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Laguna Set to Rewrite the Map

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Phuket Gazette. Posted: 1st Sep 2012

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Over the years, leading destination resort Laguna Phuket has been an increasingly familiar brand name on the island. Famous for a series of international resorts, golf course, property offerings and world-class events.

Located front and center on Bangtao Bay within the boundaries of Cherng Talay, for both locals and visitors it is an epicenter of activity in a vast area now known simply as 'Laguna'.

Coming into it's 25th anniversary Chief Executive Ho Kwon Ping has turned heads as he unveiled expansion plans for a new hotel, luxury condominium, themed water park and large-scale retail component.

Strategically placed near the Dusit Thani Resort, and what will soon be the Outrigger Laguna Beach Resort, highlights include west-facing lagoon views, a close proximity to the beach and boat access through canals.

Part of the project will include the redevelopment of the long time tourist shopping area, Canal Village.

It is envisaged to become a community shopping experience both for tourists and an expanding base of local, full and part time residents.

I was able to meet 'KP' Ho to talk about his plans for property development, the Banyan Tree group and his views on investment.

At the anniversary party imagery of the expansion was shown and the talk was of an evolving, more urban track forward for Laguna.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, while the destination resort had pushed development into the master- planned residential estate Laguna Village with an emphasis on larger more specious homes, there is now a decided change of pace.

Talking about this Mr Ho said that a new surge will be made toward land located closer to the ocean, smaller units which tap into the Asian demographic. Condominium units will likely be downsized to the 40 square meter range with pricing targeting the four to six million baht sweet pricing spot. Building blocks will be able to be massed into large groups utilizing a 7-storey-height allowance, which will result in favorable views.

It's simply Laguna recognizing the increasing affluence of a rising middle-class buyer demographic while locating widespread retail opportunities amidst the residential and hotel units in order to create customer complexity.

Certainly the group's China experience and view on growing numbers coming to Phuket play into this.

Meanwhile a planned water park will fit into the new community, aimed at a surging family market, multi-generation groups and a developing critical mass of local residents looking for leisure activities.

For Mr Ho a key priority is to unlock the value of a large land bank. Speculation exists that two prime land plots which could house international-standard resorts could eventually come onto the market. There remains a considerable amount of prime undeveloped land in Laguna and the group is making noises about partnering on new projects instead of going it alone.

Over the past 18 months the listed company disposed to two key assets - the Dusit Thani Resort and its 50 per cent shareholding in Laguna Beach Resort. This has aided in liquidity and now Mr Ho says is time to replenish assets and carry the brand into the future.

Currently Laguna has a vacant position for the coveted Managing Director's position which Michael Ayling and James Batt held in the past. Mr Ho would not speculate on the appointment but simply said they expect to announce a new MD sometime this year.

As for the new hotel, he was quick to point out that this would not be branded as either a Banyan Tree or an Angsana. But at the same time alluded that the hotel management group may expand its brand family going forward in a new segment.

Closing out our talk, of which much was about Phuket and also the new master planned Laguna destination resort in central Vietnam, I was interested to know Mr Ho's view on where the future for tourism and property was. Not surprising the name Indonesia came up, with its vast domestic potential now coming into its own.

For Laguna Phuket, after 25 years the good news is that fresh plans have been made public, which are set to propel the group forward in what is shaping up as Asia's golden age. It is said that money never sleeps but at Laguna a revolving world means that is prime land bank is set to awake a giant.

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