Thai Hotel COVID-19 Challenge

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Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket. Photo Credit: Preferred Hotels & Resorts.

Thailand Travel

Thailand’s hotel industry has overcome. many challenges in the past. Will the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge be any different? Industry heavyweights weigh in on this latest challenge to the Thai hotel sector in an exclusive Accidental Travel Writer roundtable discussion. 

Thai Hotel COVID-19 Challenge – Background

On 13 January 2020, Thailand was the first country outside China to report a case of the Wuhan virus, now known as Covid-19.

Within two weeks, the kingdom had 19 confirmed cases of the Chinese virus. In fact, it had the largest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia.

However, since the, the situation in Southeast Asia has changed dramatically. As of 7 May 2020, Singapore had 20, 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases, by far the most in Southeast Asia. On the other hand, there had only been 20 deaths.

Secondly, Indonesia had 12,071 known coronavirus cases and 872 deaths.

Then came the Philipines with 10,004 confirmed Chinese virus cases and 658 deaths.

Meanwhile, Malaysia had 6,428 confirmed cases and 167 deaths.

Regarding Thailand, it had dropped to fifth place in Southeast Asia. In fact, there had been only 2,989 confirmed Wuhan virus cases and only 55 deaths.

Sino-Thai Ties

China and Thailand have close cultural ties. For example, many Thais have Chinese blood. In addition, China has become the largest source of tourism in Thailand in recent years.

For example, nearly 11 million Chinese people visited Thailand in 2019. In fact, Chinese tourists accounted for 27.6% of Thailand’s tourism arrivals.

More importantly, tourism is one of Thailand’s most important industries. In fact, it accounts for between 12 and 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Challenges Facing Thailand Hotel Industry

While tourism is one of the most important industries in Thailand, the country’s tourism industry has suffered repeated setbacks in recent years. And yet, it always seems to bounce back.

First, there was the devasting Phuket Tsunami on 26 December 2004. That was supposed to be the death knell for the tropical island’s tourism industry. But it soon recovered.

Four years later, the People’s Alliance for Democracy blockaded Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok for several days. Consequently, thousands of tourists and business travelers were stranded.

But there was only a temporary dip in Thailand’s tourism arrivals.

In 2014, the military launched a coup d’etat. In fact, Thailand has suffered more coups than any other country. Over the last 100 years, the kingdom has suffered 13 successful and nine unsuccessful coups.

In addition, there have been bombings in the capital and other cities. And there has been an on-going insurrection in the south of Thailand. It dates back to 1948.

But Thailand remains one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. In 2018, it attracted 38.3 million tourists, making it the ninth most popular tourist destination in the world.

Thai Hotel COVID-19 Challenge – Round Table Discussion 

Let’s see what several industry insiders have to say about how COVID-19 challenges the Thai hotel industry

For this round table discussion, I’ve interviewed senior executives of two hotel groups.

In addition, I have interviewed the general manager of two Thai hotels, one in Bangkok and another in the resort island of Koh Samui.

Preferred Hotels & Resorts

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The Tongsay Bay, Koh Samui. Photo Credit: Preferred Hotels and Resorts.

Josephine Lim – Managing Director, Southeast Asia – Preferred Hotels & Resorts, spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge. In addition, we discussed other key issues facing the industry.

Can you briefly describe Preferred Hotels Hotels & Resorts and its presence in Thailand?

Preferred Hotels & Resorts entered the Thailand market in 2003. Currently, there are seven member properties in Thailand with several new and existing hotel projects in discussion for 2020 and 2021.

Founded in 1968 by 12 North American hoteliers, the Preferred brand has continuously evolved to maintain its position as the champion of the independent hotelier.

And it today represents more than 750 distinctive hotels, resorts, residences, and unique hotel groups across 85 countries as the world’s largest independent hotel brand.

With more than 35 offices worldwide, the company brings strategic advantage to hotel owners, operators, and management companies through brand prestige and global operating scale, supporting the goals of its member hotels by providing group, corporate, and leisure sales, integrated marketing solutions, comprehensive revenue management, global connectivity through reservations services, progressive distribution technology, and individualized guest support.

Every property within the portfolio is required to maintain the high-quality standards and unparalleled service levels required by the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Integrated Quality Assurance Program.

