Spread over 1,000 acres of parkland and with a 3km stretch of beach, Laguna Phuket, set up in Thailand in 1987 is one of Asia’s premier integrated resorts with five hotels and an 18-hole golf course. Business Today spoke to Ravi Chandran, CEO, Laguna Resorts and Hotels on his plans for the India market, promoting golf tourism and what ails the hospitality sector. Excerpts:
BT: What are your plans for the Indian market?
Ravi Chandran: Laguna has been around for 35 years and is well established in the European markets. But we never really focused on India. Indians have always come to Thailand but it was never a big market share of Laguna. They preferred Bangkok and Pattaya.
But because of our golf course, we know that there is a class in India that plays golf. So we thought we could target that Indian market. People who like to play golf and now that there are direct flights to Phuket from Delhi and Mumbai. So sport is one avenue. Then there is a larger market – the family. We have resorts and various activities for the family whether it be spas or activities for kids.
BT: When you target India, are you targeting specific geographies within India?
RC: It’s the usual suspects, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad.
BT: Which were your largest markets pre-Covid and which markets are you targeting now?
RC: Pre-Covid China was 23-24 percent of Laguna’s market. It was our largest. Then came Russia and then the other European countries such as UK and Germany. India pre-Covid was only 3-4 per cent. At the moment it has increased to 9-10 per cent. Direct flights have played a role and also promotions by Thailand tourism. In the last two months, Indians have been the largest arrivals in Thailand. Thai hospitality is great and we also have a lot of Indian food here. There are no Indian restaurants at Laguna but we do have two Indian chefs. We host a lot of Indian weddings. We just had two big weddings. We have always been popular for Indian weddings. But now we want more FIT, leisure, spa breaks, weekend golf etc. So that’s what we are promoting. We weren’t targeting the MICE segment earlier. We are going to do so now. India and the Middle East will be our focus markets now. Another thing Covid has taught us is how to market to the domestic tourist. Thailand has a population of 80 million, we need to market to them as well.
BT: How are you promoting golf?
RC: We have just signed up a partnership with the PGA. We are promoting golf in the Indian market through a golf league run by Shiv Kapur.
Then we have a deal with Jeev Milkha Singh. We will be using his contacts to kick off golf. We will be hosting pro-am tournaments. We are looking at promoting golf weekends.
BT: What is Laguna’s relationship with Banyan Tree?
RC: Laguna Resorts Thailand is a subsidiary company of Banyan Tree Holdings. Here at Laguna, we own three hotels – Banyan Tree Hotel, Angsana Hotel and Cassia Hotel. We manage two more but they have different owners – Dusit Thani and Saii. Banyan Tree Holdings is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. Accor has a 5 per cent market share in Banyan Tree so we have an agreement where we market their hotels and they market ours.
BT: When will we see a Banyan Tree Hotel in India?
RC: We are always on the lookout but we haven’t been successful. We used to manage the spas for the Oberoi hotels. We have one of our brands Angsana in Bangalore. We came very close to opening a Banyan Tree in Kerala but there was some problem with the land. We will also look at bringing our other brand Cassia to India. It’s a millennial hotel and we think it will do very well in the country.
BT: Hospitality has faced a lot of challenges over the last couple of years. What has troubled you the most?
RC: Manpower has been a huge issue. A lot of people have moved out of hospitality as they are worried that something like this may happen again. Hiring and training new staff has become a huge challenge. And that’s across the globe. Europe has had it worse than us. Thailand being a country of service, it is still easier to find people as compared to other countries.