When did you fall in love with Phuket?
I have been living in Hong Kong for many years and I have been coming to Phuket on and off for more than 20 years now. About 12 years ago I was supposed to go skiing in Whistler, in Canada, at Chinese New Year. But I got very sick with pneumonia. I thought to myself, ‘Oh that’s it! I’m finished!’ But I recovered. I said to my wife ‘I don’t want to go skiing. I want to relax,’ so we went to Phuket. We were supposed to stay at Amanpuri but it was full so we stayed instead down in Rawai at the Royal Phuket Yacht Club. The island was so beautiful and I thought, ‘Let’s buy something to make a house here.’ My wife didn’t want to but I did. Then someone showed my Laem Singh beach. I loved it. But the land plot [on the headland overlooking the beach] wasn’t available at the time. I called the owner in Bangkok. He said it wasn’t for sale so I asked if how much it would cost if it was for sale. I made him a high offer for the plot, higher than the market price, and we had a deal. I got no discount. Not even one cent. I built something very special over there. Overnight it was popular, everybody knew it. I love design and things with good taste. After that I wanted to do something else. There was nothing [in the way of sophisticated shopping and eating nearby] so we decided to build something nice there. Surin Plaza. We kicked off with one restaurant. It was good. After that more shops came, too. I slowly started to develop a passion for Phuket. Then I had a call from one of the developers of the land [that was to become] Andara. They said, could I come take a look. They were building little one-room villas, very cheap, using a Chinese construction company. The land was beautiful and it would have been terrible to build something cheap on it. It needed to be something very special. So we made a deal to buy the land from them. We tore down all the buildings on the land; I wanted to start from clean. Then I went to work with a design team. We designed a master plan with my house as the role model. I took inspiration from contemporary Thai architecture. We built two model houses first – very nice – and got amazing feedback. I made a price that was very workable and buyers could see it was a good investment in a good brand.
People say that the villas in the opening phase were all sold before completion?
We sold a lot due to my name. For me what was important was the quality, not the money. My name stands for quality and design. Then we decided we’d make it into a hotel as well, so people could invest in the villas and then put them into a rental pool. Land is land. It’s what you do with it that makes it beautiful. Even if you don’t have a view you can still make it great with materials and design. Everything I do needs to be special and to have a twist. The world doesn’t need just another building; it needs something special that makes people feel good.
How did you chose the name for the project?
When I built my house at first we were looking for a name. ‘Chandara’ was a famous Thai movie at the time. I thought ‘My house is all about that movie,’ so I settled on Chandara. Andara means ‘stars’ in Thai. Andara Stars with the Andaman Sea – I thought it was a nice touch to combine both.
You knew that there were people who would enjoy your project?
I knew that Thailand is a magical place. The two main magical places in the world are Phuket and Bali. So I thought, why not? With my lifestyle … I thought there must be other people like me who could enjoy this island and this project.
How is Andara different from other luxury hotels?
People make the difference. Anybody can have a good design but you need good experience, so our staff is very dedicated. As a boss I treat everybody like family. It’s not a corporate culture – it’s like a family that goes out to the guests. Guests like to be remembered and recognized and feel special. We listen to them. We try to make them feel at home away from home. We try to make every day special for them so they will remember and will come back. In my world everyone is the same – top management or security guard. I’m down-to-earth. I have time for everyone.
Are you interested in all the comments about Andara on TripAdvisor.com?
Normally I don’t read them. All you can do is your best. There will always be people who don’t like something. As long as the majority likes it, it’s good. You have to do it from your heart, that’s all. If you are doing a good job, do it better than the competition and you will succeed; that’s what’s important. It’s the staff who need to be thanked.
What celebrities have you had staying in Andara so far?
I can’t give names but we have had a lot of well-known stars, from royalty to important business moguls.
You have long experience with China and Chinese are major tourists here now in Phuket. How does that influence the tourism industry and Phuket?