Through its five global collections – Legend, L.V.X., Lifestyle, Connect, and Preferred Residences – Preferred Hotels & Resorts connects discerning travelers to the singular luxury hospitality experience that meets their needs and life and style preferences for each occasion.

Can you give me an overview of Thailand’s tourism and hospitality markets?

Thailand is a popular multi-center tourist destination, partly because of its world-class attractions and landscapes spread throughout the country, but also because the capital Bangkok is a major hub and a perennially popular tourist destination, with the city consistently winning global tourism and wellness awards.

There are popular beach destinations in the south, east, and in the north, and an unparalleled range of eco-tourism travel options.

Additionally, the country benefits from competitively-priced accommodation, a lower cost of living, and continually upgraded infrastructure, which, when compared to its competitive set, provides significant, good value for money,

What role does tourism play in Thailand’s economy?

Tourism is one of the most important sectors driving the nation’s economy. The country’s revenue from international visitors in 2019 was close to 2 trillion baht. And international tourism receipts alone accounted for 12%percent of the country’s GDP in 2018.

Therefore, the hospitality industry is a major source of employment, providing close to six million direct and indirect jobs, accounting for more than 15% of total employment.

Between 2019 and 2021, Thailand expected to see a 5 to 7% increase in international arrivals with domestic tourism rising at an annual rate of 3 to 4%.

These increases would contribute to average hotel occupancy rates growing to approximately 73%.

However, these numbers were forecast prior to COVID-19 and before its global ramifications became apparent. And so, these projections are likely to be impacted negatively depending on how long the pandemic continues.

Hotel owners are continuing to invest in more new-build properties, mainly in Thailand’s major tourist destinations of Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket and in provinces that are regional development hubs benefiting from improved levels of economic activity with the bulk of investment by large-scale Thai and foreign investors.

What are your most important markets, and what do visitors from that (or those) market(s) like about Thailand?

For our member properties, China, Western European countries like Great Britain and Germany, neighboring Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, the Middle East, India, and Australia make up the general demographic mix.

Thailand’s main appeal for these travelers is the world-class topography, the wonderful hospitality, and, of course, Thai cuisine.

What impact has the Coronavirus epidemic had on Thailand’s hotel industry?

COVID-19 has and continues to shake the global hotel and hospitality industry.

For Thailand, the ramifications could include a drop of 6 million tourist arrivals, largely due to an almost total evaporation of visitors from China.

This market accounts for the largest number of inbound tourists. In Bangkok alone, occupancy for March 2020 fell by more than 43% year on year.

What about your hotel group?

Similar to other global hotel chains and representation brands, our member hotels are seeing a significant number of cancellations, especially from travelers in countries like China and regions like Europe, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

With new day-to-day developments ongoing, such as new travel advisories and city or country lockdowns where case numbers are rapidly increasing, we are closely monitoring the situation as it unfolds globally and following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and local government and health authorities where outbreaks are occurring.

How is the Thailand’s travel industry responding?

Hotels, OTAs, and now airlines are adopting flexible cancellation policies to waive traditionally non-refundable fees or allow date changes without including additional charges.

From a hotel standpoint, our members are communicating with future guests or reaching out to key feeder markets to share information on the measures they are putting in place to provide clean and safe environments and to assure visitors that their safety is a top priority.

In countries like Thailand, where the spread of the novel coronavirus has been stifled to realize lower increases, hotels are marketing to the domestic travel segment for short breaks and even to locals for non-resident wellness and culinary experiences.

Finally, we are seeing many of our member hotels in Thailand and across Southeast Asia plan ahead with new leisure and MICE-focused offers so that they are ready to snap back for the post-COVID-19 recovery.

How is your hotel group responding?

To support member hotels during the crisis, we are encouraging the adoption of a flexible cancellation policy,  which is applied wherever possible.

We are also recommending that hotels launch promotions that will help to drive domestic business and working with hoteliers to drive future business by enrolling both past and present guests in I Prefer Hotel Rewards – the brand’s points-based loyalty program for travelers that seek independent hotel experiences.

Today, the program counts more than 3.5 million active members globally.

