C9 Hotelworks has compiled a comprehensive investment report on the Phuket economy. Covering key island economic data including tourism, hotels, real estate, key demand generators, and infrastructure, the report features key metrics and takes a forward look at the potential shift in Phuket’s development.
Phuket has experienced a remarkably sustained tourism growth trajectory over the past 40 years. Since the emergence of Asia’s tiger economies in the 1980s, its strategic geographic location and the rise of Thailand as one of the world’s major tourism destinations have created a strong service sector.
The island’s tourism journey has seen a continued progression, starting with budget travelers and European snowbirds escaping the winter, and onwards to market maturity. Throughout this time, Phuket witnessed the birth of iconic tropical pool resorts and was the starting point for two global luxury brands: Aman Resorts and Banyan Tree.
Within close proximity to two of Asia’s leading financial markets, Hong Kong and Singapore, Phuket’s hotel, tourism, and real estate sectors have accumulated considerable direct foreign investment over the years. Its strong and successful track record has continued to attract Thai institutional capital and overseas private equity, family offices, and publicly listed investors.
Moving through the global pandemic, the Phuket Sandbox was the starting point for Thailand’s international reopening and Phuket was the first Southeast Asian resort market to welcome global visitors. COVID-19 also led to a boom in the island’s luxury real estate sector, as both domestic and foreign high-net-worth buyers opted for a new lifestyle choice.
Global economic events have seen soaring inbound migration to Phuket from a growing set of source markets. This growth has created one of Asia’s most dynamic and diverse international communities. With a fast-moving tourism and property market, we are now witnessing a rapid diversification of the economy into areas such as international education, health and wellness, retail, and marine industries.
This report is intended to provide insight into Phuket’s destination upcycling, its key economic indicators, and growth potential. Our conclusion is that the island is entering a noteworthy new era of development that will create a platform for one of the region’s most desirable international destinations.
To download and read The Phuket Report – Economy In Transition CLICK
Phuket’s once-quiet beachside west coast community of Bangtao is experiencing an unparalleled surge in real estate development. According to new research from C9 Hotelworks, there are currently 7,842 condominium units (click to see upcoming project map). Added to the supply influx are just over 2,400 upscale and luxury homes, which equate to a pipeline of more than 10,000 residential units in the market.
In what is a fragmented neighborhood of Bangtao, Laguna, Cherngtalay, and Layan, these areas traditionally formed what is a tourism-oriented district. All of this is now changing, and the influx of real estate projects looks to recast the area as Phuket’s ‘Gold Coast’ in what is an emerging metropolitan area.
Despite a methodical pace of property growth over the past two decades, the post-pandemic inward migration onslaught of expatriates has been nothing short of phenomenal. Inland land prices in the area have more than tripled over the past 24 months, where land that had been THB8-10 million a rai is now THB25-30 million.
One of the key triggers of the property boom has been the Russian-Ukraine conflict, which has supercharged what was already a growing geographic source of business for tourists and real estate. Russian buyers now account for the lion’s share of properties, though there continues to be diversity in broader terms. Coupling with the incoming Eastern European growth is a steady stream of lifestyle buyers who are jumping onto the urban flight trend to work from home and focus on quality of life away from highly populated cities.
There is a rapid rise in new residents from the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and Europe. Key to the migration storyline has been the widely popular Thailand Elite long-term visa program as well as the government-initiated retirement visa. A secondary demand generator has been the strong growth of international schools, which are now in double digits in size and expanding. These offer access to dependent and/or guardian visas.
Moving back to the makeover of Bangtao from a tourist area into an international community, there is an escalation of residential properties in size versus hotels. C9’s research shows there are 2,837 rooms/key of international standard properties in the expansive area. These are now being dwarfed by property development, which creates challenges and a potential problem of unlicensed tourism accommodation.
Thailand’s Hotel Act, as it stands now, makes it difficult and in many cases impossible for residential condominiums or villa estates to obtain hotel licenses. For condominiums, the conversion from residential use to commercial use that is required for a hotel license has been stymied at local approval levels and remains a contentious issue.
What is apparent with over 10,000 new properties coming up is that not all buyers will be end-users or owners of holiday/second homes. In many cases, residential buyers have expectations of high rental yields from a flourishing Phuket tourism market, yet they might face problems in the future as projects lack hotel licenses. For the traditional hotel sector, there is concern over unfair competition from the informal rental market.
