The property industry on Koh Samui has had its ups and downs over the years. When the tourism industry first started to take off on the island in the 1980s and 1990s, the island boasted little of the pomp and luxury it is known for today. Instead, travellers would stay in modest hotels and guesthouses, few of which offered electricity at all hours of the day, and even warm water was a luxury rather than a given. There was a charm in this kind of low-key tourism industry and Koh Samui quickly became a backpacker's darling, attracting more and more travellers looking for an 'authentic' travel experience off the beaten track.
Of course, as mostly happens with places that become popular, Koh Samui started to develop rapidly with new roads and new developments, which in turn brought a larger, more mainstream tourism industry and soon the island started to attract families and couples looking for a bit more comfort.
During the 1990s and 2000s, the hotel property segment on the island was booming and local as well as international investors poured millions of dollars into developing this property segment, to the point where the strip along Chaweng beach became so full of large hotels and resorts that smaller guesthouses and hotels moved to other locations. Private houses and villas were also built as people took advantage of the new services on offer to relocate or buy second homes on the island.
During that time, Koh Samui was often criticised for heedless development practices that paid little attention to the island environment or the overall appeal of the natural landscape. Almost everywhere you looked, large construction sites were busy day in, day out building yet another hotel or villa development and many complained the island had lost some of its initial unspoilt lure.
Then came the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and everything seemed to slow down. The money stopped coming in and Koh Samui took a breather from faced paced development. This gave the government a chance to re-asses and introduce more restrictions and building codes, which saved the island from over-development
Nowadays, 15 years and a global financial crisis later, Koh Samui has become more mindful in its development approach. Investors are increasingly taking a longer term view, and the window for fast returns has been somewhat diminished. The local government has now imposed stricter building and zoning regulations in an effort to better regulate development on the island and protect the environment. Infrastructure improvements such as better water and waste management are also helping make the island cleaner and safer.
All the above means that Koh Samui now represents an attractive proposition for second home investors or those looking to retire or start a new life on what is one of the most appealing islands in Thailand. One that combines natural beauty with access to a range of modern facilities and services, providing an excellent balance between absolute escape and sophisticated living.