In preparation for the future, beyond COVID-19, which many predict will take place towards the end of summer or at the beginning of autumn, we are creating a regional brand campaign to generate greater awareness of our Asian portfolio, which is made up of approximately 150 independent luxury hotels, resorts, and residences.

The campaign will be strategically launched to support a business rebound once the situation stabilizes, travel bans and restrictions in key source markets are lifted, and business and leisure travel confidence is restored.

So that our hotels stay informed, we have created a resource center containing our most recent corporate statements relating to COVID-19 and relevant market intelligence.

Furthermore, we recommend that all hotels adhere to the guidelines set by the WHO and the CDC, frequently reviewing updates to travel restrictions so that they are prepared for any potential threats to their individual businesses.

We are also hosting a Market Intelligence Town Hall series for all member hotels globally that will provide key insight in the corporate, leisure, and MICE/group sales verticals and useful information relating to revenue optimization and marketing communications.

What are the other key challenges and opportunities facing Thailand?

Airbnb and luxury long-stay lodging brands are among the biggest disruptors, having successfully responded to the demand for more space and the ability to live like a local for an increasing number of travelers.

While the hotel development pipeline continues to flourish in Thailand, the demand for residential-style accommodation is impacting luxury and upper upscale hotel room rates.

Brands are responding to this disruption with the launch or expansion of their residential-style product inventory, and Preferred Hotels & Resorts is no different.

The Preferred Residences collection is key to our brand and delivers the highest level of living with luxury in the world’s most desired locations.

The collection has more than doubled in size in less than two years and now counts more than 100 properties extending accommodation options that combine the space, privacy, and flexibility of a home with the luxuries and convenience of a hotel stay.

We will continue to develop the collection over the coming months, with Thailand a key focus market.

Can you comment on expectations for the rest of this year and next year?

With severe restrictions taking place on a near daily basis across many outbound travel markets countries, I personally believe it will be a slow recovery for the second half of this year.

Which segments do you think will experience the most growth: budget, mid-range, or high-end?

Millennials without children, and even some Generation Z travelers, are the most likely to explore this year, which will likely benefit mid-range hotels and accommodation options.

Are there any interesting trends in Thailand’s hospitality industry that you can tell me about?

Increasing numbers of hotel owners and operators are concerned about the environment and are incorporating eco-sustainable measures across architectural design, on-property amenities, guest experiences, and staff training.

AHCT THAILAND - Preferred Hotels & Resorts - Josephine Lim

Josephine Lim is the Managing Director of Southeast Asia. She is responsible for the strategic development of Preferred Hotels & Resorts across the region. Since joining the company in 2005, Josephine has been instrumental in the rapid expansion of the company’s presence in the gateway cities of Asia, specifically the new emerging markets of Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines. She is based in Singapore.

Onyx Hospitality Group

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Annex of Amari Pattaya. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Douglas Martell – President and CEO, Onyx Hospitality Group, spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge. In addition, we discussed other key issues facing the industry.

Can you briefly describe the Onyx Hospitality Group and its presence in Thailand?

Onyx Hospitality Group is a Bangkok-based, Thai-rooted hotel company with 52 hotels operating in seven countries across the Asia-Pacific region, covering core brands such as Amari, Ozo, and Shama.

We were established in 1965, and up till 10 years ago, we were a predominantly Thailand-focused company known for our Amari hotels in beach destinations like Pattaya, Phuket, and Koh Samui and city locations like Bangkok.

We’ve come a long way since then, with 25 hotels in our development pipeline, and new hotels scheduled to open in locations like Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Niseko in Japan, and multiple locations across China.

Does your hotel group have a unique selling proposition?

As a group, we offer a range of hotel brands to meet the changing needs of travelers and guests.

Amari is our full-service hotel brand that brings to life a contemporary re-imagining of Thailand’s rich cultural roots and the influence of its dynamic creativity to locations both near and far.

Each property in the Amari portfolio highlights the textures and flavours of its unique setting through architecture, design, art, cuisine, and service complemented by touches of contemporary Thai-ness.

Ozo is our smart hotel brand focusing on great sleep, connectivity, and exploration of the local area through interactions with well-informed local team members.

Shama is our serviced apartment collection that’s perfect for both longer stay guests as well as travelers who crave the comforts of home even during shorter trips. 