Realistically, the lack of a licensing mechanism for residential properties is putting the government at a substantial tax disadvantage, and funds that could be earmarked for badly needed infrastructure are an opportunity missed. Safety in non-licensed accommodation should also be a critical area of concern.
As to who is developing the upcoming projects, these are comprised of three main groups. Laguna Phuket remains the largest land bank in the Greater Bangtao area, and it has shifted focus from tourism to real estate as an economic necessity. With more projects within the main destination resort area, the company will also push into a new mixed-use community north of Laguna Village.
On the Thai development front, post-COVID19 has seen Bangkok developers active, such as CPN (Central Pattana), One Origin, AssetWise, and Sansiri. Local groups include Boat Pattana, Botanica, and Anchan. Given the escalation of land prices, the current state of play favors mid-rise condominiums as the only way developers can make an economic case with underlying land costs.
For the third group, Eastern European, or mainly Russian developers have flocked to the Bangtao area as market sentiment is at its highest level. These projects account for at least half of the total condominium units coming to market, due to the greater density of development. At the end of the day, rising land acquisition costs are spurring this trend.
Another change for Phuket property is the escalation of commissions which remain unstandardized. In many of the new Bangtao properties that lack brand or strong customer bases, commissions have risen to 7-10 percent. In certain cases, even a cash bonus of up to THB100,000 has been added to the incentive.
Whereas more traditional projects would have seen lower commissions and higher marketing costs, developers are now becoming massively reliant on a growing brokerage base. A growth spurt of Russian and Eastern European agents now sees projects chasing them for prospective buyers. Certainly, brokerage has taken center stage for the moment, though there remain questions as to the depth of their customer base longer term. One good example of underlying growth in brokerage is the leading portal FazWaz, which has established a strong base for online buyer generation.
Lastly, larger property groups are closely watching the formation of new Phuket development regulations. This is regulated by the Phuket Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning together with the Bangkok-based Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment which oversees Environmental Regulations.
In C9’s discussions with experts on the draft plan which is expected to formalize in 2024, there will be a greater alignment to Bangkok-type rules that focus on FAR (floor area ratio) and higher minimum-road width for mid-rise development. It’s likely that given Phuket’s growth, certain areas will be zoned for high-rise development.
These changes, while needed, will come too late to address growing traffic concerns. The addition of over 10,000 new residential properties to the Bangtao area will see an uptick of large construction vehicles, a large-scale growth in private vehicles, and is a serious situation that has to become a government priority. Sadly, there is no blueprint structure for an expanding Bangtao metropolitan district that crosses many local jurisdictions. The most glaring immediate need is a traffic study and action plan by the municipality and highway department.
As a final point, one missing link in the growth of residential units is the lack of diversification of larger demand generators such as a full-service hospital, central parking structures, commercial buildings, international convention center, public parks, and pedestrian-friendly access. This, of course, is at odds with sky-high property prices that dictate highly dense projects to make economic sense. What is desperately needed is a Phuket Master Plan and acceleration of transportation infrastructure.
Bangtao’s journey into a metropolitan, ‘Gold Coast’ community is well underway, and we do expect cyclical growth to continue into the high season, but there is also a tendency to wonder: when does the market peak, and what comes next?
To view C9 Hotelworks Latest Phuket Hotel Market Update 2023 CLICK
C9 Hotelworks new Niseko Tourism and Property Review has just been released and shows a flight to brands. The report highlights that 74% of pipeline projects are branded.
In the wake of Niseko’s official border reopening in October 2022, the area has witnessed a substantial influx of visitors, reaching 2.6 million in YTD2023. This represents an impressive year-on-year growth rate of 64%, highlighting a sustained tourism demand for the Niseko area.
Among the total number of overnight visitors, international arrivals surged to 59% in YTD2023, compared to just 34% in 2019. This upward trajectory is expected to continue with the revival of more direct international flights. The analysis by C9 Hotelworks indicates that the tourism market is on track to return to pre-COVID levels by 2024.
Shifting our focus to the real estate sector, Niseko’s land prices in 2023 exhibited an uptick, according to The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. Residential land prices saw a modest 1% increase this year. Meanwhile, commercial and retail land prices have accelerated by 8%.
