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Phuket hotel watch – trends in 2019

Bill Barnett

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by Bill Barnett of C9Hotelworks.com

At the beginning of the year Phuket’s tourism and hotel sector was cautiously optimistic after a strong first half of 2018 and humbling second half. Key terms that kept popping up were Mainland Chinese, Thai Baht Appreciation, Elections and Supply Concerns.

So today, with five months of performance under the belt in 2019 what are the key trends in hotel trading? These can best be compressed in the following points…

• According to data from hotel benchmarking group STR, Thailand remains Southeast Asia’s leading destination for Mainland Chinese, but the gloss is being diminished by Vietnam’s meteoric rise, and strong numbers by the Philippines and Cambodia.

• Market-wide RevPar shrunk by 0.04% in 2018 and flat demand at the onset of the year is now shifting into negative territory moving into February and beyond. Turning back to last year, group demand is falling which is as key concern in a wholesale driven marketplace.

• One stark positive is that RevPar is being propped up by rates and not occupancy. A key takeaway is that in peak and high season, Phuket hotels are able to drive rates up in key periods and continue to do so. This of course is a broad trend. Good hotels tend to perform at higher levels, while poorly managed ones remain subpar.

Getting beyond the numbers, as I speak to hoteliers the expectation is that wholesalers remain a critical component of the island’s hotel industry and despite the expected shift with technology to more direct bookings, the reality is that wholesale models are sensitive to demand volatility and the result of this feeding frenzy most often will be either flat rates for the year or in some cases a retraction.

We expect the remainder of 2019 to be challenging. Some hotels will look at this as an opportunity to reposition, renovate or cut costs. While others will look at new segments, niche offerings or emerging markets like India to regain momentum.

As for the top critical issues facing Phuket hotels, in my opinion these can be distilled in the following Top 3 Things Keep Me Awake at Night

• Mainland Chinese – If tourism players or hotels believe the damage to Brand Phuket is over, think again. Talking to key tour operators there remains a hangover from last year’s boat sinking incident and travellers remain keenly concerned over safety. Only time and more concentrated promotion will see a return of the numbers.

• Growing Supply and Demand Imbalance – The current pipeline is just over 8,000 keys in development on the island. What’s more concerning is that projects in planning are not represented in this metric, and by our estimate there are approximately 5,000 more keys in planning. While both the pipeline and planning numbers will see some wash, the sum total exceeds current and forecasted demand.

Moreso, the rise of unlicensed condominiums, apartments, houses and villas is continuing unabated and is further exacerbating supply issues. Every time you see a group of tourists renting a 3 or 4 bedroom villa, that’s three or four hotel rooms that lay empty. Government control of unlicensed properties is a key issue facing Phuket’s tourism industry.

• Diminished Natural Resources and Strained Infrastructure – Water tops the list and there is little doubt we are reaching the tipping point with mounting shortages and soaring demand. Electricity is another concern. Lastly is a rising number of vehicles on the road, a urbanising trajectory and slow development of roads and public transport.

To these point’s lets revisit the hotel development pipeline and reflect that a island long term master plan, zoning for new tourism expansion and requirements for developers to invest in public infrastructure to obtain operating licenses is sorely lacking. Something has to give on this front.

In conclusion, am I pessimistic about Phuket’s tourism and hotel future in 2019 and beyond? Absolutely not, direct airlinks are growing and the island has a well-structured capacity for handling tourism, but I firmly believe looking into our problems, discussing and finding ways to resolve these are critical to a sustainable growth pattern.

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Bill Barnett has over 30 years of experience in the Asian hospitality and property markets. He is considered to be a leading authority on real estate trends across Asia, and has sat at almost every seat around the hospitality and real estate table. Bill promotes industry insight through regular conference speaking engagements and is continually gathering market intelligence. Over the past few years he has released four books on Asian property topics.

Business

Thailand’s media spend shrinks as brands shy away from ‘bad’ news

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s media spend shrinks as brands shy away from ‘bad’ news | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thailand Business News

Young protesters, who use social media and messaging intuitively vs Thai officials and police who try and track those messages to keep up with the plans of the protest movement. Although Thai police have water cannons and brute force, the Thai youth at the core of the current protest movement also have a valuable weapon. And it’s being used more than ever at the moment. But this increased traffic is not transforming into increased media spending from Thailand’s main brands.

Social media analyts Wisesight say social media is being ‘weaponised’, not only to plan and communicate with fellow protesters, but also “spread the word” of the issues behind their campaign and share their stories with friends. Posts on social media have nearly doubled to 40 million messages a day over the past week. The daily average of posts in past months are around 20-22 million a day.

“Some 40 million messages were posted on social media in Thailand on Oct 15, mainly driven by political strife,” according to Kla Tangsuwan, CEO of Wisesight.

But the increased traffic on social media hasn’t meant that brands are increasing their spending to take advantage of the additional ‘reach’.