And it is known for its no boundaries programme that helps guests and residents settle in more comfortably into their new neighbourhoods.

The common thread among these three core brands is that they are expanding into new markets, locations. and territories across the Asia-Pacific region. And travelers can expect to see, touch, and experience them in more destinations in the coming years.

Our growth is aligned with the goal of being the leading medium-sized hospitality player in the Asia-Pacific region. And our target of having 99 hotels open by 2024.

Can you give a rough breakdown of your market demographics: domestic vs overseas travelers; business vs. leisure travelers?

From our portfolio, 52 operating properties in seven countries and regions, Onyx has 31 operating properties based in Thailand.

When considering our market demographics in 2019 (January – December), the ratio of international and domestic markets, who stay at our Thailand-based properties, is at 85:15. 86% of those are traveling with leisure purposes while the rest are on business trips.

Can you give me an overview of Thailand’s tourism and hospitality markets?

Due to the instability of the world economy, COVID-19 outbreak, China-US Trade War, the strengthening of the Thai Baht, the upcoming US presidential election, and political uncertainty due to Brexit affecting the UK economy, there is an impact on global travel and performance of travel suppliers across the board.

However, we are in this business for the long haul and are making adjustments to our forecasts and strategies to stay healthy despite the ongoing issues.

We are still committed to growing our portfolio and presence, with plans for upcoming openings still in place whilst we balance with initiatives to support our existing hotels.

Thailand is still a favourite destination for travelers from around the world.

Last year, the country saw a growth of foreign tourist arrivals of 4.2%, hitting a record of 39.8 million. Tourist revenue also increased by 3% to 1.93 trillion baht.

Many of our key Thai destinations win awards consistently from leading international magazines and institutions.

The world has also become more resilient and tends to recover faster from any downturn.

All of these factors show that Thailand remains attractive for domestic and international travelers. And we are in this for the long term.

What are your most important markets? And why do visitors from that (or those) market(s) like about Thailand?

Currently, Onyx will stick to a balanced mix among markets, such as maintaining the proportion of Chinese and European guests at 10% each to avoid risks when any market weakens.

Among our top five geosources staying at our Thailand-based properties, there is Thailand, China, India, Great Britain, and Japan respectively.

What makes Thailand a dream destination for all these markets and other tourists around the world is Thai Hospitality, which is inherited in our culture. Thai people always offer a warm welcome with attentive service mentality to foreigners.

Together with our caring attitude, Thailand can also offer a wide range of alternatives on foods, destinations, and activities to fit with an individual’s lifestyle.

Especially for the shopping lifestyle, Thailand-based shopping centres operate every day with a wide selection of local and international brands.

What about your hotel (or hotel group) impact on the Coronavirus epidemic? How is the industry responding? And how is your hotel group responding?

We are committed to the ongoing safety and well being of our hotel guests, team members, and the community.

We are monitoring the situation, working closely with local authorities, and having guidelines and information prepared to help protect our team members and guests.

All our hotels and properties, regardless of where they are located, maintain stringent hygiene standards in tandem with international guidelines.

Heightened procedures are in place to ensure elevated levels of cleanliness in all areas as well as in food handling and daily operations.

Team members have been briefed to watch out for and report suspected cases of infection among guests and colleagues.

Contingency measures are in place to isolate and disinfect affected rooms and areas where needed, and our hotels will cooperate with local public health authorities and healthcare providers in the event of suspect cases.

We have established a uniform and consistent health and attendance check at every single hotel location and corporate office, which involves daily temperature checks as team members report for duty.

Those with body temperatures above 37.6 degrees Celcius (and in some regions, 37.4 degrees Celcius) are asked to wait for five minutes before being measured again.

If the temperature does not drop, the team member is asked to go home for isolated rest and if flu symptoms are present, to seek medical advice.

We have circulated an internal instruction video on personal preventative measures, as well as detailed operational guidelines to all hotels.

We also maintain an active log of all team members, their health status, and their whereabouts, so that in the event of a suspect case, we are able to quickly identify and quarantine impacted team members and carry out necessary disinfectants and cleaning.

What are the other key challenges and opportunities facing Thailand?

Other key challenges include political and economic instability around the world including the US-China trade war, the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, Brexit, and the strengthening Thai baht, which have impacted globally, especially tourism and  travel suppliers’ performance across the board.

