Hospitality by design


Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, co-founder at the Slate, Phuket.
Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, co-founder at the Slate, Phuket.

Phuket, a magnet for beach worshippers, anticipates the return of international direct flights to the island for the first time in 15 months when the city reopens to inoculated tourists from July.

Over the past year, the Slate Hotel was among more than 80,000 registered hotels on the island that closed their doors for six months when the country was locked down to contain the spread of Covid-19.

THE CHALLENGE IS REAL

With foreign visitors expected to return via the “Phuket sandbox” initiative, Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, co-founder at the Slate Hotel, said the property has to work hard to attract guests as the situation on the island still has lots of uncertainties.

“The most challenging factor for hotel management last year was the unpredictability,” she said.

“After closing for six months, the hotel reopened in the fourth quarter to hopefully reap a windfall during the high season, but soon after the second and third waves erupted, blocking our plans to attract domestic guests.”

The hotel spans 25 rai on Nai Yang beach and was established in 2008. It was formerly known as Indigo Pearl before rebranding to the Slate in 2016.

Over its 13 years, the hotel owners have managed the asset themselves amid intense competition from top-tier global hotel chains on the island.

The lobby hall of the Slate Hotel at night. The hotel spans 25 rai on Nai Yang beach and was established in 2008.

The hotel’s story is tied to the history of a veteran tourism operator in Phuket, Wichit Na-Ranong, the founder of the hotel and Ms Prakaikaew’s father.

Mr Wichit is the founder of the Phuket Tourist Association and a respected figure in the industry. He was elected president of the Tourism Council of Thailand from 2002-2006.

The intention of the founders was to build a hotel where tourists can immerse themselves in the rich history of Phuket while enjoying a beach holiday.

This is where Ms Prakaikaew, the eldest daughter, stepped in to develop concept branding for the property, fine-tuning a unique market position so the hotel could maintain its prices even as others slashed their prices.

“We cannot ask other hotels to keep their room rates high to lift up the whole industry, but we can commit ourselves not to follow that path. The hotel has to focus on quality to make the customer’s expenditure worthwhile,” she said.

“Instead of lowering prices during the reopening phase, we will offer two packages for tourists who want more activities, featuring local gastronomy and arts.”

VALUE ADDED

Ms Prakaikaew believes her hometown still has the potential to develop, offering higher-quality service to meet the demand of high-quality tourists.

She said private sector in Phuket is working hard to rebrand the city, but it still requires more support from the government, such as improvement in public transport, particularly the light rail transit project that was interrupted in the past.

“There’s a study about a new breed of travellers who are not just consumers, but want to be contributors to the communities they’ve visited. They are called ‘promads’ or progressive nomads,” said Ms Prakaikaew.

“This group seeks out responsible tourism and wants more meaningful experiences, which matches our strategy.”

Tourists are expected to spend more of their time at the resort because health and safety remains a concern, she said.

This scenario creates more opportunities for hotels to offer additional services within the hotel boundaries.

DESIGN FOCUS

The Slate invested in high-detail construction, selecting renowned designer Bill Bensley to plan the hotel.

The property also diversified its revenue to the retail business with a focus on products it designs, such as furniture, accessories, fashions and jewellery.

While most hotels leaned on the food business while they could not sell rooms to tourists the past year, the Slate recorded healthy sales from merchandising products as hotel guests became clients of the stores, said Ms Prakaikaew.

“We have established ourselves as an art-inspired resort, with every item custom-made,” she said.

“Though the pandemic has been a tough period, we still have healthy revenue from retail store. We plan to launch a retail store called Stock Room online later this month.”

This online project should not only help the hotel generate income, but also helps local artisans who contribute to its product line, said Ms Prakaikaew.

“The Slate has around 300 employees to serve our 184 rooms. We kept all of them on the payroll, surviving by tightening other expenses,” she said.

“We hired local workers who live near the hotel from the beginning and our plan is to keep them until business returns.”

In the early phase of the sandbox, the number of guests will remain limited because the third quarter is not the high season for the island, said Ms Prakaikaew.

Tourists are expected to gradually return in the fourth quarter, with European guests coming back first, the major source market for the Slate before the pandemic.

“Up to 80% of our guests prior to the pandemic were foreigners, mostly from Germany, Switzerland, the UK, the US and Australia,” she said.

“Now we have to expand to the Thai market to sustain the business.”



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