In fact, Wisesight say brands are pausing digital media spending after the political conflict ramped up this week. Usually digital media spend spikes in Q4 with the approaching festive season, a peak buying time for consumers. Media were hoping that sentiment would rebound as the world “pandemic” started the settle in October, but fresh political protests, and a surge in new global Covid-19 cases, have caused brands to “pause or wait and see”.

“Brands have begun to hold back on digital media spending in the fourth quarter as political messages flood online platforms, drawing attention away from commercial activity.”

According to the business director of Media Intelligence, Pawat Ruangdejworachai, businesses are pausing their media spend.

“They lack confidence and are hard to gain attraction from audiences that have more interest in political movements.”

The report also notes that Thailand’s social media landscape, and broader media landscape generally, are entering a new paradigm where usage is driven mainly by Generations Y and Z who use their media intuitively and consume it in real time, the vast majority on their smartphones.

Gen Y. Gen Y, or Millennials, were born between 1980 and 1994. They are currently between 24-39 years old.

Gen Z. Gen Z is the newest generation to be named and were born between 1996 and 2015. They are currently between 5-24 years old.

According to Media Intelligence, media spending is expected to fall 20% in Thailand to 71.2 billion baht this year. Internet channels are forecast to be the only media which will see growth this year, up 0.5% to 19.7 billion baht.

SOURCE: wisesight.com

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Business

Foreign investors and businesspeople seek clarity about the current “situation” in Thailand

The Thaiger

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Foreign investors and businesspeople seek clarity about the current “situation” in Thailand | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Are business groups still able to "meet"? - EU Business Avenues

With Thailand battling to come up with a safe and sustainable manner of re-opening its borders, and the footage of the street protests reaching out to a world audience, foreign investors are saying they need more details of what they can or cannot do in Thailand under the new State of Emergency.

The Thai Chamber of Commerce is calling for additional details and a long term “plan” about how Thailand is going to slowly re-open and how foreign businesses can continue to invest in the country under the current “restrictions”. The State of Emergency, announced hastily on Thursday morning at 4am and then endorsed by the Thai cabinet yesterday afternoon, sends mixed signals to business and the Thai Chamber of Commerce is seeking more clarification.

TCC chairman Kalin Sarasin says that foreign investors are enquiring whether they can go ahead with holding conferences and meetings in Thailand, after the decrees’ ban on gatherings of more than 5 people. People in a BTS Skytrain carriage, or even the meeting of the Thai cabinet yesterday are gatherings of more than 5 people, so the TCC want answers to what, specifically, is allowed and what is not.

The Nation reports that Chambers of commerce in Thailand’s provinces are also asking Kalin if they will be able to continue with planned activities.

“It would take a few days to judge whether emergency rule will hit foreign-investor confidence. The economy could escape damage from political turmoil if the anti-government protests end soon.”

Meanwhile, according to the Japan External Trade Organisation, Japanese “faith in Thailand remains high”, JETRO president Atsushi Taketani says that Japanese investors “were still confident in Thailand and remain committed to driving its economy regardless of current political situation”.

The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand says that Thailand’s core economic showpieces, including development of the Eastern Economic Corridor, won’t be affected by escalating political tensions.

And the deputy governor of the authority, Attapon Jirawatjanya, stated that… “ongoing anti-establishment protests would be a short-term problem”.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Economy

Bangkok office rents drop for the first time in 10 years

Caitlin Ashworth

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Bangkok office rents drop for the first time in 10 years | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Unsplash: Ragnar Vorel

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on Thailand, and the region’s, economy, Bangkok office rents and occupancy rates are expected to drop after consistent growth over the past 10 years, according to Colliers International Thailand.

It will be the first contraction in that sector since 2010, according to the property consultancy’s associate director of research and communication, Phattarachai Taweewong. He adds that it is one of the “roughest years because of political unrest.” Since July, pro-democracy protesters have been calling on an end to the military-run government and a rewrite of the 2017 Constitution.

The ‘political unrest’ is not a new topic in Thailand and Bangkok life, but the affects of the Covid-19 lockdowns and border closures since April have put the Thai economy into recession and forcing smaller and larger businesses to reassess their businesses and trim their costs, including Bangkok’s high rents.

Bangkok office rents and occupancy rates grew around 3 – 5% each year from 2011 to 2019, but after this year’s 3 month lockdown and business restrictions, rents and occupancy rates have fallen, and are forecast to continue to fall. The new office demand following the lockdown was mostly relocations to buildings with lower rent option with landlords prepared to deal. Colliers predicts that trend will continue until at least the end of the year.

“Many tenants are struggling with the business downturn. Some returned rental spaces to landlords. Others asked for a decrease in rental rates to save on costs… Landlords cut rents slightly to help tenants. Some offered a lower rent to retain existing tenants.”

HERE’sa perspective of the situation back in May this year.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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