Hotels everywhere have Chinese concierges, and restaurants have Chinese menus etc. People around the world are now catering for the Chinese. Phuket is becoming Number 1 for tourists from China. It’s a different culture for Chinese tourists. Mass markets are going to bring about a lifestyle change. The Chinese are used to the normal [things at home]. They like to go out and they don’t spend much on accommodation. They love markets where they can buy products, then they come back and eat noodles etc. Things will change as they travel more through the coming years and get more educated. I’ve been in this part of the world most of my life. Travel makes people smart and it changes the culture in your home country. [Travelers] bring something back home, [so] the next generation will be different. Nowadays people grow up with e-commerce and so on. Everybody is connected. Before, you used to go to a travel agent but today everybody surfs the net to get the information they need before traveling. The world is changing. For example, the older generation read print. But the younger ones read magazines only online. The majority of print media will disappear one day. Young people also shop online, not so much in the malls anymore. I have built many shopping malls and we have had to change the mix. Before it was 65 percent retail and 35 percent F&B. Now we have turned that around to attract more customers. It’s affecting the retail business. The world is really changing. The older generation is dying off and the younger generation is coming up.
What else does Phuket need? Something more exciting?
Phuket is a place that I believe could actually become more well-known throughout the world as a family destination. We need a water park or a theme park here – a world-class theme park. The water park they have now is not really a water park, nor world-class. Phuket needs more world-class things. Theme parks always attract more tourists. For example, Ocean World [in Hong Kong] or Legoland, or something like that. Another thing that’s important is more world-class hotels here in Phuket. Now there are not a lot of international brand names here in Phuket such as Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton. They have their own customer base which will bring more variety in arrivals and this would help to add value to Phuket. As a first step Phuket’s Airport is finally being developed and will be much improved. I know they are talking about a monorail system in Phuket. It has to be good and quality-built. Another thing would be a really good convention center. That would bring many famous brands from all over the world to Phuket. But the culture in Thailand makes it difficult to bring things forward.
What’s your advice for people to get through a crisis?
It depends what country you’re talking about. We have been through many crises in history and what happens depends on the country and the location. But people need to pull together, to work as a team. With social media you can connect much faster but people have to go back to their values. [Crisis is] a time to have love for one another. To stay with their families and work together to find a solution for a better life. People who are upset cause problems because they are not happy with their lives, so the government needs to understand that it, too, needs to change. It needs to listen to what is going on and who’s not happy. It’s not just ‘My way’s the right way’ but trying to understand that other people’s opinions mean something.
Where should we be looking for investments in the future?
Due to the internet the world is a smaller place. I would look at the new world. It’s an industrial revolution but a shorter version. For example, take Uber taxi. It’s this kind of innovation that I would look at closely and invest in. It’s all about connecting people and looking for the next good idea. That will be the future. Also, China is a sleeping giant that is awakening now. The consumer market there is expanding and China is a good place to invest for the future. You always need to look at the culture of a country in order to see the growth. There are a lot of opportunities all over the world. It’s like you have four locked doors and one key. Trying the key in each of the doors will work for one of the doors in the end. There will always be a solution and life will go on, even in very difficult situations. I’d say to your readers, be positive. Only then will you be successful. Don’t be negative or you will never succeed. A fool is always happy, so don’t think too much. Just make things happen.
What’s your favorite cuisine?
I like healthy food. For me Japanese is probably my favorite food. It’s fresh, it’s raw. I like it.
Your favorite movie?
I had a movie company for 20 years so, for me, I’ve had it with that business. But there are many classics of all time such as The Godfather. It depends on your mood. I don’t have much time to watch movies, though when I do I prefer comedies – something easygoing. I like to be happy and easy.
How do you normally spend your holidays in Phuket?
For me every day is a holiday. Normally we go on my boat in Europe when we are not in Phuket. I try to come here every six weeks. I relax the most in Phuket and I like the business side of my holiday; it keeps me relaxed and young.
You have also been in the fashion business. What is your favorite brand?
I used to like Armani a lot. But I’ve found it’s not the same look anymore. I make a lot of my own clothes now. I design suits and shirts for myself. I don’t like to buy many things. I’m not really a brand person. It’s difficult because I know the making of it – the same as with the movie company – that’s why it’s hard for me to like it.
What’s your life motto?
Be a good person. Do to others what you would have them do to you. I like to look at things for what they are and, furthermore, what they could be. But most important is to be a good person. Have time for people.