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Four Seasons luxury hotel operator looks for property in Phuket

Four Seasons HotelS AND RESORTS, a Canadian-based management operator of luxury hotels, is looking to penetrate the Phuket market to tap Thailand's growing tourism industry better.

The company is looking for a location on the island and is in talks with a qualified investor. If the negotiations pan out, the new hotel is expected to open in three to five years, making it the company's fifth hotel in Thailand.

It currently operates in Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai.

Vincent Hoogewijs, Four Seasons' regional vice president and general manager, acknowledged that hotel competition in Phuket was high, with a large number of international chains. But he believes there is more room for growth and is confident the Phuket property will be successful, thanks to Four Seasons' internationally recognised luxury brand image.

Hoogewijs said his goal was to maintain service quality and offer new experiences to guests.

He began his current position in December - not long after political unrest began in Thailand. He said the prolonged unrest had had a negative impact on the tourism industry as countries had issued travel warnings for Thailand and it was a major threat to the sector.

Bangkok suffering

Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok is an example of the damage done by the political unrest, he said, adding that the property had its worst-ever occupancy rate of 15 per cent one day. In the first quarter, its rate dropped to 40 per cent from 80 per cent in same period last year.

However, Hoogewijs hopes the occupancy rate will recover in the third and fourth quarters, driven by an improved political and tourism outlook. If that happens, its overall rate in 2014 is expected to average 70-78 per cent, against 80 per cent in 2013.

Hoogewijs said the political tension had not only hampered tourism growth, but had also cost jobs and hurt investment. Corporate meetings scheduled for Thailand were moved to other places such as Bali and Singapore.

If the unrest is prolonged, Thailand might lose ground to tourism rivals, especially Bali, Maldives, Myanmar and Vietnam. However, Hoogewijs believes Thailand has a competitive edge over its rivals given its history, friendly people, great food and hotel facilities.

He said Four Seasons was attempting to lure guests back to Bangkok by offering incentives such as airport pick-ups and spa packages. It has no plans to offer room discounts because its rates in Bangkok are already lower than other cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

He said the hotel's Asian clients outnumbered Westerners, with most coming from mainland China, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. The number of Asians staying at the hotel is rising because of the region's growing economic prosperity and middle class.


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