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Laguna Holiday Club attracts customers at Phuket International Airport

Laguna Phuket Prepares for Uncertain 2009

Thursday, October 30, 2008
Inside Award-Winning Dusit: Photo Album

PHUKET'S largest destination resort has delayed international expansion and the building of its seventh resort in the belief that the current global financial crisis requires extreme caution.

Senior management at Laguna Phuket, the island's biggest private employer, believe the so-called ''credit crunch'' is likely to produce a risky climate for tourism entrepreneurs through 2009.

On hold are:

..the Laguna Vietnam plan, which involves joint-venture investment and the building of seven resorts simultaneously;

..construction of an upscale Angsana-brand resort of more than 200 rooms at Laguna Phuket, and

..the purchase of a $US2 million helium balloon.

However, going ahead at Laguna Phuket are property sales, the Latitude convention marquee, and the regional growth of the Laguna Holiday Club time-share venture.

The latest in a series of property investment projects in and around the resort precinct, Lofts At Laguna Village, is being well-received in international markets.

Although some expansion plans have been suspended until the financial storm blows over, property sales are reported to have never been stronger.

Home to six resorts, including the original Banyan Tree, the 21-year-old Laguna Phuket enclave now provides much of the revenue driving the expansion of the Banyan Tree brand in Asia especially.

Laguna's Director of Destination Marketing, Debbie Dionysius, told Phuketwan that the steady-as-she-goes approach was a strategic decision.

''We have to stagger our new projects very carefully,'' she said. ''We've had so many challenges throughout the entire decade.''

Other brand entrepreneurs may see it differently. A couple of popular resort names in the region started out in the difficult environment of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Laguna meanwhile is concentrating on new markets, looking to open up Russia and China by engaging specialist sales representation in Moscow and Shanghai.

Both markets, Ms Dionysius says, are relationship-based and require on-the-spot representatives.

Later, walking around the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, which has just won a Tourism Authority of Thailand award for being the best large hotel in the south, we encountered a large party of Russian agents touring the resort.

More will be coming. The drive for new markets, and the competition, is likely to intensify in an unpredicatable 2009.

Ms Dionysius says: ''The UK, one of our best markets, is going through very tough times. We are going to pay more attention to Russia and regional markets closer to home.

''We are seeing changes in the Russian market. We have to work harder to find those five star Russians.''

And five-star Chinese, too. ''China is relatively untapped, and it's all relationship based,'' she added.

Ms Dionysius has just returned from two wedding fairs in Britain where Laguna Phuket, with its white Chapel-on-the-Lagoon, was the only Asian presence.

A competition to win a Laguna Phuket wedding attracted a lot of attention, particularly in a country where a wedding can easily cost upto 20,000 pounds.

A trip to marry in Phuket can be had for 5000 to 6000 pounds.

The six resorts at Laguna Phuket each have distinctive characters and corporate models and are able combine on marketing the destination worldwide without spats.

It's a formula for good times and hard times. And when any single resort wins an award, as Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket did recently, the kudos benefits everyone.

Natsaran Jitpakdee, Public Relations Manager at the Dusit, says the resort's TAT 2008 award involved the protection of natural resources and the environment, sustaining art and culture, self-sufficiency and corporate social responsibility.

The resort may have celebrated its 20th anniversary last year but the rooms are given modern makeovers as often as possible.

Now the addition of the three-storey Dusit Laguna Villas, each with a rooftop pool and overlooking the sea or the lagoon, has added a layer of top-class luxury.

Yet essentially, the Dusit's appeal has been unchanged since it was built on a disused tin mine site, the first of the Laguna Phuket resorts.

Ever since, the Dusit has been fighting a battle against erosion, caused by the effect of offshore tin mining.

Huge amounts of sand have been used to fill the holes on the ocean bottom and the coastline is still sandbagged each monsoon season as a protective measure.

Modern environmentally aware seaside properties have the kind of setback from the beach that the pioneers at the Dusit sensibly created.

It's such a pleasure to see.

If a 50-metre setback from the beaches had been made law 30 years ago, just imagine what a real paradise Phuket would be today.

The Dusit is a good example of what might have been.

Phuketwan met a European guest last year who comes with his wife every year, even immediately after the tsunami, to stay at this resort each high season.

The secret is the enchanted garden around the swimming pool. Shaded by casuarinas and palms, with the Andaman Sea close by, it's a magical setting.

And this guest had been a travelling sales representative, seeing all of Thailand in his youth. He first came to Phuket by road in 1957, staying at the On On Hotel.

Yet despite his roaming, it was to the Dusit that he and his wife came in 1988. And they have been coming back ever since.

In the resort business, it doesn't come much better than that.

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