Sustainable luxury

Since opening its doors to the first guests — a couple from New Zealand — in 2001, Pimalai Resort & Spa has earned a reputation of being the luxurious resort on Koh Lanta, Krabi, with many international accolades to boot.

As it turns 20 next month, Charinthip "Kade" Tiyaphorn, second-generation owner of Pimalai, who holds a master's degree in marketing and management from Sasin, talks about Pimalai's journey, as well as her role as president of the Krabi Tourism Council.

(Photos: Pimalai Resort & Spa)

How did a family with no hotelier legacy start a hotel?

My dad [Anurat Tiyaphorn] was a lawyer and partner at an international law firm before he retired. His start in hospitality was destined when he was looking for a place to build his retirement home and he bought a plot on Koh Lanta. He invited his friends to co-invest and they ended up buying 250 rai! My father's initial plan turned into Pimalai after we noticed that as Krabi was becoming more developed, many international tourists sought an exotic paradise. We seized the opportunity by opening a three-star eco-friendly resort that evolved into Pimalai. We initially planned to run a small operation, but our business partners suggested adding luxurious touches.

Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with running a hotel these days. What are some of the green policies at Pimalai?

We emphasised sustainability from the beginning. We cover many things from sugarcane straws to operating our own waterworks system. Apart from daily cleaning of our beachfront and nearby areas, we also hosted regular waste management workshops before the pandemic. We want to educate people about the consequences of their actions on the environment. Our staff also play a significant role in our initiatives. They help us reduce single-use items in our resort.

Pimalai guests were mostly foreign tourists pre-Covid. How did you adjust to the current situation?

When the country was in lockdown, we focused more on the local market. We've worked with bloggers and influencers, or even partnered with local brands to implant the Pimalai name in people's minds when they think luxury in Krabi. We also want to invite domestic tourists to experience our world-class services. We were recently ranked as the second best resort in Southeast Asia by Travel + Leisure.

What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?

We were prepared for only six months after the first lockdown. After the pandemic resurged, we tightened our purse strings to prepare cash flow for unpredictable events ahead, while maintaining the same level of hospitality. Cutting inessential costs would be the biggest [lesson]. Pre-Covid, we had more than 380 staff who took care of 121 units or three people per unit. Now, we have 160 and everything still runs smoothly. Another thing I have discovered is how online tools and platforms can help us access new markets.

What is your role in reopening Krabi tourism?

As president of the Krabi Tourism Council, I push for vaccination for Krabi people with an aim to exceed a 70% vaccination rate among the local population. Everyone should get vaccinated, not just those who work in tourism, to ensure safety for tourists and locals. I hope we will reach our goal by Oct 15 so we can reopen Krabi to domestic and international tourists safely and in time for the completion of the Krabi Airport expansion.

Are there any challenges pushing for the reopening?

There are many. A delay in procuring or delivery of vaccines prevents us from reopening. Even when promised vaccines, we are still practising safety protocols to prepare ourselves for the reopening.

Do you think Krabi is overlooked in terms of tourist destinations?

To a degree. Many people still do not know that Phi Phi Island administratively belongs to Krabi. It's just that Phi Phi Island can be accessed from Phuket and Krabi. The same goes for Koh Ngai, which many think belongs to Trang. So many might misunderstand that Krabi is mueang-rong [a secondary tourist province] but we're among the top five when it comes to generating income from international tourists. I want the government to realise the importance of Krabi as they do with other tourist provinces. It will be like two birds with one stone when Krabi officially reopens because it will help keep local tourism alive and boost the Thai economy. I also want to change the image Krabi in the eyes of tourists. We're planning to launch a Krabi island-hopping experience, too -- to show that Krabi is not only abundant with nature but also rich in culture and lifestyle destinations.

What do you see as the future of Thai hospitality and tourism?

More collaborations between people in tourism communities because the pandemic has taught us to help each other to survive. Plus, Thai hospitality and tourism will focus more on the circular economy.


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