Can you comment on expectations for the rest of this year and next year?

With the coronavirus epidemic, travel restriction imposed by the Thai government as well as by other countries, and the many uncertainties ahead of us this year, it is expected that the growth in foreign arrivals would slow down.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, if the virus situation bottoms in May, the number of foreign tourists may fall to 30 million this year with spending down 22%.

Which segments do you think will experience the most growth: budget, mid-range, or high-end?

Over the past two years, we have nailed down a number of deals across our three core brands in Thailand – Amari Jomtien Pattaya, Ozo North Pattaya, Ozo Pratumnak Pattaya, Shama Sukhumvit 39, Shama Yen Akat Bangkok and Shama Wongamat Pattaya – all to be opened within the next five years (except for Shama Sukhumvit 39, which is already in operation beginning February this year) – all of which play in either the midscale to upper-upscale segments.

Most of our investors see potential in these segments due to the faster return of investment as well as the optimal scale of the hotel. Therefore, we are optimistic about the growth of these segments.

Are there any interesting trends in Thailand’s hospitality industry that you can tell me about?

We found some interest in ethical tourism, which is a trend to make travelers aware of the consequence of their actions on the community in terms of people, economy, and environment.

Not only travel for fun, travelers also have the chance to participate in activities that fulfill the mission of saving the world environment, including checking dam construction, beach cleaning, underwater clean up dives, etc.

To support sustainable tourism to the community, Amari Koh Samui and OZO Chaweng Samui, our properties in Samui invite their guests to join local check dam CSR activities which are arranged every quarter.

ahct-thailand-douglas-martell-president-ceo-onyxDouglas Martell is President and CEO of the Onyx Hospitality Group. He oversees all aspects of the company’s continued growth and expansion across the Asia Pacific region. 

Lancaster Bangkok

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Lancaster Bangkok is a five-star hotel. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Martin Hurley – General Manager, Lancaster Bangkok, spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge. In addition, we discussed other key issues facing the industry.

Can you briefly describe the Lancaster Bangkok and its presence in Thailand?

Lancaster Bangkok opened at the end of 2017. This five-star property has 230 bedrooms, and is proudly independent – Thai owned and operated.

Our signature Siam Brasserie offers traditional Thai food alongside authentic Italian, while the Lancaster bar offers craft cocktails in a chic setting.

The group consists of two hotels in Bangkok and three in London.

Does your hotel have a unique selling proposition?

Our USP is our service standard, offering a luxury experience at an affordable price.

Our wellness floor gives the hotel a resort feel in a city environment.

Can you give a rough breakdown of your market demographics: domestic vs overseas travelers; business vs. leisure travelers?

Domestic Thai market accounts for around 15% of the business, while leisure stats outweigh business on an 80/20 percentage.

Can you give me an overview of Thailand’s tourism and hospitality markets?

Thailand has historically had a tourism industry second to none, with consistent annual growth and an ability to bounce back from any crisis – natural or man made.

What are your most important markets, and why do visitors from that (or those) market(s) like about Thailand?

Like most hotels in Bangkok, China is our biggest source market.

What impact has the Coronavirus epidemic has own Thailand’s hotel industry?

As the Covid-19 episode started around Chinese New Year, Thailand was host to large numbers of Chinese holidaymakers.

Guest numbers started to fall at the end of January and declined at a more rapid rate after the Chinese government stopped all group tours.

With a few exceptions, the average occupancy levels quickly dropped from the 90’s to the 40’s and we still haven’t reached the bottom.

While this country’s confirmed infected numbers are extremely low, assorted global travel bans, lockdowns, and quarantine threats have decimated the visitor numbers.

What about your hotel?

Declining in line with our competitors, and further compounded with a drop in the meetings and events market as companies stop arranging large gatherings.

We’ve also seen people avoiding the usually popular hotel buffets for fear of contamination.

How is the industry responding?

I see lots discounting from many hotels, offering low rates to pull in the remaining travelers and “Thai residents” deals to attract the domestic market.

How is your hotel (or hotel group) responding?

We are offering “value added” deals to increase business while maintaining rates.

Packaging great deals with Thai massages and personal training, along with in-room dining specialties for guests not wishing to mingle.

