It’s ten years since the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated the coastal countries that border the Indian Ocean. The tectonic brush between the Indian and Burmese plates caused the deaths of more than 230,000 people in 14 countries when it created one of the largest tidal waves in recorded history.
Among these, Thailand, a country in which tourism and beach business accounts for around US$16bn a year, was one of the most afflicted. Tourism comprises seven per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, making it a greater contributor to national wealth than in any other Asian nation. And of course the majority of this is derived from recreation in the country’s beach communities.
When it reached land, the tsunami connected with Thailand’s southwestern coast, destroying lives and businesses in places such as Krabi, Phuket and Khao Lak, the country’s most popular tourist areas. The latter was almost entirely laid to waste by the wave. Since then much has been done to repair the livelihoods and ultimately, restore tourism trade in the region. Unfortunately this led to a free-for-all on the beaches – merchants returned in droves.
But following the military coup of May 2014; the culmination of six months of political protest against the ruling Yingluck cabinet, Thailand’s beaches have been given back to the public. The Junta’s beach clean-up has cleared the way for MICE business in the area, those conceived to capitalise on Thailand’s incredible coastline.
Development at Laguna Phuket
Laguna Phuket, a large resort occupying Bang Tao beach on the west coast of the island area Phuket, is one such event destination building on the now increasingly enviable real estate. A former tin mine, the land was acquired by Singapore’s KP family, owner of the Banyan Tree resort, hotel and spa brand.
The resort comprises several hotels including Dusit Thani, an upmarket venue complete with exhibition space; Angsana, a younger-skewing hotel that includes a beachside events space; Banyan Tree, a retreat-style resort that includes a professional-standard golf course and Outrigger, recently revitalised to include a new conference venue, the largest such permanent space within the resort.
In total the resort offers 1,300 guest rooms and villas in seven hotels, 24 meeting rooms and a 1,000sqm function marquee. A permanent convention service and audio-visual team is in residence, as well as the expertise of Phuket-based teambuilding outfit Quest, which offers a broad range of corporate leisure programmes built on a 20-year understanding of the Asian MICE industry.
Laguna Phuket is 27 years old, and in this time has always positioned itself as a family-friendly location for events, a place for delegates to come and relax. Its composition and atmosphere make it a very suitable destination for events with partner programmes, spouses and families all catered for as you set to work.
A December appearance at Angsana’s Xana beach cafe event space by veteran DJ Paul Oakenfold is a rare burst of noise in an otherwise notably tranquil place for business. Crashing waves and white sand sit very well as a backdrop to talk of end-of-year profits. Better still when you can take advantage of them afterwards.
The resort is connected to free wifi throughout, which enables laptops and office communication at the various meeting rooms, poolside cafes and bars, and of course apartments and hotel rooms. Transit comes courtesy of a water ferry that connects the hotels across the lagoon, and by request in one of several resort minibuses.
The venue’s interconnectivity stretches beyond that. Residents at one resort can eat and play at locations in other hotels in the resort and still charge the expense to their room elsewhere, which aids billing and expenses on return to the office.
Uniquely within this group, the Angsana hotel owns the section of beach that borders the hotel. It is very well set up for events such as gala drinks or opening nights for events held anywhere in Laguna Phuket. The venue offers a separate check in for large groups, managing the coachloads inbound from Phuket airport without disrupting the holidaymakers at the reception desk.
A staircase then takes the group along a stream to a green space on the banks of the lagoon, whereby they would typically be provided with drinks and invited to cross to the Xana beach club in groups of 30 by ferry, or on a five-minute walk around the edge of the lagoon to the beachfront, drink in hand. The Xana beach club itself can accommodate sit down functions for groups of 600, with additional poolside space and overspill onto the beachfront with a view out to the ocean.
Conferences are better accommodated at Angsana than most hotels in Laguna Phuket. The 350sqm Angsana Ballroom holds 400 in theatre style, 200 as a classroom, and can be divided to become two 220sqm and 140sqm rooms. Four breakout rooms can be found on the same wing. A 1,000sqm white marquee titled ‘Latitude’ is located in front of the hotel’s main reception can hold 1,000 in theatre style and 600 in classroom format, and can be adjusted, although this is in effect, a rudimentary longstanding temporary structure.
Banyan Tree is a hotel composed entirely of apartments, and as far as the MICE community is concerned, it’s primarily for the more senior delegates. However, its golf course, currently being expanded, is of particular interest to the MICE crowd. It hosted Asian golf tour event the Thai Open in 2009, as well as staging corporate meetings and events, and is currently overhauling nine of its 18 holes.
It was also the stage for BMW’s end of year sales event, a big thank you to the car manufacturer’s best dealers. The event brought 500 people together in a marquee at the driving range where the land is flat, with VIPs put up in the villas, catering from Angsana, which also hosted drinks on the first night at its Xana beach cafe.
Dusit Thani, the first of the hotels to go up at Laguna Phuket, offers Dusit Laguna Hall, a 240sqm conference space for 256 in theatre style and 180 for banquet, able to be split into the 80sqm Laguna Hall and the 160sqm Dusit Hall, but for the most part this is a residential hotel catering for the most upmarket of the resort’s visitors.
More appropriate to the MICE market, and most renovated at Laguna Phuket is Outrigger, a smaller venue that will soon present Laguna Phuket with a new dedicated conference space that will offer banquet accommodation for 350, with 400 in theatre style.
Hotel director Rory Campbell explains Laguna Phuket is hoping for more large groups, and the new space adds another string to the resort’s bow. “It enables us to go after conference and meeting groups of more than 200,” he says. “We needed the space. We have good suppliers in Phuket. People wrongly assume that is not the case with an island, but this is not true.”
Campbell points to the longstanding partnership with Quest as evidence MICE events are catered for at an international standard at Laguna Phuket and beyond, in addition to the resort’s CSR programmes. “We’re very socially aware at Outrigger, delegations with attending events with a CSR component can expect to build bicycles for impoverished village kids, as well as planting mangroves to help protect the natural wildlife in and around Phuket,” he says. “There are many fulfilling ways to give back to the community. We mustn’t forget that despite these facilities, there are genuine third-world elements in need of help not far from here.”
Of course, many of the people he speaks of had their lives shattered when the wave hit in 2004, and having scraped their livelihoods back by doing business on the region’s beaches, the Junta’s beach cleanup means they are now in search of a new source of income. For many, the need for a bike to cycle to work elsewhere is a pressing one.
Laguna Phuket’s appeal to the MICE market, 10 years on from the wave that demolished the lives and livelihoods of so many, is clear to see.
This was first published in issue 78 of CMW? Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor