Phuket tourism market eyed for semi-submarine pilot

PHUKET: Looking to build on its recent successful launch in Malaysia, one Korean marketeer is now eying the Phuket and Phang Nga marine leisure markets for its simple yet innovative semi-submarine vessel.

“The Penguin” was one of several interesting marine products that stood out at this year’s Phuket International Boat Show (see page 44 for more details about the event); To learn more about the product and its marketing prospects, the Gazette spoke to Kyoonsung Cho, managing director of Trust Link Trade, the official marketing partner of Raonhaje (the Penguin’s Korean manufacturer) in the Southeast Asia region.

Tell us about the Penguin – what are its key selling points?

There have been many other sub-marine concept products – which can take more than 20 people at once. These are designed to go deep down into the sea. There are concerns that they may cause some damage to the marine ecosystems including coral and other sea creatures. Therefore, these types of vessels are strictly prohibited by Thai marine regulations.

However, the “Penguin” is a semi-submarine which only requires two meters depth of sea for operation and has a depth-alarming sounder to prevent any damage from collision to the rocks and coral under the sea. The vessel is purposely designed for slow speeds as to conserve nature and to ensure safety at the same time.

Another key selling point of the “Penguin” is that it is electric powered, and thus is a very eco-friendly product that does not cause pollution [from petrol emissions], either in the seawater or in the air.

Please tell us more about the manufacturer.

The manufacturer’s name Raonhaje means “joyful tomorrow” in Korean and has been developing life boats for a few decades; its mother company HLB Inc supplies the life boats to a number of world famous ship building companies, such as Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd as well as Samsung Heavy Industries Co Ltd.

Therefore, the technology applied to the “Penguin” has been proven already in terms of safety and watertight [features] – its iron frame structure inside the boat and its buoyancy in the water.

Who is your primary target here in Phuket and neighboring provinces?

The Penguin is ideal for boat operators in Thailand whom have some concerns about how to differentiate themselves from other competitors by providing a better service option for their tourists or customers. The retail price of this boat is set at US$100,000 (about 3.3 million baht) but the price is negotiable for operators who consider ordering more than five vessels. My company TLT has a plan for a pilot candidate client to have a chance to test-operate the Penguin without any other additional expenses except for the inland delivery costs.

What is your impression so far about the marine industry in Phuket and the region?

I personally have been to the Similan Islands for tourism twice and have talked with many other tourists. They said that the nature was fantastic and had been much more beautiful before being damaged by the 2004 tsunami. However, from another point of view, the tour programs for tourists are pretty monotonous in terms of the variety of choices, which can make tourists feel bored of the same programs and no competition among boat operators, which can affect better quality tourism demand. If there is any active tourism business which is willing to introduce the Penguin, we believe it can contribute more variety to tourism programs

What ultimately led to the decision to launch in Southeast Asia?

Above all, here is the biggest market for this kind of product – especially in Thailand. One figure from the Ministry of Tourism [and Sports] declared that approximately 24 million tourists came to visit Thailand in 2013. This makes it the 4th biggest tourist market in the world. This is the main reason I did not hesitate to make the decision [to do business here].

Can you tell us a little bit about your operations thus far in Malaysia?

We recently launched the Penguin in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, with a local tourism company there. In the beginning, four Penguins were launched, strictly for business, in which mainly Chinese tourists are the targets. The operation is expected to make about $1,000 additional income per boat per day.

Are there any other factors potential operators and investors should consider?

The biggest concern on the boat operator’s side is maintenance – in case of an emergency, malfunction and fixing the defect without wasting time.

Therefore, we would like to try a joint venture for which TLT Inc and Raonhaje enters into a joint investment with a Thai partner or investor. Then, we will establish our base for maintenance and the assembly line of other boats in the future. We can also provide mechanics and a maintenance training program either in Thailand or in Korea.

What about the ROI?

The ROI itself varies depending upon the scale of investment and operation type. In the case that the operation has five boats, each running for $100 per one hour use, for six hours a day. The daily income will be $600 per boat. The rest of the calculation depends on fixed and variable costs of the boat operator, but generally speaking, we project that that the ROI can be made in one year.

For more information or inquiries, call Kyoosung Cho on 82-10-4374-3254 or email kschou67@gmail.com

— Steven Layne

Business News

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