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Barry King (left) and Pieter van der Hoeven at West Sands

North and South Bloom as Outrigger Buys In

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Contender for Innovation of the Year 2008
THE FIRST of about 1500 new jobs on Phuket will soon be advertised as the deal between the developers of West Sands and the Outrigger resorts group starts to produce long-term benefits for the island.

For its first year, the huge centrepiece waterpark at the new development, capable of catering to 3000 fun-seekers a day, is likely to be open to outsiders from nearby resorts.

So rich is the glow from the Mai Khao marriage between the two groups that the Pacific Outrigger brand has plunged into a second deal on the island, down south at Rawai.

The Outrigger Serenity Terraces Resort places the Hawaii-based group even more squarely on the map of Phuket, with destinations in both Phuket's northern and southern hotspots.

Details of the deal were revealed when Phuketwan met with West Sands' Barry King and Outrigger general manager Pieter van der Hoeven at the sprawling West Sands development.

Mr King said that the first-phase 168 units of the total of 456 units at West Sands would be ready to be occupied before the 2008-2009 high season.

The waterpark will become the leading feature among a list of special attractions that include a holistic spa based on Chinese medicine and a National Geographic dive centre, plus a Thai restaurant in an organic garden.

Outrigger will manage the waterpark, which is scheduled to open in November 2008. ''The waterpark will be a big anchor,'' Mr van der Hoeven said.

First guests can be expected at the 396-key Outrigger Resort one year later, but the hiring process for staff at both West Sands and the Outrigger resorts is beginning.

The West Sands deal with Outrigger was sealed earlier this year and the announcement of Outrigger's second island investment came this month.

Outrigger Enterprise Group seems headed for growth in the region.

The 78-unit Serenity Terraces Resort attracted attention before the deal was done when Formula 1 Grand Prix champ Kimi Raikkonen bought a beachfront unit there.

Mr van der Hoeven said sales at Serenity Terraces had been slow for the first year but were now strong.

Like West Sands, the five-star Outrigger Serenity Terraces, due to open in early 2009, promotes a range of watersports extras.

While many island projects are struggling to find customers, West Sands is another exception, despite the distraction of occasional flight-path noise from the nearby airport.

''We sold six units alone last week,'' Mr King said. The first phase is sold out and more than one third of the whole project has already gone.

A large percentage of the condos and villas are expected to go into a rental pool.

''We don't do a lot of marketing,'' Mr King said. ''There's no secret to it. We have had great response from initial owners who have bought more and told friends so it's more referral marketing than anything.

''People are wanting more for their money now. They are going around the island, seeing what else is available, and it seems we are winning their confidence.''

The scale of the project is what impresses many would-be buyers. ''They are happy to commit themselves,'' Mr King said.

''We have a wide mix. Recently we have been attracting the mainland Chinese market. They like the proximity to Blue Canyon for golf.''

While the China market has been damaged in the past by Zero Tour Fare package tourism, Mr van der Hoeven says the Chinese can be expected to come to Phuket in greater numbers very soon.

''They are growing more sophisticated,'' he said. ''The emerging middle class like to travel. These are people who can afford to travel.''

The developers bought more land to enable them to expand the resort and went hunting for a resort partner through island consultant Bill Barnett at C9 Hotelworks.

''He's done a fantastic job for us,'' Mr King said. ''We were down to three or four candidates in the end, including a few major chains.

''The reason we chose Outrigger was because they were a small family brand. We wanted to build our own branding up as well.''

The timing was good because Outrigger, with a strong Pacific foundation, happened to be looking to expand into Asia.

''The Outrigger philosophy is family values,'' Mr van der Hoeven said. ''We do mixed development very well. We bring that knowledge across and marry it with Thai hospitality.

''We are going to bring the brand up another notch in Asia to a five-star brand. We did a big study two-and-a-half years ago and Asia was the way.

''We are still looking at other destinations and will grow at a sensible pace. We will only do quality development.''

Some large brands also competed with Outrigger to win the deal with Serenity Terraces.

''It's really moving along quite nicely,'' Mr van der Hoeven said. ''Fifty percent of their inventory is sold as well.''

Outrigger, the brand, distinguishes itself by offering a real bond with the local culture.

''Some of the bigger brands are boxing the Thai people into policies and procedures and not allowing their natural hospitality to come through,'' Mr van der Hoeven said.

''What we will do is allow the Thais to create that natural hospitality. You will get a lot more warmth, and a lot more feeling of family.

''We will create Outrigger values specific to the destination, as we did in Fiji and Guam. We are not trying to transplant an Outrigger culture to Thailand.

''We are recruiting for Serenity Terraces at the moment and we will start looking at recruitment for West Sands in about six months.''

Almost all the top management would be Thais, he said.

Mr King added that the local community was already beginning to enjoy the benefits of West Sands' arrival.

''The local village head is training people in massage therapy,'' Mr King said.

''And Mai Khao is such a beautiful beach. Those trees along the front have to remain there, so it will always look like that.''

Related Articles:

From Hero to Zero: How Phuket Lost China
The West, Tame and Pleasant

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