When others are building small condo units, he builds luxury apartments; when Surin Beach was hotels and local housing only, he built the first condominium there; and when due to lack of access, he couldn’t develop anything on the first plot of land that he bought in Phuket, he waited patiently, for 13 years. Because for Michel Chiappetta of Phuket Asia Land, property development is a long game and a life-long passion.
When did you arrive in Phuket and where from?
I’ve been living here for 15 years now but the first time I came here was earlier, back in 1994, for holidays. I come from France, south of France to be precise. I used to have a company in Cannes, first working with electrical installations and then a construction firm. So, I’ve been in the property business since I was 16 years, I’ve been doing it for more than 40 years.
And did you move here directly from France or was there something in between?
I used to come to Phuket for holidays, but I never thought about doing business in Thailand. The place that I went to nearly every year was Surin. It’s there that I became friends with an owner of a beach bar, a Thai guy, and it’s him who asked me to help him open the restaurant, not a property project but a restaurant. This was back in 2004.
What kind of help could you offer to a Thai interested in opening a restaurant in Phuket?
General help with running the business, help with building the restaurant. We became business partners. And soon the investment started growing and actually changed into a property investment, ten times bigger than the original one. And this is what forced me to move to Phuket. I was sort of pushed to do it, the business was too big to run it from France, so at the beginning of 2005 I made the move, bought some land, started the company.
What was the first project that you build here?
The first investment I made was in the land where we are building Andamaya now. But there was an issue with the access so we couldn’t begin construction. Now we share access with a neighbouring project so we can develop and we will finish in two years time.
Initially, I wanted to build villas in Phuket, but the plot we had in Surin wasn’t suitable for that, so we decided to build a condo. It was 13 years ago and it was the first condo there.
Condos are very popular in Phuket now, but 13 years ago? How did you know?
At that time there were only hotels and some small apartments in Surin. But my previous customers kept requesting apartments, so we just answered that demand. I think the reason was mostly the legal ownership issues, people wanted apartments that they could own. Now it’s different, people saw that long-term leases work and are not afraid to invest in villas anymore, so we build more villas.
You showed a lot of insight, deciding to build a condominium where there was none. Do you think this is the key to your success?
I’m always looking to make something different than others. For example, in Surin everybody builds small units, so I make big, luxury apartments. I don’t like to copy others.
And you don’t just develop, you’re involved in the daily operations too.
Yes, when I came here first, there weren’t many property agencies, so we took care of the design, construction, marketing and management after the sale. The full package. Sometimes we also resell the properties for the owners.
How have things changed in Phuket over those years?
It’s easier to find nice product now - decorations, interior design elements, tiles. When I first came here, it was tough, we couldn’t find what we were looking for, what foreigners like to have. Now we have everything.
Let’s go back in time - you arrive in Phuket, start doing business here, what were your first impressions?
At that time the beach in Surin was very beautiful. It was growing very fast, with lots of construction - all of this has been removed now. It was nice to stay there, there were no souvenirs shops, less traffic, less busy.
And from a property developer perspective, how different was running a business here to running it back in France?
Well, I still work with the same team I started with 13 years ago. The first building was not perfect, small things were problematic and I had a lot of things I had to teach my team about. The know-how that I brought with me helped a lot and over the years, we learned and the quality is much better now.
The South of France certainly is a beautiful place. Why did you stay here and would you consider coming back?
I never imagined coming here to run a business. But the business forced me to stay…and it was a new experience, something exciting. The climate here is different, the people are different, the taxes are different and life, in general, is different. So, no, I I don’t think it’s possible for me to go back.
Not possible or you don’t want to?
I don’t want to. I prefer the life we have here, the food, the weather, the beach. And we do visit France regularly. Before we used to spend holidays in Phuket and lived in France, now we live in Phuket and spend holidays in France.
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