Online for recovery

With the Samui market now in the grip of a severe downturn, agents and developers are taking time out to embrace new online tools.

With the Samui market now in the grip of a severe downturn, agents and developers are taking time out to embrace new online tools, readying themselves for what they hope will be a brighter future.

Tough times require creative measures. On Koh Samui, as in other resort destinations around the region, the pressures of the slump are beginning to take their toll. A normally frenetic high season has thus far been characterized by fewer enquiries and reduced investment activity across the board. With tourism down, real estate agents report limited transactions as people hold off on discretionary purchases and caution rules the market. Staff lay-offs and cutbacks abound, and despite continued project development in many parts of the island, the sense of urgency is fading as developers focus on damage limitation in order to protect their cash flow.

Yet despite the many gloom and doom scenarios, a sense of optimism survives. Koh Samui remains one of the most popular destinations in Asia, and the general prognosis is that the slowdown is temporary. Looking to the future, a number of property sales and rental firms have already begun channeling their resources creatively in order to better position themselves when the market rebounds. One of the most noticeable results of this vision is a significant increase in the island's online presence. A web-frenzy is taking place on Samui, along with a diversification of approach to web-based marketing that sees local businesses attempting to reach more clients in the short-term and at the same time establish a greater brand image for the future.

Tools of the trade
Whether looking for a hotel, holiday villa or second home, tourists and investors now have a range of tools literally at their fingertips to help them make informed choices. Google is generally the first step in the search for satisfaction, which has prompted many companies to look at how their web presence impacts on the bottom line. The smart money is now increasingly being invested into intelligent redesign, search engine optimization and social media, all of which affect the way potential customers arrive at a site.

'When looking for a destination online, most people follow a similar pattern,' says Mark Currie from Deckchair Asia, one of the island's creative web specialists. 'They Google it first, then check what other people say about it on sites like Trip Advisor and travel blogs, compare prices via the online agents and finally, see what it actually looks like on You Tube.'

Such approaches to virtual travel and vacation investments are changing the way companies market their properties. It's no longer simply a question of designing an 'all singing, all dancing' website, but rather a question of making sure the products and services offered can be easily found, while also targeting specific client groups through a range of different online media. 'It's quite an involved process,' explained Currie, 'both technically, and in terms of the content needed. The most successful firms are those with clear web strategy that they implement on an ongoing basis. It's not about tricks and software, you have to be committed and constantly maintain your status to keep up with the competition.'

One Samui company that has taken the lead when it comes to online marketing is Samui Villas and Homes, the island's largest villa sales and rentals agency. The company's website is actually a series of independent sites, each focusing on a different product range with refined options such as 'Signature Collection Villas', 'Boutique Villas', as well as events-based products like 'Signature Weddings' that extend the range of options for potential customers. The site is content driven, with a huge database of photographs, villa descriptions and services. In addition, the company spends time and money maintaining and monitoring their web presence and continually adding new features. 'The work we do online has a direct impact on our business,' said Marc Ribail, Cheif Operating Officer. 'But the web is not only about gaining more exposure. It's also a tool for promoting Samui as a destination, creating a clear brand identity and actually giving customers practical information and support in o