Are there other key challenges and opportunities?

One key challenge is misinformation and quickly changing border rules., It’s difficult to keep truthfully informed of the various travel bans and quarantine rulings and respond accurately to guests’ concerns.

An opportunity is frustrated demand in the domestic market, who would normally travel overseas at this time but don’t want to take any risks.

Can you comment on expectations for the rest of this year and next year?

My prediction would be that the Chinese and surrounding markets will start to travel in May, with Europeans returning from July – and a complete return to normal in time for a record-breaking high season from October.

Admittedly, I may be completely wrong, and we won’t see a recovery until 2021.

Which segments do you think will experience the most growth: budget, mid-range, or high-end?

I think growth is off the table currently. In the current climate, the aim is to keep the business as close to breaking even as possible.

The budget sector has the best ability to do this. They have the leanest labour model, can easily flex cost, and don’t have to maintain high levels of service and a variety of outlets and facilities.

Are there any interesting trends in the Thailand’s hospitality industry that you can tell me about?

Towards the end of last year, I had seen many hoteliers loosen their reliance on Chinese tour groups, and look more towards the Chinese FIT, Russian, and Indian markets.

The other current trend through the Covid-19 crisis is in capturing the domestic market by promoting our diverse destinations.

Thailand has great island life, a world-class capital city, it’s a global food destination, and it offers great value at all levels. I can’t see any reason to go anywhere else.

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Martin Hurley is the General Manager of Lancaster Bangkok. With 30 years in the hotel industry, he has worked as a Front Office Manager, Head of Sales, Chef, Bar and Nightclub Manager, Brand Consultant, and General Manager, After working for IHG, he moved to the K West Hotel and Spa in London. He transferred from the UK to Thailand to open Lancaster Bangkok.

The Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui

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Tongsay Bay pool villa. Photo Credit: Preferred Hotels and Resorts.

Thanakorn Hoontrakul – Chairman, The Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui, spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge. In addition, we discussed other key issues facing the industry.

Can I have a brief description of The Tongsai Bay?

The Tongsai Bay is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Lifestyle Collection.

The hotel has established itself as the leading family-owned hotel on the tropical island of Koh Samui since its launch in 1987.

Set on 28 and a half acres of naturally beautiful forested landscape and wrapped around a private bay, the five-star hotel offers 83 suites and villas – some with private pools, three food and beverage outlets, a deluxe spa, and two communal pools.

The Tongsai Bay is recognized for its privacy and tranquility, its passion for the local environment, and the friendliness and authenticity of its staff.

Does your hotel have a unique selling proposition?

In addition to the property being truly secluded with a private, guest-only beach on Samui, The Tongsai Bay is genuinely eco-friendly with plenty of nature in 28 and a half acres of lush tropical landscape on a hillside overlooking the bay.

Here, guests can spot approximately 66 different species of bird and other wildlife such as slow loris and monitor lizards.

The hotel operates a ‘no plastic straw, no plastic water bottles’ policy and forbids the use of pesticides or insecticides on the grounds.

Finally, all of the accommodations are spacious, ranging from 68m2 to 189m2, and 75 of the 83 suites and villas offer bathtubs with sea views.

Can you give a rough breakdown of your market demographics: domestic vs overseas travelers; business vs. leisure travelers?

In 2019, the top five nationalities visiting The Tongsai Bay were British, Japanese, American, German, and Chinese.

Our guest demographics tend to be seasonal. For example, between January and March, we tend to receive best agers from Western Europe.

In April and between July and August, we tend to welcome families with older children. And our Asian guests tend to be millennials and travel as couples.

We have also noticed an increase in bookings from solo travelers and travelers from the LGBTQ community booking stays over the past two years.

What are your most important markets, and why do visitors from that (or those) market(s) like about Thailand?

Definitely the UK and Japan markets. These markets are more mature and many are returning guests.

For these travelers, Thailand offers arguably the best in hospitality, quality of food, and excellent value for spa and wellness.

What impact has the Coronavirus epidemic has own Thailand’s hotel industry?

Cancellations are high and we are seeing a significant decrease in new bookings for stays taking place over this spring and summer season.

How is your hotel (or hotel group) responding?

