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PHUKET: After more than two decades as a dominant player in the luxury hotel market on the island, the Banyan Tree Phuket finally became an ‘all pool villa’ resort as it completed its most recent renovations last month.

“With a lot of new resorts coming on line, it has become almost imperative to get our resort up to where we would like it to be… because at the end of the day you are always going to see a lot of new hotels coming up,” Sriram Kailasam, general manager of the Banyan Tree Phuket, told the Phuket Gazette. “I think Banyan Tree Phuket has been able to maintain its niche because of the quality of service we provide and the innovation that’s there, whether it’s in the lobby, the arrival experience or turndown experience inside the villa.”

The redesign of 34 of the resort’s original jacuzzi villas into pool villas took into account the shifting arrival patterns and demographics in Phuket.

“The country of residence for many of our guests in the old days used to be very Euro-centric, but not anymore. We are noticing that change affecting every part of our operations and you can’t run away from the fact that the year-on-year increase of Chinese arrivals has definitely been an advantage to every hotel on the island,” Mr Kailasam said. “But besides that, the European-centric high season has somehow diminished and is becoming very much a mix of short-haul markets, as well as long-haul markets.”

Chinese travellers visiting luxury locations on the island, such as the Banyan Tree, often arrive with extended family, Mr Kailasam pointed out. To better cater to the growing dominance of the Chinese market and their needs, the new pool villas were designed to naturally provide additional sleeping room.

“They always have a third person, so in the design of our new villas we’ve incorporated a day bed, which essentially takes away the need to put in a roll-away bed or mattress, which destroys the look and feel of the villa,” Mr Kailasam said.

“Plus, of course, changing the jacuzzi to a pool gives the pool-villa experience at a different price point.”

Finished right on time as booking numbers started to pick up in late November, the renovations/refurbishments went beyond the jacuzzi villas to public areas and in-house restaurants.

Though Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant ‘Saffron’ was changed to have an open kitchen, the most dramatic change was made at the ‘Watercourt’, which provides both indoor and alfresco seating. Like the villa upgrades, the Watercourt was designed to cater to adjustments in the Phuket source markets.

“With our occupancy levels going up, our capacity for certain meal periods, like breakfast, was getting a little too much,” Mr Kailasam confessed.

“The main thing is that the breakfast experience at the Banyan Tree Phuket has always been very, very special, so we wanted to really enhance that with this new location. Right alongside the lagoon, it’s a stunning location. We are very, very happy with the results of the renovation.”

The extra space created at the restaurant allows the resort to build on it’s already strong Asian breakfast presence, yet another appeal to the increasingly important short-haul markets.

“We are still one of those properties which maintains its attraction, and we have a lot of repeat guests because they like what they see. They like what they experience,” Mr Kailasam said. “At the same time, it’s important for us to continue to maintain that freshness, that innovation in service delivery of our product. That’s why we’ve sustained 20 plus years of being on the island.”

— Isaac Stone Simonelli