Tycoon realises his dream
Hong Kong tycoon Gulu Lalvani's dream of building a world-class 'luxury lifestyle marina community' in Phuket is sailing full-steam ahead with the first phase a sell-out success.
The US$150million Royal Phuket Marina development of villas, penthouses and condominiums complementing Thailand's premier marina facility is emerging just as Mr Lalvani imagined - as an international yachting hub rivaling those in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
All 66 condos in the first phase of development are sold-out, with a significant number of Hong Kong investors. Most recently on the market is the second phase of 'aquaminium' condos, built above marina moorings, along with eight royal villas. The marina also incorporates a Fisherman's Wharf-style 'boardwalk' of upmarket galleries, restaurants and cafes.
Outlets include a stylish bar opened by retired Cathay Pacific captain Peter Hay and gourmet bakery founded by Peter Webber, a former chef at Bangkok's Oriental Hotel and The Savoy in London.
Also opened are a trendy new spa, wellness centre, shopping centre and recreational facilities including swimming pools, tennis courts and fitness facilities.
With 300 berths for yachts of up to 30 metres long, it boasts Asia's most sophisticated and hi-tech yachting infrastructure - twice the size of any other yachting haven in Phuket and the island's only marina with a boat lock, non-tidal deepwater basin and private moorings on the doorstep of residences.
Thailand's largest and most sophisticated moorings have already been recognised among the world's leading marinas with the prestigious 'Five Gold Anchor' award from the Yacht Harbour Association, an arm of the British Marine Federation.
A five-star boutique hotel along with 300 more condominiums and another 100 luxury villas are in longer-term plans, along with speedboat shuttles to an exclusive private beach club on a nearby tropical island.
More than half of the development is devoted to leisure and shopping facilities amid landscaped parks and gardens. The entire project is due for completion in 2010.
Developer Mr Lalvani is the founder of Hong Kong-headquartered Binatone, the world's second largest manufacturer of digital cordless phones.
Since the 1950s his company has been a pioneer in transistor radios, computer games and digital telephones.
An avid yachtsman, he was also one of the first Hong Kong investors in Phuket's Amanpuri resort.
He went ahead with his vision of Royal Phuket Marina after persuading the Thai government to abolish a 200 per cent import duty on imported boats that had brought the marine tourism industry to a standstill.
'After more than 40 years of travelling the globe, I became convinced that Phuket is the best holiday destination in the world, surrounded by beautiful islands with warm tropical waters, white sandy beaches and year-round sailing,' he said.
'Combining my passion for yachting and love for Phuket led me to build Royal Phuket Marina, which has been a big hit.
'The marina will do the same for Phuket's marine leisure industry that Amanpuri did for traditional resort development - creating standards worthy of Phuket and Thailand as one of the world's great travel and yachting destinations'.
Marina marketing manager Jeanette Skelton said: 'The dream of building Asia's leading luxury lifestyle community is coming to fruition with many shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, charter companies and health facilities now opening.'
The venue is making a name for itself by hosting spectacular open-air social events in its 'town square'.
Mr Lalvani added: 'This really is an exciting time for the marina. This was my vision - creating a world-class marina rivaling those in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
'The development also benefits the local economy. Yachting brings high spending individuals to Phuket, rather than the trend towards ever-cheaper budget tourism.' He said the attraction to boat owners was that 'mooring and marina costs are much more affordable than comparable marinas in Asia, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, or Europe and the Caribbean'.
'Fuel is a quarter of the price of Europe and less than half the price of Hong Kong. Crew costs are dramatically lower. This is a significant advantage for Thailand over established marine centres anywhere else in the world.'