With heightened concerns around COVID-19, we are offering all guests – both repeat visitors and new guests – free cancellation against all bookings until 31 March 2020 pending further updates.

With the situation rapidly changing globally as well as here in Thailand, we are updating this policy on a monthly basis.

What are the other key challenges and opportunities facing Thailand?

Apart from the negative impact of COVID-19, a very strong Thai baht is having an effect on international bookings from key feeder markets due to the perceived value for money proposition.

While the luxury sector is significant in Thailand, travelers are used to obtaining great-value deals.

Also, it is important moving forward that the government enforces regulations relating to the environment as well as road safety.

Thailand has to protect its core values as they often represent the reasons why visitors are attracted to the destination in the first place.

Can you comment on expectations for the rest of this year and next year?

It’s going to be very tough for our tourism industry. Coupled with a global economic downturn, survival will be the immediate aim for many businesses in the hotel and hospitality industry.

If COVID-19 can be contained, we should be able to bounce back to the super-competitive environment we are used to.

Thanakorn Hoontrakul is Chairman of The Tongsai Bay, Koh Samui. From 1998  until today, he has held various positions at The Tongsai Bay, from Assistant Sales & Marketing Director to General Manager. Since 2009, he has held the position of Chairman of The Tongsai Bay and since 2015, he has also held the tilte of Vice Chairman of the Seub Nakasathien Foundation, a leading NGO in nature conservation in Thailand.

Andara Resort & Villas

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Splash pool at Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket. Photo Credit: Preferred Hotels & Resorts.

Daniel Meury – General Manager of Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket, Thailand, spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge. In addition, we discussed other key issues facing the industry.

Can I have a BRIEF description of your hotel – when it opened, the number of stars, rooms, and F&B outlets?

Andara Resort & Villas offers the pinnacle of lush tropical holidays in Phuket.

Situated on the west coast of Phuket Island, Andara’s 63 luxurious spacious suites and pool villas range from one to seven bedrooms, complemented by signature attentive and personalized service to ensure a picture-perfect backdrop for leisure travelers.

Andara is a proud member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ Legend Collection.

Andara is a sea view all-suite and villa property, with privacy across spacious accommodations one of the outstanding features of the guest experience.

Modern Thai designed suites start at 153 square meters, with the majority offering private pools. 

Each spacious suite and villa exists in harmony with its natural surroundings, with Thai-inspired design creating a seamless experience between indoor and outdoor living spaces.

Andara Resort & Villas is the innovation of Dr. Allan Zeman, founder of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, Hong Kong.

There are two restaurant concepts, SILK, the signature Thai and international restaurant, and La Seta, which offers a range of handmade wood-fired pizzas, pasta, and grilled meats.

Every guest is also able to enjoy in-villa dining options, from local Thai seafood BBQs and bespoke dining experiences. 

The fine wine shop features wines from boutique vineyards all around the world so guests can easily enjoy wine in their private suites and villas at very fair prices.

Silk Restaurant & Bar expanded from Surin Plaza to Andara a few years ago, so the on-property team is able to extend exciting culinary events at the stunning outdoor pool.

Other highlights include poolside BBQs, pop-up restaurants in collaboration with emerging chefs, and organic wine producers from all over the world. 

Does your hotel have a unique selling proposition? 

We are all about personalized service that goes one step further. We strive to provide responsive, true Thai hospitality within the luxury of space. 

We have a strong team who are highly skilled and committed to our guests, and our service standards are one of the highest in Phuket. 

Our resort experience team is here to assist with ensuring each of our guests has a tailored, memorable stay. All guests can expect to enjoy the beauty of Phuket and a team that is happy to assist with making those moments a reality. 

Guests should expect to feel special, even if it’s a small thing, like learning more about Thai dancing during our Tuesday night Thai cultural dinners, where the focus is on the cuisine, regional dances or celebrating special occasions with loved ones in our spacious suites and villas with bespoke dining experiences created by personal chefs. 

Private chef services are complimentary for pool villas stays and is also available for a surcharge in all our suites, which come with a fully-equipped kitchen. 

We have an in-house recreation team and daily group classes at our fitness center, including Muay Thai and yoga classes, as well as personal training and tennis coaches available.

One of the best-kept secrets of Andara is that we also offer our guests a complimentary Kamala Bay shuttle service, and our guests love the open-air rides to the beach.

