackhead is sorely missed. As Lucy has said - she was the only guest of the hotel that was guaranteed to greet her every morning when she arrived.
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