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Phuket 'should model itself on Aussie gold coast'

By Michael Ayling

Michael Ayling, managing director of Laguna Resorts and Hotels, shares his |views over the tourism outlook in Phuket.

Question: The current tourism outlook in Phuket looks quite grim. How do you see the future for tourism in Phuket?

Answer:  Economic and political events have hurt Phuket’s economy as severely as anywhere else in the world. But if we were to look forward 10 years, I firmly believe that we have the product, the people, the developing infrastructure and the will to remain one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Question: What are the main priorities?

Answer: The keys are development of our people, new attractions, the building of more high end hotels, a world class convention centre, a growing marina industry, an expanded and upgraded airport and, ideally, a co-ordinated approach by the Phuket hospitality industry toward promoting the island as a destination.

Question: They are more mid to long term solutions. What about more immediate measures that can be taken?

Answer: An immediate answer to this has been the launch of “Summer in Phuket,” a marketing campaign backed by most off Phuket’s hospitality industry to “cancel” the so called “low season” and rename it “Summer Season“.  “Summer in Phuket” is a model in microcosm  Laguna Phuket has been committed to for many years.

Question: What about the people who work in the tourism industry. What can be done to retain them and keep them motivated through this downturn?

Answer: We must also use this period of downturn to productively prepare ourselves for the inevitable upturn, which means development of our people. At Laguna Phuket we are using this time to offer free training courses to our staff to upgrade their work related skills and also non-vocational activities.

Question: Phuket still attracts a lot of low budget tourists. Isn’t it about time there were more upmarket establishments on offer?

Answer: On a broader scale  I believe the perception of Phuket as a mass market tourist destination is changing to a higher end luxury destination.  For example we at Laguna Phuket are upgrading our facilities, such as a planned major revamp of our Golf Club, and placing the management of our Laguna Village property development under the highly respected Outrigger brand from Hawaii.

Question: What about facilities? There has been talk of water parks and big conference centres. Are these realistic?

Answer: Yes.  I believe we also need to complement areas such as the marina industry, with more family orientated attractions such as a water park and entertainment attractions.  Phuket should model itself on Australia’s Gold Coast which has good year round weather.

Question: Can Phuket compete with other destinations, like Bali for example, to broaden the type of tourists it attracts and what needs to be done to do this?

Answer: The demographics will change to include many more Chinese visitors, as well as the strong European trade continuing.  I think if we adopt the right strategies, some of which I have outlined here, Phuket will not only quickly resume its rightful place in the tourism spectrum but to continue to flourish well into the future.

Question: What’s your position on Corporate Social Responsibility—CSR—at a time of such severe downturn? Isn’t there are tenedency to cut corners and reduce this sort of activity?

Answer: No.I do not think CSR should be compromised on during tough times is Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR]. Laguna Phuket undertakes extensive CSR activities in the community. We consult and analyse what the community wants us to help with.

This Op-Ed piece originally appeared in the Nation. Published on August 10, 2009.
Forum discussions are available on the publisher's website

Michael Ayling is Managing Director of Laguna Resorts & Hotels, which covers seven resorts  on Phuket, as well as property developments and the  Laguna Holiday Club time share..

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