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Tasteful decorations shine at Outrigger Laguna, Phuket's latest success

V-Day For a Phuket Success That Isn't Open Yet

Monday, November 30, 2009
Phuketwan Photo Album Above

NEW RESORTS usually take a while to establish a reputation and build occupancy rates. The Outrigger Laguna Resort and Villas opens on December 1 . . . with an 80 percent occupancy rate.

This is a remarkable figure, and this is also a remarkable resort. The island's new Outrigger, based at Laguna Village, marries the essence of both Phuket's property and resort businesses.

It was a whirlwind romance. As tourism and property on Phuket slipped into crisis, the people at Laguna and at Outrigger slipped into bed.

Out of that hasty romance, swept along by difficult times and coincidence, comes an innovative resort model that is a rarity in hard times: a resort that's a success even before it even opens.

If ever there was a good example to other resorts of how to make the best of your luck, in good times or not so good times, this is it.

Laguna had just put its new boutique resort plan on hold. Outrigger had just fallen out of love with West Sands, where the developers cancelled plans for a big branded resort. And so an idea based on a novel tryst was born.

Tuesday marks D Day and the launch of the Outrigger Laguna, although in many ways it's really more of a ''V-Day.''

Management at the resort has sliced through some of the old theories that usually govern pricing and service. The key, say both general manager Pieter van der Hoeven, and butler service manager Chawipa ''Jib'' Patrasudhi, is value.

The village is classic timeless villa accommodation, all in serried rows and most with private pools, at better prices than resorts can match.

A two-bedroom villa with access to a large curving pool comes at 6000 baht a night, a three-bedroom villa with private pool (and access to the central pool) costs 9000 baht, and the four-bedroom variety costs 13,000 baht.

Considering it's possible to sleep up to eight, the arithmetic and the cost savings are self-evident. Though the resort is a shuttle bus ride from the beach, there's no debate required about pricing or quality.

The owners of the 68 villas that make up Outrigger Laguna are mostly not complaining, either. With a couple of exceptions, they've happily embraced the notion of having resort facilities and high standard communal entertainment . . . plus the prospect that the creation of the resort will, in all likelihood, improve their return on investment.

''We're offering all the hotel services, including butler (branded Yim Siam) service, 24 hour room service, bringing the cooking to guests,'' said Mr van der Hoeven.

''We have really strong Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia markets. And in Australia you have a three-generational travel market where you get the kids, their parents and their grandparents travelling together.''

The villas are ideal for travelling families. The offer on pricing holds for the next 15 or perhaps even 18 months, without fluctuating through high or low seasons, giving people time to try the concept once, twice, or perhaps even three times in some cases.

The value concept also applies to the substantial mini-bars, where prices are the same as at 7-Eleven. How far off can the revolution in high-priced f&b be? Maybe not that far.

''We will have another 110 units when The Lofts, one- two- three-bedroom apartments, become part of this project,'' Mr van der Hoeven said.

''Our biggest strength is how to run these kinds of resorts.

''It's a great product that suits the market. We have 82-83 percent occupancy on the book for December, 75-76 on the book for January, so that means we'll finish at 90. February we will finish close to 90 . . .''

How has that been done in such a short space of time?

''We are very strong in the local markets. Japan has faith in us. Hong Kong is the same. We have a good track record. We've hit our mark.

''Online, Outrigger's e-commerce model is very potent. We have a direct connection with Expedia and big online travel agents. The connectivity just makes it really easy.''

''It's a good value proposition. Our advertising campaign is all about finding time with your family, finding time with your loved ones.

''These houses provide that opportunity. You can spend time together, or you can get out together.

''Once we started talking about 12 months ago, we did a whole lot of research.

''Holidays have gone away from pampering to activities-based. We've got two yoga masters and a tai chi master, so ever morning there are complimentary classes, and we run bike tours and personal training.''

The Lofts will bring more facilities, among those a new-fangled bistro-plus arrangement known as a ''gastropub'' offering Mediterranean food in an open bar setting.

''We are also looking at a traditional Aussie deli drive-through, too. You will be able to send email, and pick the food up on the way out for the day.''

Having made a strategic decision to move into Asia rather than South America, Hawaii-based Outrigger is now establishing its Asian outpost on Phuket, rather than Singapore. The corporate Outrigger offices at Plaza del Mar, not far down the road, are being enlarged.

''Next year will be a very exciting year for Outrigger in terms of announcements,'' Mr van der Hoeven said.

There is one serious problem at the new resort, though.

''We've had some comments that our rates are not high enough for the product we've got,'' he added. That's a complaint most resorts would like to have more often.
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