An underrated gem

Khao Lak’s growing list of upscale properties, tranquil surroundings, and plethora of nature-based activities are what stakeholders believe will entice more travellers to the area.

Forty-five minutes north of Phuket International Airport sits Khao Lak, an up-and-coming destination in southern Thailand that can be described as the more peaceful cousin usually overlooked in favour of bustling Phuket.

Both Phuket and Khao Lak can offer holidays filled with sun, sand, and sea. However, there are two key differences – Khao Lak boasts a quieter, more laid-back vibe, as well as a long list of nature-focused outdoor pursuits.

The charming Takua Pa old town and its colourful architecture

Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for marketing communications Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), told TTG Asia: “Most of the hotels along the beachfront are upscale properties that provide privacy for visitors, as well as a wide selection of well-being programmes for their guests.”

This is also why TAT is promoting Phang-nga – the province Khao Lak is part of – as a health and wellness destination according to its Andaman Wellness Corridor Strategy. Phang-nga has successfully staged the L’Étape by Tour de France event for several years now, which Chattan hopes would attract more sporting events to the destination.

“Khuk Khak Beach in Khao Lak (is growing in reputation) as a surfing destination, and there are surfing schools for those interested,” Chattan added.

Another surfing spot is Pakarang Beach, as the waves are beginner friendly, shared Leandro Cavaco Silva, general manager of Avani+ Khao Lak Resort.

This is in addition to the scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, bamboo rafting, and whitewater rafting available in Khao Lak and its surrounds. Cultural visits to Takua Pa, a charming old town, should also be included in itineraries.

Previously a tin-dredging area in the first half of the 20th century, the area is now a small tourist town replete with colourful Sino-Portuguese architecture. Tours to Takua Pa are usually combined with a paddle through the area’s mangrove forest (see What’s Hot).

Avani+ Khao Lak Resort has diversified its offerings to appeal to a different segment of travellers by partnering with Naimuang Restaurant Khao Lak & Kwan’s Cooking Class in Takua Pa.

Silva stated: “There is no better way to learn about a culture than through its cuisine. The Bib Gourmand restaurant offers cooking classes that begin with a wander through its organic vegetable and herb garden.”

JW Mariott Khao Lak’s new Aqua Play Zone

Other upscale properties in Khao Lak have also spruced up to broaden their offerings to appeal to more traveller segments.

For example, the JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort Spa recently completed its 18-month-long refurbishment and expansion, and now offers an expanded inventory of 420 rooms, suites and villas, alongside 11 restaurants and bars. It boasts leisure facilities, including a kids’ club and South-east Asia’s longest swimming pool which comprises a water trampoline, large water slide, and wave pool.

Abhimanyu Singh, the hotel’s general manager, shared: “Our resort has created an array of enriching activities and experiences. For example, we will launch our bamboo shark nursery in 2Q2023, where guests will join conservationists and learn how they nurture bamboo shark eggs from incubation until the sharks are released in the wild.”

Two more Marriott properties will open in Khao Lak in the near future, Singh added.

Nearby, the Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort opened in February 2022, a result of Outrigger Hospitality Group’s purchase of Manathai Hotels and Resorts. The refurbished resort boasts new design elements that reflect the Outrigger canoe motifs and southern Thai textured prints, while newly-constructed facilities include a beachfront restaurant and bar, coral kids club and games room.

Sujittra Rongmuang, resort manager at Outrigger Khao Lak Beach Resort, said: “We are a very family-friendly resort, and emphasise that our leading rooms are able to comfortably sleep two adults and two children.”

To raise Khao Lak’s profile, hoteliers are actively creating market awareness, both on their own and with TAT.

“We have launched extensive marketing and PR campaigns in UK, Europe, Australia, India, and GCC countries, and leveraged social media to drive exposure to our website. We also participate in international travel tradeshows such as ITB and ILTM,” Silva elaborated.

Meanwhile, Michael Hofstetter, franchise operations manager, South-east Asia and Pacific Rim, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, works closely with TAT to “sponsor accommodation for fam trips”, and participates in TAT’s overseas roadshows, such as the TAT-Fly Dubai Roadshow in January 2023, and the Amazing Thailand Roadshow to Germany-Switzerland-Austria 2022 last September.

Despite China’s reopening, hoteliers will not place their focus there, as they opined that the laid-back coastal paradise is usually not what Chinese tourists are looking for.

Singh pointed out: “Bangkok and Phuket are already top destinations for outbound travellers from China. As for Khao Lak, it is considered a secondary destination, but there is an opportunity to cater to those who are looking for a more serene destination, or new places to visit.”

As such, Singh’s key target markets for 2023 will be Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and South Korea. Wyndham’s Hofstetter will also be targeting a similar profile of European travellers, in particular those from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

“We observe that Chinese travellers tend to enjoy destinations that offer more entertainment and nightlife options, like Phuket. But we do foresee a gradual rise in Chinese tourists that look to Khao Lak to escape the hustle and bustle of the city,” Hofstetter opined.

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