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Outrigger Serenity Terraces is the brand's first five-star resort

Outrigger Sets Sail in Rawai and Asiawide

Monday, April 6, 2009
Outrigger Serenity Photo Album Above

THE GLOBAL economic crunch does not seem to have shaken the confidence of the Hawaiian resort management company that opened the Outrigger Serenity Terraces in Rawai this month.

Outrigger is planning to open no less than 15 resorts in South-East Asia within five years, with Serenity Terraces in Phuket's south serving as the key barometer in honing the Asian expansion.

A second Phuket Outrigger resort is still under construction at West Sands in Mai Khao Beach, with completion ''some time away,'' said Michael Cowan, Outrigger's Vice President Operations and Projects.

Not only is Serenity Terraces the company's first foray into Southeast Asia, it is also Outrigger's first stab at the luxury end of the market, says General Manager Pieter van der Hoeven.

Outrigger is handling only the resort management. Though Outrigger often invests in projects it manages, it has only a management contract with the resort's developer, Mr van der Hoeven explained.

Some 65 percent of the 78 units at the development have been sold, and 90 percent of the buyers opted into the investment income offer. The developer is offering a six percent income guarantee for three years.

Outrigger's task is to fill those rooms with holidaymakers.

So far, bookings for the off-peak season have been better than expected, said Mr van der Hoeven. They foresaw six months ago that an economic downturn was coming, and ''hired up to the levels of expected occupancy'', he says, adding that they ''made no compromise in terms of investment in the resort''.

For the coming high season, ''all indications are of pent-up demand,'' he said. ''People are shopping for better value, but they are still going to take a holiday, especially the short-haul market.''

Bookings are coming mainly from Japan, Hong Kong and Korea, as well as Australia, where Outrigger has had numerous properties and ''brand recognition is very strong,'' Mr van der Hoeven said.

Outrigger is also looking at Bangkok, with special promotions advertised in Thai in newspapers and magazines.

The resort held a party in the capital on the weekend before the April 2 soft opening, with Thai tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan and his wife, former Miss Universe Natalie Glebova appearing as official spokespeople for Serenity Terraces.

The celebrity couple join Formula 1 star Kimi Raikkonen, who owns one of the villas, in adding pizzazz to the project.

While the two Phuket resorts get up and running, Outrigger is aggressively pursuing expansion in other resort areas in Thailand, Vietnam, China and elsewhere.

At least 15 resorts in Southeast Asia will be operating under the Outrigger brand within five years, Michael Cowan said, adding that this was his ''most pessimistic'' outlook.

Its first Bali resort is due to open next year. Outrigger also recently announced that it would manage one resort on Hainan Island in China, part of a mega US$4 billion project of 10-12 hotels comprising many global hotel brands, says Mr van der Hoeven.

Outrigger's confidence in its future in South-East Asia comes from its flexible approach, said Mr Cowan, who together with Senior VP Darren Edmonstone is the chief deal-maker in Asia, operating from Outrigger's Asian regional office in Phuket.

''We're not just a management company; sometimes we invest or do joint ventures. Sometimes it's a direct relationship, sometimes there's assistance given to the owner early on,'' he said.

''For other opportunities in Thailand, there's not always cash on the table, investment comes in different forms. We look at best way to get a deal done.

''Being an independent company we're not beholden to shareholders; managers make decisions, you work with the owners and move ahead.

''It's fun. That's why I'm doing it.''

Outrigger's expertise is not only in resort management, but also in running golf courses, marinas and multi-use properties, he said.

The company is also about to launch its own spa/wellbeing centre brand. ''We embrace mixed-use management,'' he said.

Though Mr Cowan wouldn't reveal which property developers Outrigger was in talks with, he said ''many'' are approaching for possible agreements.

They have met with developers of properties in Pattaya, Krabi, Phang Nga, Hua Hin and Koh Samui, looking at new and existing resorts to manage, he said.

''We're very busy,'' Mr Cowan said. ''We're very pleased.''

The only limit is location, he said. Outrigger manages only seaside properties, no urban hotels.

Outrigger West Sands is mainly a management agreement with ''some investment,'' Mr Cowan said.

The West Sands waterpark, scheduled to open in November, will be operated by Outrigger once the resort is complete, sometime in 2011.

Mr Cowan says new builds throughout the region are expected to slow down.

''Economically, this is a global issue, not only Thailand.

''Everybody knows there will be an upside, but the big question is when.''

He expects Phuket to hold up well through the turmoil, since it is a ''strong brand'' and very resilient.

''We have a biannual drama of some form. The coup, tsunami, financial crisis, bird flu. We're used to challenges in Phuket.

''A lot of other markets haven't had the challenges that Phuket has had, so the professionals that are in the hospitality industry here have had to think very open-mindedly, very creatively to respond to these market conditions.

''If you're in a staid market and run into problems, it's difficult. About every two years we say, 'Bring it on.'

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