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Standing together? Phuket hotels and marine industry may unite on common goals

Standing together? Phuket hotels and marine industry may unite on common goals

PHUKET: Will the Thai Marine Business Association (TMBA) and the Phuket Hotels Association (PHA) join forces on key issues facing the key industries on the island? That was the clear question after the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) Sundowners networking event at Phuket Boat Lagoon last Friday (Sept 8).

By Chris Husted

Sunday 17 September 2017, 10:00AM

The event, organised in collaboration with the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) and the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (BCCT), included a panel discussion titled “Outlook for the Phuket Marine and Hospitality Industries”, where leading figures in both industries raised key concerns for the future of both industries.

On the hospitality front, panel speaker Michael Cowan, Executive Director at Beacon Sky Hospitality, predicted that mid-range hotels were to boom in trade in the ongoing demographic shift in tourist arrivals to the island, and that independent hotel operators were likely to face a tougher time as more branded hotel operations moved in to take advantage of that shift.

Yet even international operators will face the same greater challenges affecting the entire tourism industry, the kingpin of which is the management of natural resources in the region, which are the key catalyst in attracting tourists to Phuket, he noted.

To this, Mr Cowan pointed out how the PHA was also facing similar issues and how the association was tackling them.

Fellow panel speakers Wicky Sundram CMP, Executive Director at Phuket Boat Lagoon, and Scott Bradley, CEO at East Marine, both noted how the marine industry in Phuket had grown over the years and needed support in more marina facilities and services, even though Phuket is leading the region in both.

“The place has changed. The number of mid-range boats continues to grow – the marinas are filling up – but bigger boats are coming,” Mr Sundram said.

Mr Sundram also highlighted how the Aseanarean Bluewater Alliance was working towards closer integration in attracting pleasure boating cruise arrivals to arrive in the region with the confidence of international-standard marinas and their services as they moved from one marina to another throughout Asean.

Challenged on marina prices, Mr Sundram pointed out that Phuket was more expensive than Malaysia but cheaper than Singapore – and that Phuket had the quality of services and facilities that saw boats arriving from throughout the region to take advantage of that fact.

Scott Bradley, CEO at East Marine, with nigh on 30 years in Phuket as a shipwright providing boat engineering services, supported that point, noting how Phuket had already cemented its position as the port of call in the region for professional marine services.

“Phuket is already known throughout the region for the range and professionalism of marine services available. It is a great hub for refit and repairs, and that is why everyone is coming here,” he said.

However, Mr Bradley noted that the boats are getting bigger, “and we need facilities to serve them” he said.

To that he pointed out that the Premier Boatyard at the northern end of Phuket was working on getting an 800-ton lift to haul out larger yachts operational, likely in service next year.

Boon Yongsakul, Chairman of Boat Pattana Co Ltd and the key figure in the operation of Boat Lagoon Marina, also noted from the audience that the 120-ton lift at Boat Lagoon was on its way, hopefully ready for use by the end of the year.

Closing panel speaker Andrew de Bruin, General Manager at Multihull Solutions Asia, also highlighted the long-term sustained growth Phuket’s marine industry has enjoyed over the past two decades.

“The region has grown significantly. Phuket had only two marinas in the 1990s, now there are five and more in the region, including Port Takola in Krabi Boat Lagoon,” he said.

The industry had grown to now see 8,000 to `10,000 people on the water every day, Mr De Bruin noted.

“The government is realising the benefits of this, and slowly taking steps to help support it,” he said.

But the industry does need more assistance, Mr De Bruin pointed out.

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“The industry needs supporting infrastructure for marinas and boat services, more support in skills development for people working in the industry – and very importantly regulation and education in protecting the the natural resources that bring the tourists,” he said.

Mr De Bruin noted the symbiotic relationship between the marine and hospitality industries. “When one does well, the other does well,” he said pointedly.

The two-way relationship extends to even crossover in skills – hospitality skills, service skills right down to catering and mechanical services – and that in both sectors Phuket has developed ahead of the curve compared with other locales in the region. “This crossover has supported both industries,” he said.

Panel moderator Harry Usher, AustCham Phuket Coordinator and co-owner with his wife Susan of Phuket’s well-known Lady Pie bakery business, moved to questions to the floor, with the ensuing discourse covering a gamut issues, including the unlikely viability of a west coast marina or a water-taxi service along the west coast without heavy investment due to the pounding seas brought on by the southwest monsoon six months every year.

Safety was another issue raised. Australian Consul-General for Phuket Craig Ferguson noted the support the Australian Government was providing in assisting Phuket’s lifeguards in making the beaches safer to swim, while on the boating safety front consensus was that a huge shift in the current local stance on safety is needed, as evidenced throughout the Kingdom, and not just on the water.

Mr Cowan called for better use of accreditation, and enforcement of the requirements involved accrediting people in the marine industry.

Jaroen Deknatel, Managing Director of Waterline Marine and an accredited Marine Surveyor from Lloyd’s Maritime Academy with 30 years of hands-on experience in Thailand’s marine industry, that on the issue of water safety, after describing the state of play and which types of businesses were more involved in water safety incidents in Phuket, noted, “Experts can help, but this is the government’s job.”

The issue of safety becomes crucial when media reports of incidents reach people outside the region, literally the key source markets for all international tourists to Phuket, who have little knowledge of the area, added Lies Sol of Northrop & Johnson’s Phuket office, and also a long-term figure in Phuket’s marine industry.

The problem extended even to marketing awareness. “We get charter requests asking things like, ‘Can we start in Phuket, go down to Singapore, then go on to Bali... like, in three days?’ People just don’t know the size and the geography of the region,” she said.

Ms Sol also pointed out that this is crucial when negative reports in the media of anywhere in the region lead people not in Asia to think the event is in the “same place”.

“We’re all affected, whether the event has anything to do with us or not,” she said.

Yet the key issue raised was encapsulated by Andy Dowden, co-founder of the Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX) now known as the Phuket Rendezvous, with the words: “Management of the natural resources is the single greatest threat to the future of the marine industry.”

The point resonated throughout the audience, all in support with a common understanding that the bare fact was truth.

PHA President Anthony Lark, present in the audience, noted the similarity in all the issues facing both the hotel and the marine industries and how both the PHA and the TMBA could easily work together in tackling all the similar issues with a greater vision of ensuring the equitable future of both industries.

AustCham Thailand President Brenton Mauriello after the event told The Phuket News that the idea of the TMBA and the PHA aligning their efforts on common interests “made absolute sense”.

“They could each offer one honorary chair on each association’s committee. That way the information can flow between the two associations and an issue one association is facing can be brought to the attention of the other,” he said.

“That would work well for both,” Mr Mauriello said.

The Phuket News was a proud sponsor of the AustCham Sundowners event at the Boat Lagoon.

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