Kupu Kupu Beach Villas and Spa in Plaay Laem
Since tourism really got underway in Koh Phangan in the late 1980s the majority of guesthouses, hotels and bungalow resorts in Koh Phangan have been independent operators. In most cases the family owning the resort would also be managing the resort. However over the years this situation has become to change. Leasing resorts has become popular and there is the slow emergence of a new level of capitalism - hotel groups.
The Full Moon Party has been the making of Haad Rin. It guarantees an influx of thousands of visitors every month including the highly lucrative Christmas and New Year period. This made land on the Haad Rin peninsula valuable as accommodation is needed for the hoards that descend on the party. As a result many of the resorts are leased out by silent owners. A few leases come up for renewal every year, often at increased prices. This has driven up prices, especially during high season and party times.
The first recognisable chain hotel appeared first in Haad Rin. It was the Best Western Phangan Buri Resort. It tried to bring international standard 3 to 4 star rooms to Koh Phangan. It ran for many years before changing to Buri Beach Resort in 2015. It seems the attraction of chain hotels in Haad Rin faded away or the lease got too high.
In Thong Nai Pan Noi the hotels did so well that they created the opportunity for sister resorts elsewhere in Thailand. The best example of this is Panviman which started life as a small hotel on the headland that developed into a luxury resort at the same time as launching a Panviman resort in Chiang Mai.
The same story is repeated by Santhiya Resort that takes over the hill at the northern end of Thong Nai Pan Noi. Its lanna architecture, lavish pool and high end customer service has been replicated in Santhiya Koh Yao Yai and Santhiya Tree in Koh Chang.
Slightly different is Buri Rasa on Thong Nai Pan Noi. Originally the site was Star Huts, then it got partly taken over by Baan Panburi Village before it eventually became the 4 star Buri Rasa Hotel. Baan Panburi Village was the template to capture the flash packer market who wanted air-con bungalows next to the beach. However, the owner realised that he was going for the cheaper, less lucrative end of the market. He moved Baan Paanburi to Thong Nai Pan Yai where it slowly declines from neglect and will surely soon be replaced.
The vacated space on Thong Nai Pan Noi was used to build the latest luxury hotel for the area - the Buri Rasa. This is not the first in a chain. Rather it is the second rendition. The original is Buri Rasa Village in Chaweng in Koh Samui. The concept was to aim for the middle-high position. To offer air-con, cable TV, swimming pool, restaurant and gym but to charge in the region of 4,000 Thai Baht a night rather than 20,000 Thai Baht that many big luxury beach hotels charge.
It looks to be a winning idea as a series of financial shocks since 2008 has diminished the spending power of European visitors to Thailand. The numbers have partly been made up by increased tourism from China but these tourists often come on package tours where the operators bargain heavily for group discounts on mid-range rooms. Aiming for this market seems to make short term sense.
A fairly recent addition to the chain hotel pool in Koh Phangan is the Kupu Kupu Beach Villas and Spa. It is a smart resort in Plaay Laem on the West Coast. It has 32 luxury villas and 2 suites. The resort combines traditional crafts and materials with cutting edge design. There is La Plage Restaurant that focuses on Thai food and fresh seafood and there is also a spa by L'Occitane. The resort also boasts a beach front pool and its own yacht for group excursions.
Kupu Kupu has quickly established itself as one of the best hotels on the island. The business model is repeated at Kupu Kupu Barong (Bali) and Kupu Kupu Jimbaran (Indonesia). In each case the resorts have produced traditional resort architecture with a modern twist. They also feature beach locations and extensive spa services by L'Occitane. This chain has successfully captured market share of the high end of the accommodation spectrum in Koh Phangan.
The last hotel to make this list is Rasananda in Thong Nai Pan Noi. Although this is a one-off hotel with no sister establishments the owner has decided to team up with the management brand of Anantara. They manage several hotels in Bangkok and across Thailand.
It seems as Koh Phangan develops and moves away from cheap wooden bungalows on the beach it has inevitably attracted outside brands and hotels built to a certain formula for success. There are not any Hyatt hotels or Conrad hotels yet (they are in Koh Samui), but perhaps it is just a matter of time.
Although the traditional hippy backpacker to Koh Phangan will see all this as further evidence of the decline of Koh Phangan as 'cool destination' and how he or she is being priced off the island, other visitors might welcome the attempt to bring better service to the island and maybe who knows proper car rental by a company such as Avis or Hertz and maybe even jet ski hire without the scams.