T-shirts and Baby Steps
One of my favourite hotel gurus, Robert Hecker of Horwath Hotel, Tourism and Leisure Consulting, penned a line at a recent Singaporean investment conference that produced what must be one of the best business ideas of the year: sales of T-shirts bearing the slogan "I survived 2009". We've made it halfway through the year, and now it's time to dust off our crystal balls to peer into the murky waters known as "the last part of the year that we hope will end soon."
I have never seen such a bewildered lot in my life as executives of the property and hospitality industries. When asked, these days, what kind of financial performance can be expected next year, or whether there will really be a recovery this year, they tend to stare vacantly at some lighting fixture on the ceiling, or assume an expression of perplexed nothingness. Quite frankly I came across one of those creepy online scientology futuristic ads the other day and tempted to ask them for their thoughts on the recovery.
Perhaps things may never be as they were before, and like recovering alcoholics will have to focus on just one day at a time for the rest of our lives, on a journey with no clearer destination than shuffling one foot after another. Baby steps seem to be the order of the day when that thick London-fog feeling rolls in. When you cannot even see your own feet, you know it's time to go very slowly.
While the property market is in a coma, those owning businesses in the industry are finding that the challenges of coming up with things to do – for their staff and themselves – represent a full-time vocation on their own. I was talking to a local golf pro who explained his private-lesson schedule had never been so busy. Other people have turned to 'self-improvement'; ranging from yoga, pilates and personal training to acts of philanthropy such as the "Summer on Phuket Beach Clean-Up".
Time is often a luxury, but with revenue on the decline it is something that is becoming more and more abundant. Brokers are looking into reinventing their businesses as villa – and condo – rental agencies, estate management is growing and developers are now tweaking projects into fractional offerings or condo hotels to spur sales. For others, the reality of the boom years has hit hard. But it's difficult not to think of survival of the fittest, with the staff cuts, retrenchments and even closures somehow culling the herd. With Phuket on centre stage for the Asean foreign ministers meeting and stability needed by the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prospects of rebuilding the destinations resort property market continues to be highly premised on hopes for a return of foreign investors. Bali has been a significant benefactor from the redirection of tourism and property buyers from the island market and, if anything, it's sentiment more than market fundamentals that is holding back some form of recovery.
The remainder of 2009 is going to be a rocky road, and baby steps will be essential. Personally I cannot wait for New Year's Eve so I can celebrate the end of this year. Perhaps it's high time to start looking for a slogan for next year's T-shirts.
Greater Phuket appears on the third Friday of each month.