Across the market, the average sales price per square meter for condominiums in Hirafu stood at USD14,644. These projects have experienced a slowdown in absorption rates due to a surge in available units. Nevertheless, the absorption rates for houses and land plots remain notably high, particularly those in the Hanazono area.
Turning to property, the majority of upcoming projects are concentrated in Hirafu and Outer Hirafu, constituting 48% of the total, followed by Hanazono at 34%, and Higashiyama & Niseko Village with 8%. Notable projects in the pipeline include New World La Plume Niseko Resort (2024), Cassia Hotel and Residences Hirafu (2026), and Six Senses Niseko (2026).
To download the full report CLICK
In the first half of 2023, Phuket experienced a resurgence, signaling a promising path toward recovery. International and domestic flights both saw significant increases, accounting for 75% of the total flights in 2022. Airlines and travelers alike are eager to reengage with Phuket’s offerings. In terms of passenger arrivals, the first half of 2023 displayed an impressive rebound, already representing 87% of 2022’s volume.
This optimistic outlook is further supported by the addition of new direct flights from China. The reopening of Chinese borders led to a timid resurgence of Chinese tourists, particularly in the second quarter. Additionally, plans announced by the new government cabinet to expand the list of visa-free countries, including China and India, could likely contribute to boosting Chinese tourist arrivals, a key factor in Phuket’s recovery.
Furthermore, investment opportunities in Phuket are on the rise due to high demand for both Hotels and Branded Residences, combined with the weakening of the Thai baht against major currencies. Foreign and Thai investors are increasingly looking to the Phuket region for their next projects.
Looking ahead, Phuket’s market is set to surpass both 2022 results and 2019 levels. As the high season approaches, there are mounting concerns over the island’s failing infrastructure. Upgrading is imperative to accommodate sustained demand. While Phuket’s tourism market continues to grow, there may be dark clouds on the horizon if badly needed infrastructure projects continue to lapse.
To read and download C9 Hotelworks Mid-Year Phuket Hotel Market Update CLICK
For those of you who missed PHIST 2023 and those of you who did attend, please find a selection of video short Green Minutes from the event. Sustainability has to be a priority for the hotel and travel sectors and hopefully the ideas and messages here, give you your own inspiration to go green.
PHIST 2023 Highlight Reel
Green Minute – Why are Trees Important to You?
Green Minute – What’s the Craziest Sustainable Idea I Ever Had?
Green Minute – Why Is Data Important for Sustainable Hotels?
Green Minute – Why Is Community Important to ESG?
Green Minute – What is Adaptive Reuse for Hotels?
Green Minute – Let’s Talk About Plastic
Green Minute – Imagine a Greener Phuket
Green Minute – What is the Green Premium?
Green Minute – Sustainability, It’s All About Learning
Green Minute – Why Hotels Should Cook with Local Ingredients
Green Minute – Why Develop A Green Hotel?
Hotels and resorts around Southeast Asia are failing to understand the “green premium” and how to leverage it to attract quality guests, according to leading figures in the region’s hospitality industry.
The message that hotels and resorts are falling behind counterparts in other parts of the globe when it comes to capitalizing on the benefits associated with sustainable tourism was one of the major takeaways from PHIST (Phuket Hotels for Islands Sustaining Tourism), Southeast Asia’s largest sustainability forum, held this week at SAii Laguna where over 1,000 participants gathered.
Hotel developers in Southeast Asia have broadly failed to make sustainably a must as they do in Europe or North America. It’s a massive disconnect.
Other expert speakers at PHIST included star designer Bill Bensley and KP Ho, the founder and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings and Laguna Resorts and Hotels—urged resort owners to become more cognizant of the wider benefits associated with sustainable tourism.
By pioneering green or mindful practices ranging from waste management and energy conservation to farm-to-fork dining, sourcing organic produce from local farmers, and better community engagement, resorts can streamline costs and build goodwill. In doing so, they can also enhance their appeal to clients who place a premium value on experiences that are ethical, sustainable, and — perhaps most importantly—unique.
