Theme Plaza Development, a subsidiary of Pena Group which is the largest Thailand-based fashion retailer and garment maker, will soon open a boutique hotel in the hopes of tapping into the rich tourism segment in Cha-am and Hua Hin.
Nasvera Tantichirasakul, managing director of Theme Plaza Development.
At present, the company successfully runs Santorini Park Cha-am, the blue and white Greek-style shopping outlet mixed with an amusement park on its 17-rai plot of land. During its first eight months of operation last year, the park had about 1.2 million visitors, of which 80% were Thai.
"This is an amazing number. We didn't think Santorini would become a hit this fast," said energetic Nasvera Tantichirasakul, 38, the managing director of Theme Plaza Development and also the daughter of Pena Group's owner.
Last month, the company officially launched the second phase of the expansion and opened its first water park adjacent to the mall. With a 500-million baht investment, Santorini Water Fantasy is also expected to gain momentum quickly. "We expect to have about 250,000 visitors during the first 12 months and to break even within five years," she said.
Theme Plaza Development also plans to add a 120-room boutique hotel in 2015 and will establish more theme malls or theme parks in other cities, such as Phuket and Khao Yai, in the next couple of years.
What led to the setting up of Santorini Park and Santorini Water Fantasy in Cha-am?
It started 10 years ago when Pena Group opened Premium Outlet [retail shops] in Cha-am. Our business grew very well until we completed our three-phase expansion. We also started recording statistics of vehicles that passed by and stopped at our outlet, as well as types of cars and the provinces on licence plates. For a year, the graph arrow moved up. So we think we should develop an attraction in this area, which is also not far from Hua Hin.
Why did you choose this theme?
It's because of its location near the sea. We believe that people will think of islands when they think of the sea. A couple of years ago, Greece was one of the popular destinations among Thai people.
Before the country faced the [debt] crisis, we always saw people posting photos from Santorini, so we selected the theme of the island because people will know right away where the place is.
Is the island one of your dream destinations?
Yes it is. However, it was unfortunate that I was supposed to visit Santorini a couple of months after my father's team visited.
When the crisis hit, it was not safe for tourists to visit. I still haven't had the chance, but I must visit it one day.
Do you enjoy travelling?
Much of my inspiration comes from travelling. If it is about nature, I prefer travelling to Switzerland. If I visit the US, I like to visit theme parks in Orlando such as Disney's Magic Kingdom. So when we open the theme business, I think it will be perfect for me.
Did you find any water parks that served as models for Santorini Water Fantasy during your travels?
I do not have any specific places in mind. I chose attractions in the park based on what I like and what will be suitable for Thais. For example, when we opened Santorini Park, it was a time when people loved taking pictures and posting them on Facebook, so we made sure every corner of Santorini was beautiful _ even the public toilets. For the water park, the charm is in having fun and sharing the experience with friends on social media via Santorini Connect [photo kiosks where each visitor can choose pictures taken by a camera in the park's attractions and share them on Facebook].
Do you think a 900-baht entrance fee is expensive?
We think people on average will spend about four hours inside the water park, so each would spend about 200 baht an hour. This is not much when compared to the 12 attractions we offer, as they can play at any attraction as many times as they please. They can also stay with us all day. Our maximum capacity for each turnover is 3,500 visitors and we try to keep to that number to make sure everyone will have a good time with us.
What are the highlight attractions of the water park?
The King Cobra ride [two duelling slides for four people, which are 78m long, 15m high, and with speeds up to 51kph]. For Santorini Park, the highlight is the [40m-high] ferris wheel.
When you open the new park, there are always questions about safety, especially after the recent incident when the rope of the G-Max Reverse Bungy was severed. Can you tell us about your safety policy?
It is really unfortunate that the incident happened. We sourced the machine from the same inventor whose machine was implemented in Clarke Quay in Singapore. We believed that if it was installed there, it would have a high safety standard. But when the rope was suddenly torn after 15 uses (it should be 200 times), we sent it for tests in several labs. The results clearly showed that the rope, which was made of 4,000 elastic lines braided together, was torn from the inside, meaning it was defective before being delivered to us.
We had to weigh up between our 10 million baht investment or the lives of our customers, so we chose the latter and permanently stopped the service.
For the water park, we had to test run every attraction intensively for one month up to 700 times by our staff to ensure safety. At present, we have 35 lifeguards and we will increase that number to 50 soon.
What else do you plan to do in the near future?
We have a 100-rai plot of land and have used about 70% already. We plan to build a 10-rai boutique hotel with 120 rooms and meeting facilities. The hotel will be located next to the water park and will open in 2015. We will use another 17 rai of land for a car park to accommodate more than 1,200 vehicles. After that we will move our investment to other cities such as Khao Yai and Phuket because Pena Group have outlets and land banks there. We also see the potential to build more theme parks.
About the author
- Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe