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The jetty at Cape Panwa, with Coral Island not far away

Cape Panwa's Suite New Lease on Phuket Life

Monday, January 26, 2009
Tour Cape Panwa: Photo Album

THE CAPE Panwa Hotel & Spa, leading lady of charm and style on Phuket's east coast, is to have a little cosmetic surgery to give her a new lease on life.

Renown for relaxation, the Cape will become one of the first of her generation to undergo multi-million baht cosmetic surgery that should dispose of a few wrinkles and leave her looking sleek and attractive.

General Manager Claude Sauter, one of the island's genuine gm nice guys, has had two long affairs with lady Cape. He loves the place and is keen to see her new shape.

What's happening at the Cape will probably happen in the next few years at more resorts of a certain age: rooms are being enlarged so that they will double in size and gain the kind of plumbing and spectacular bathrooms that people desire these days.

So the old-century Cape's 240 rooms will, with some extra villas and remodelling, become 150. That should be quite an adventure, but as usual the lady has her timing right.

Now or next high season, after the remake, the Cape is and will be a delightful place to stay or to go for a meal.

There's a secluded beach backed by a grassy lawn under coconut palms, a white jetty jutting towards Coral Island, and the classic journey down from the hotel comes in a cable trolley car.

There is no place quite like it. Modern architects now look to repeat this discreet and natural treatment.

''Our customer base is strong,'' Mr Sauter said. ''People enjoy coming back. We didn't have too many cancellations after the airport blockade in Bangkok.

''If you are in England and you want to go to the South of France or Spain or Italy, it is not going to be cheap. Once you have paid the airfare and you are here, the living is good. Thailand is still good value for money.''

The plan for renovation has been discussed in depth, with a lot of brainstorming. ''We want to make it right,'' Mr Sauter said.

''We don't want to make it a 360 degree change. We don't want to close the hotel entirely. We know we have to upgrade the place.

''Competition is coming from all over Phuket and Khao Lak these days.''

The project will start in April, after Songkran and Easter, with the mockup room underway.

The original plan was to turn every two rooms into one room, but with 100 suites that might be difficult to manage.

So on a spare piece of land nearby, 50 additional rooms are to be built.

From that plan, a more conservative model emerged that included 52 suites, with 120 superior rooms. Suites plus balconies will be close to 75 square metres.

The first raft of renovations should be complete in October, with more next year, if that seems desirable.

The Cape already has a new spa and an executive lounge, so guests with late flights can enjoy their last day on the beach, or early-arriving guests can take a shower and relax until their rooms are vacated.

The trip up to the four-star from its three-star companion, the Kantary Bay, can be made by seung tau over a steep road.

The Kantary Bay aims to attract visitors, many of them from Europe, who come for three months, four months, perhaps even six months.

''We have more and more people who come for a long stay on Phuket and I think numbers will increase,'' Mr Sauter said. ''This Baby Boomer generation is slowly starting to retire.

''They are healthy and quite wealthy. They have good hospitals and airline flexibility on Phuket. The number will increase.''

Cape Panwa, meanwhile, caters for holidaymakers. ''We want to take Cape Panwa to the next level,'' Mr Sauter said.

''We will be testing the market to see the response. There is great potential for Cape Panwa because it is secluded, we have the beach, we have plenty of space.''

The size of the rooms used to be a weak point. So did the old-fashioned bathrooms. All that is about to change.

It's Mr Sauter's second love-affair with the Cape, having dallied here for several years back in the '90s.

Now he notes that the lady is not on her own the way she once was, even though the cape itself, despite an expanding neighborhood, remains very relaxed.

Stress is not a word that people use much at the Cape. ''Our customer age base is going down,'' Mr Sauter said. ''We have more young people coming.

''When we ask them, we find they have been to stay in Patong the first time and when they come back, they usually like to go to different places.''

Kasemkij Co, which owns the hotels, is now specialising in serviced apartments and reports 2008 occupancy rates of 80 percent or higher.

Mr Sauter says that for the hotel side of the business, it's too early to predict how 2009 will shape up.

''I can't tell you how March will be,'' he said. ''Usually tour operators send a report 30 days in advance.

''We can guess . . . we can say we have feedback from the agents. But best to wait and see.''

A great time, perhaps, for the lady's appointment with that cosmetic surgeon.

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