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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Executive travel: Dusit Thani Laguna's faded charm still a draw

The destination is a popular option, a 1,000-acre, purpose-built resort with seven large luxury hotels linked by complementary shuttles

The hotel has a large outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, as well as badminton, tennis and volleyball courts. Courtesy Dusit Thani
The hotel has a large outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, as well as badminton, tennis and volleyball courts. Courtesy Dusit Thani

Having written the original business plan for my own successful Dubai dot-com company on a beach in Thailand many years ago, I have a particular nostalgia for this country as a place for business reflection and planning.

It could be that an exotic location stimulates the neurons, or is it just the impact of being somewhere very different?

Thai hotels know there is good business in business.

On my recent visit to Phuket I first looked out for an elite hotel to win over UAE corporate clients. But hotels there are also making a push into the more humdrum middle market for corporate meetings, incentive trips and small conferences, all far more convenient now with direct flights with Emirates and Etihad. The Laguna Phuket is a popular option, a 1,000-acre destination with seven large luxury hotels linked by complementary shuttles and small ferries, as well as a handy unified payment system so that expenditures in any hotel can be charged to a single bill.

At the centre of its long sandy beach is the first hotel, constructed 30 years ago – the Dusit Thani Laguna, still owned and run by the stock market quoted group of the same name.

This summer will see the completion of an extensive refurbishment programme of its 252 rooms and two-room villas. The upgrading of the property has allowed it to re-enter the market for company events.

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Bookings include the American Insurance Group Thailand and a large Chinese media group, while the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi is taking a total of 250 rooms in May in partnership with the neighbouring Outrigger hotel.

“We don’t have the capacity for really huge events,” the general manager Gordon Aeria told me. “But we can share the guests with other hotels for larger gatherings. There is also the opportunity for dining each evening in a different location around the resort.”

Despite the renovation programme, which will be completed this summer, the Dusit Thani Laguna is showing its age a little. Then again, being the first hotel in the area, it does have the best position and largest stretch of the beach.

In my ocean-front view room the two plugs on my small desk were not working, but to be fair, every plug in the room was an international multi-plug, so it was not a problem. With occupancy running at 94 per cent on my visit, operations seemed under some strain, although you can’t argue with so many repeat bookings of two to three weeks. Generally guests seemed very happy with the service, too.

The complementary internet ran smoothly at 8.4 Mbps, and the chair and table on the small balcony made a very pleasant open air desk, apart from the distraction of crashing waves from the Andaman Sea.

In-room dining is also possible on the balcony with a choice of first-rate royal Thai, Italian and international fare. Try an extensive Italian menu for two for Dh686. A club sandwich is Dh42 or a big cheeseburger Dh56, coke Dh2 and Evian water Dh15. What they don’t talk much about in the publicity is the sea lice problem in some seasons.

It’s completely harmless, but gives you the sensation of being mildly stung by nettles, and not many bathers stayed more than a few minutes in the water.

With its five different meeting room configurations, the hotel is comfortably able to handle small conferences as well as boardroom meetings and incentive travel groups. The Dusit Laguna Hall is located in the main building with an open garden in front that is ideal for receptions of around 120 guests and can be divided into two smaller rooms.

Dusit Thani Laguna, Phuket.

Courtesy Dusit Thani
Dusit Thani Laguna, Phuket.Courtesy Dusit Thani

The Suriyan room is next to the Angsana spa on the lagoon side of the hotel. It receives abundant natural light for board meetings of up to 15 people, which can also be held in the Chantra and Dara rooms. The Casuarina beach restaurant can be taken over for events to seat up to 48.

Naturally, the hotel has a large outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi and a well-equipped gym.

There are also badminton, tennis and volleyball courts and a football pitch.

The concierge booked me a fine catamaran trip to see the so-called James Bond island, Khao Phing Kan, used as the villain’s lair in the film The Man with The Golden Gun, though sadly my back injury prevented an elephant riding excursion. Clearly, team building options are considerable.

Overall this hotel reminded me a lot of the Jebel Ali Hotel in Dubai, also a popular place for corporate events with its beach, gardens and golf course, if a little dated and quirky in its charm.

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