Jesper Palmqvist, STR Global’s Area Director for Asia Pacific, hosted a roundtable at PHIST where figures from top resort names such as Six Senses and Soneva discussed environmental best practices moving forward. He agreed that the hospitality industry in Southeast Asia needs to be more proactive about enacting meaningful changes.
“It’s important that the industry develops green champions, best practice documents, and training modules that can be modified by hotels,” he said. “Furthermore, hotels need to be pressured into fulfilling international sustainability certification. This would show more ambition to adopt new criteria relating to the environment and thus stay ahead of the curve.”
Other discussions about ways to seize the opportunities afforded by sustainable tourism were to the fore as some of the biggest names in the region’s hospitality sector gathered for PHIST.
KP Ho was instrumental in the transformation of Laguna Phuket from a barren moonscape of scarred land—abandoned by the tin mining industry and declared as uninhabitable by the UN—into Southeast Asia’s leading integrated resort development.
Bill Bensley has helped curate some of Asia’s most charismatic sustainable tourism experiences. His Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia, for example, offers luxury, tented accommodation while using funds to preserve its surrounding private nature sanctuary from poaching, mining, and logging.
The “green premium” and how to sway it was just one of many topics up for discussion at this year’s PHIST, which featured 16 interactive workshops and over 30 exhibitors.
Workshop discussion covered issues such as the circular sustainable economy, green hotel loans, and start-up funds, glamping, farm-to-table cuisine, environmental hospitality design, data, and measurement, greentech innovation, marketing sustainable hotels, water conservation, sustainable wellness and more.
Directly preceding PHIST, outdoor lodging practitioners gathered and agreed upon the formation of the Asia Pacific Outdoor Lodging Association (APOLA), a trade body set up to guide, promote, and structure the development of the outdoor lodging sector in the region as it expands.
APOLA’s mission will be to help define the standards for the region, raise awareness, develop an accounting system for project financing, and educate the industry about the advantages of this lower-impact, sustainable hospitality model. Interested developers, owners, and managers in the sector are invited to submit their interest to join the association by contacting APOLA at CLICK
Those familiar with my preferences know that I am not easily impressed. I tend to see things in a straightforward manner with few gray areas. However, I must admit that I was genuinely inspired by the recent launch of Hilton Garden Inn’s recent innovative development model roll-out in Bangkok.
While Hilton categorizes it as “Upper Midscale,” to me, it represents an excellent and affordable project that aligns well with market demands. Here are some compelling reasons why I find it appealing:
- Thoughtful Design: This product was meticulously crafted by experienced designers who considered extensive customer research and specific nuances inherent in various Asia Pacific models. The space planning is both precise and guest-centric.
- Owner-Centric Approach: Hilton has approached this prototype with a focus on owners’ returns. In Thailand, the estimated cost per room is THB3 million, with an additional THB400,000 allocated for furniture, fixtures, and equipment (F, F, and E). Given the anticipated average room rate of THB2,500 in most Thai locations, it presents a financially sound model.
- Cost Certainty in Inflationary Environments: For hotel developers aiming for returns during the pre-construction phase, having a clear understanding of costs in a high-inflation environment serves as a valuable risk mitigation strategy.
- Prefabrication/Components: A noteworthy advantage is that a significant portion of the hotel room fit-out has been designed as components that can be prefabricated in Vietnam. Why Vietnam over China? Vietnam has been chosen due to fewer supply chain disruptions. Only the bathroom fixtures and fit-out are exceptions and not part of the components.
- Enhanced Build Efficiency: A persistent challenge for midscale hotels is ensuring build quality. This prototype promises faster and more efficient construction and installation processes, ultimately delivering a superior product to guests and ensuring quality finishes for property owners. It also streamlines design processes, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel. Additionally, Hilton provides support for F, F, and E procurement.
Summing it all up, I rate the new Hilton Garden Inn model as a strong contender for urban, micro markets, and high-growth resort properties located away from the beach. The substantial investment of time and resources by Hilton in developing such a practical and developer-friendly module deserves strong consideration by mid-scale hotel developers.
To connect to Hilton in Asia and learn more about the model CLICK
A fourth-quarter opening this year is planned. It is the first property under Handwritten in Thailand.
Hotel brand conversions and repositioning remain a strong trend across the region.
Here in Phuket, expect another conversion of an existing property and rebranding announcement soon, following the transaction of the hotel.