While many spend their student days in the library, extending their tie-dye T-shirt collection, or ‘finding themselves’ in the counter-culture, Trang-born Pisarn ‘Lek’ Trangkasombat spent much of his time while studying Sales and Marketing in the US looking at real estate and investment opportunities.
However, this unusual approach definitely stood Mr Lek, CEO of thailand-resort.net and owner of the recently-opened O2 Beach Club in Chalong, in good stead for the future.
After graduating, Khun Lek returned to Thailand, travelled to Samui and fell in love with the island.
“This was my first project, so I just bought a lease on the land and then built 16 bungalows. At the end of the 11 year lease, I left all the bungalows there, I just took out some fittings.
“But it was much different back then – leases were much cheaper and everything was easier.”
Indeed much has changed in the 20-plus years that Mr Lek has been in the hospitality and real estate industry, but the principles remain very much the same, he says.
“In the last 20 years it’s changed so much, it’s become much more expensive but also more desirable. People need to do their homework and study the market and be aware of whom they are targeting before making their selection on what to buy and how to design it.”
This, Mr Lek believes, is one of the major reasons why so many ambitious restaurant, entertainment and condominium projects fail on Phuket.
“I agree there are too many condos on the island. It’s a very cautious market to be in, but there’s still room for more. The failures occur because the designers need to study more.”
This is something that Mr Lek certainly cannot be accused of not doing. In fact, one could say that real estate and the hospitality industry is in his blood. His family have owned the Queen Hotel in Trang for around 46 years. It was only natural that he follow in the family’s footsteps.
After the project in Samui, Mr Lek had saved enough money to invest in land and so travelled to Phi Phi and bought a plot there. He remembers it well.
“Actually it was on Christmas Eve. I remember telling my friend I’d bought a portrait by god. Some people have bought the Mona Lisa, but I remember thinking I’ve bought a portrait by god,” says Mr Lek, referring to the picturesque plot he had just purchased.
He still has that hotel – the Phi Phi Bay View – but has since added many other properties to his portfolio, including resorts in Chiang Mai, Pai and his first love, Koh Samui.
Mr Lek came to Phuket around 15 years ago, but it was not until around five years ago that he set in motion his latest venture – the O2 Beach Club in Chalong.
“I came up with this concept about five years ago. It’s going to be a beach club for those who live in the Chalong to Rawai area, and will officially open on 12 December.
“It’s a restaurant, pub, pool bar – complete with a 25 metre pool – and place where you can hang out. For guests who want to wait for their evening flight, there’s even a place to put their luggage.”
Mr Lek envisions the O2 Beach Club as catering for an older, more sophisticated crowd, with facilities that include an executive lounge and fine dining area.
It will be a place where people can go for a swim, have a coffee, or walk on the beach and have a good time, which is paramount to the success of a beach club, according to Mr Lek.
“The real rstate model is ‘location, location, location’, whereas for me and the beach club environment it’s ‘happy, happy, happy.’
With the launch of his latest property, Mr Lek is feeling positive about the future of Phuket.
Despite there being many examples of failed condo and hotel devlopments on the island, he feels there is still plenty of room, both literally and figuratively speaking, for more.
“The north of Phuket will see a bit of development and investment over the next few years, while I believe the prices in the south will double in next two to three years.
“I think to keep on building condos might be a problem [during that time] but then it will be fine because people will always need somewhere to live.
“I am quite positive about Phuket’s future and I believe that with the start of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), tourism will continue to be a top priority, but business and real estate will also become really important.”
Interestingly, Mr Lek believes that the onset of the AEC will bring with it a change in the way that people view the island.
“People will refer to Phuket just like they do with Bali – they don’t say Indonesia, just Bali. In the same way they will say Phuket and not think of Thailand.”
By that time, however, it is likely that Mr Lek will already be busy on his latest venture – opening an O2 in Khao Lak, “This will allow tourists to see what Phuket was like 30 years ago.”