Culture / Events

Luxury lifestyle event in Thailand: Interview with Gulu Lalvani of the Royal Phuket Marina

From scenic island to growing hub for yachting, the Royal Phuket Marina is the set to have a wonderful 2018 with the upcoming luxury lifestyle event

Feb 28, 2017 | By Vimi Haridasan

Royal Phuket Marina at Dusk

With the growth of Phuket as a major yachting destination in recent years, we talk to Gulu Lalvani, Chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina, who has been at the heart of the scene to find out what made him fall in love with the island and what is in store for the future. He shares his vision for the future of the Royal Phuket Marina and what visitors can look forward to with the PHUKET RENDEZVOUS in 2018. 

Gulu Lalvani, Chairman of the Royal Phuket Marina

How did the vision of ROYAL PHUKET MARINA come to fruition?

I have travelled all over the world and love to visit new places. I used to travel to two or three new destinations each year until I first came to Phuket. That was quite a long time ago. The first time I arrived in I stayed at Amanpuri and during my time in Phuket I fell in love with both Amanpuri and the island, so much so that I bought a villa at Amanpuri there and then and still own it today!

I have sailed to many destinations around the world and my first time on the water in Phuket was magical. The cruising grounds around Phuket — the stunning Phang Nga Bay, which is less than 30 minutes away from Royal Phuket Marina — are truly world-class. I can say that having sailed in all the leading marine destinations around the world, Phuket is absolutely the best.

As my visits to Phuket became more regular I could see that the marine industry wasn’t developing as it should and I soon realised this was due to the taxation system. In 2002 I met with the then Prime Minister of Thailand to discuss this. The cumulative taxes on importing foreign yachts at that time was more than 200% the value of the boat. The net result was that very few boats were ever imported and thus the government never received tax revenues on such. During my discussions with the Prime Minister I promised that if he would address the taxation issue, I would build a world-class marina in Phuket. True to his word, in February 2004 the Prime Minister reduced taxation to zero per cent. I broke ground on Royal Phuket Marina the same year.

That was the start of Phuket’s exponential growth as a yachting mecca. Phuket is today the marine playground of Asia and welcomes jet-setters from all over the world to enjoy its natural assets. It has huge international appeal, however, what many Thai people don’t realise is that while you still have to pay over 200% taxes on an imported super car such as a Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Bentley; yachts have zero per cent duty and Thailand is home to the best cruising grounds in the world.

You are highly enthusiastic about the future of Phuket as a yachting or holiday destination. What are the latest figures you have on hand that confirm such a positive view on the future of Phuket?

Phuket attracts a diverse range of visitor nationalities and that is one of the island’s unique strengths. While the Chinese are currently number one in terms of visitor numbers, what is encouraging to see is that the quality of these visitors is going up – we are seeing much more wealthy FIT Chinese visitors now, as opposed to the primary package tourists. This is a sign of the market maturing.

Up until a few years ago, the Russian visitor market was strong for Phuket but following the Ruble’s decline in 2014, arrivals to Phuket slowed drastically. However, Phuket is now seeing a turnaround in this market in 2017 as more Russian FITs are choosing Phuket as their holiday destination of choice again.

In addition to Phuket’s wonderful natural assets and charming people, what many people fail to realise is Phuket is in a geographically strategic location. Nearly 50% of the world’s population is within a six hour flight of Phuket. As Phuket connects direct with more international destinations, I only expect arrivals to the island, to increase and one market that Phuket has not yet tapped on is India. India is the second most populated country in the world – second only to China which is also on Phuket’s doorstep. India has a strong and growing middle class who travel, yet there are currently no direct flights from Indian cities to Phuket. I expect to see that change in the near future and when it does we can expect to see another wave of visitor arrivals from the Asian sub-continent. I truly believe this is the “Asian Century”.

Specifically, on the yachting front, more and more people are looking for less crowded destinations and their attention is moving from Europe and the Caribbean towards Asia, and Phuket is the number one choice for cruising. More boat owners are choosing to base their boats here long term, and more superyachts are looking to spend a season or more in the region. Add to that the growing local charter industry, and the number of international visitors who come to Phuket to spend time on the water is growing year-on-year, and the potential for further growth is considerable.

Grand Villa in the evening

How is the ROYAL PHUKET MARINA different in its positioning and offerings to the other marinas in Phuket and in Thailand overall?