For guests looking for something really special, Andara has a private yacht, the Celebrity, which is great for day trips exploring the beauty of Phuket as well as overnight excursions around the Andaman sea to secluded islands.

Can you give a rough breakdown of your market demographics: domestic vs overseas travelers; business vs. leisure travelers?

Ninety percent of overseas and about 10% of domestic Thai residents, 95% leisure with 5% and growing corporate retreats and incentives. T

his area is fantastic for team building and executive offsite meetings for those looking for something out of the ordinary from the usual ballroom conference centre.

We also see more long-stay guests working while on holiday, which wasn’t the case just a few years ago.

Can you give me an overview of Thailand’s tourism and hospitality markets?

Thailand is known for its tourism business and has a diverse range of visitors. While Bangkok is the most popular destination for business and leisure travelers, Phuket is historically more on the leisure side.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, tourism accounts for 9% of the country’s GDP. 

More specifically for our region, Phuket International Airport welcomed 9.1 Million visitors in 2019, and the international tourist average length of stay was 4.7 nights in 2019.

There is a lot of choice in Phuket, with thousands of hotels and private residences to choose from to fit a range of budgets.

Andara is a five-star resort and hosts guests from all over the world, depending on the season. 

What are your most important markets, and why do visitors from that (or those) market(s) like about Thailand?

Our discerning guests are from all over the world, with our key markets from Europe, APAC countries including Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and China.

Over the last two years, we have seen a growth in USA guests, particularly those celebrating special occasions with friends and family.

Guests globally love Thai hospitality – and can never get enough of it. I have worked extensively in Asia, and there is something special about the genuine warmth and positive attitudes of the Thai people.

And of course, travelers love the fresh and vibrant flavours of Thai cuisine!

What impact has the Coronavirus epidemic had on your hotel?

Like the rest of the world, the impact of COVID-19 is affecting Phuket travel, and our team’s goal is to make our guests feel at ease as much as possible.

These are difficult times for everyone, and we remain positive every day. The biggest impact is to ensure that daily safety measures are in effect at all times for the wellbeing of our guests, staff, and community.

We meet regularly with the Phuket Hotelier Association to share information and best practices around this issue.

How is your hotel (or hotel group) responding?

Safety and wellbeing are always our priority, especially in these ever-changing times.

We understand globally, people are experiencing stress given the rapidly changing information on travel restrictions and safety precautions.

At Andara, we are monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation closely and have been taking even more precautions with our standards to ensure guests and staff are safe. 

Our rapid response to the situation started in January, with comprehensive COVID-19 training and guidelines to protect against the transmission of the virus.

This included implementing hand sanitizer stations and frequent cleaning of high-touch areas, and monitoring our staff health daily. 

Andara continues to maintain high standards for safety and cleanliness. We remain vigilant in upholding these practices and will take additional precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and local governments. 

What are the other key challenges and opportunities facing Thailand?

The opportunities for travel will be back, it is just a matter of when, so we are taking time to review our best practices and looking forward to welcoming our guests back to Phuket. 

Can you comment on expectations for the rest of this year and next year?

We can only hope for the best, and a crystal ball wouldn’t hurt either! But seriously, we expect the global markets to come back as they always do, it’s just a matter of when.

Are there any interesting trends in Thailand’s hospitality industry that you can tell me about?

We see more convergence with hospitality and lifestyle trends.  

They are also looking for more inspiration to live at their best, which means the guest experiences are key. Guests are looking to take more than just a relaxing holiday and want to be a part of the local community more and more.

This means small touches mean a lot, like daily interactions with our local staff, understanding more about Thai culture, and respectfully enjoying the precious environment of the island of Phuket. 

andara-general-manager-daniel-meury

Daniel Meury is the General Manager of Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket, Thailand. Born in Switzerland, Daniel is a seasoned hotelier who has worked in Asia from the beginning of his hotelier career 25 years ago. He has worked in six Asian countries and believes that Thailand is the most dynamic. Phuket has been his home now for more than 10 years.

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This report on the Thai hotel COVID-19 challenge is the latest in an occasional series of Round Table Discussions and Executive Interviews with industry leaders in the global travel, tourism, and hotel sectors.

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