Our goal has never been to be the biggest, but to develop a waterfront community and provide the highest quality of service for our customers. Since we opened we were awarded the 5 Gold Anchor marina status by The Yacht Harbour Association and Marina Industries Association, and with periodic reviews we still retain it to this day. In fact, we are the only marina in Thailand to have been awarded this status.

We have won many other awards for the marina and our surrounding residential developments. The most recent international award was “Luxury Yachting in Thailand” from the Luxury Lifestyle Awards in Singapore. We are very proud to have won this and it underscores our goal to strive to be the best and at the same time be an industry leader, promoting the highest standards of marine tourism in Phuket and Thailand to a worldwide audience.

The latest addition to our marina has been a new Dry Stack facility – the first of its kind in Phuket. We completed this in February 2016 and the feedback has been excellent. It is now nearly full. It’s actually more than just a dry stack storage for boats up to 40 feet (12 metres), we offer a resort-style concierge service whereby within 30 minutes of calling our marina team, an owner’s boat will be in the water and ready for cruising and upon disembarkation we will lift, rinse down and store your boat for you. This has been so popular we are now developing a second covered Dry Stack which we expect to be operational in the middle of this year.

You are now planning an ambitious Phase 2 in the development of ROYAL PHUKET MARINA. What will be the major axis of developments of this Phase 2 and what unique features are you looking to bringing to Phuket?

My vision for Royal Phuket Marina has always been to develop it into the iconic waterfront lifestyle destination in Asia. I believe with the marina and residences we have already achieved that, however, we have bigger plans.

To date, we have only developed one third of the total land area and I have plans to develop more hospitality and lifestyle offerings.We have created a new, innovative master plan for the entire 200 rai site which includes hotels and resorts, a beach club, convention centre and a large family resort with a world-class water park.

We are always looking to innovate, to grow Phuket and Thailand’s yachting capabilities, and deliver what the market needs. With the Thai Government’s drive to attract more international superyachts to Thailand and allow them to charter through an innovative 12 month licensing system, we are looking to expand out superyacht facilities in support of this. However, we cannot announce details of these plans just yet.

Royal Phuket Marina at Dusk

How do you view the upcoming PHUKET RENDEZVOUS 2018? How will the event be different from PIMEX?

The Phuket International Boat Show (PIMEX) has been a 14-year success story and we have hosted the event at Royal Phuket Marina for 12 years. We are very excited to see the event grow and evolve into the PHUKET RENDEZVOUS, and we look forward to working with the new owners. What is very encouraging is that the former owner will remain part of the new team moving forward and I think PHUKET RENDEZVOUS will become the most important marine and lifestyle show not just in Phuket or Thailand, but in Asia.

There is a clear link between yachting and living a luxury lifestyle, and I believe the PHUKET RENDEZVOUS concept of adding new lifestyle elements and activities, be it supercars, classic cars, wine tastings, art exhibitions, is exactly the right approach. Nobody does this well yet and I’m very excited for the new PHUKET RENDEZVOUS which will be held from January 4 to 7, 2018.

You love classic cars, where did this passion come from? What are the challenges of collecting classic cars in Phuket, if any?

My love for classic cars started in the 1970’s and has grown slowly every since. I have three classic cars in Phuket at my Royal Phuket Marina villa and the rest of my collection is split between my homes in London and Gstaad, Switzerland.

Phuket is an ideal place to enjoy classic cars. The roads are well maintained and there are some beautiful scenic routes off the island and through Phang Nga which are a pleasure to drive and ideal for classic car enthusiasts.

I would love to host an annual classic car rally in Phuket, starting and finishing at Royal Phuket Marina. I don’t currently have the time to organise this myself but if there are any interested parties that would like to work together I would be keen to create a unique classic car event for the island.

What have been your best memories of Phuket and the outlying islands?

The reason I love Phuket more than anywhere else in the world is because within one hour cruising from Royal Phuket Marina we have over 30 beautiful islands that can be enjoyed.

Many of these islands are relatively untouched and my vision is to develop floating platforms for some of these islands, allowing easier access for boats which in turn will open these islands up to visitors and increase potential opportunities for residents.

The area is stunning and the cruising grounds world-class, and this is one of the best places in the world for people to come charter. The floating platforms, that I plan to propose, will also act as safe anchorages for boats wishing to remain there overnight and will open up a whole new tourism model for this area. This is something I am looking at and is part of the expansion I have planned for the Royal Phuket Marina.