Phuketindex.com recently interviewed Larry Cunningham, GM of The Chava Resort and Honorary Australian Consul for this region of Thailand. We were quite surprised how a busy business man who has so little time to relax and pursue leisure activities manages to maintain his sense of humour and such an open mind.
Originally from Sydney Australia, Larry has been involved in many businesses around the world including exotic enterprises such as a timber venture in Fuji and fishing in the Solomon Islands, but until reaching Thailand, he had nothing at all to do with the hospitality industry. He has been living here permanently for the past seven years but it is only about one year ago that he opened The Chava Resort and Spa, a stone’s throw from the beautiful Surin Beach.
Please tell us about your philosophy regarding your position in the hospitality business.
“I’m more used to the land, building, and development businesses rather than the hospitality trade. The only reason I am GM of the resort is because the original GM was sadly killed in January this year on his way back from Patong. Also the opening in August 2008 was somewhat unlucky: just in time for the global financial crisis, the political unrest in Thailand and the airport being blocked. All of this had an adverse affect not just on The Chava, but all over the country.
“Phuket is a beautiful island where tourists are willing to pay as much as THB25,000 a night. For this sort of money a high level of luxury is expected and must be provided. Personally I do not want Phuket to become so elite, but when we get adverse publicity such as that generated by the Jet Ski problem in Patong, we have to redouble our efforts to protect potential customers from such behavior and ensure they know they will be treated well.
“When a tourist comes to Phuket and has a happy, memorable experience, he or she will tell four or five others; on the other hand, if they do not enjoy their stay, they will tell many times more. Khun Sethaphan, director of the Phuket office of the Tourist Authority of Thailand recently showed me evidence that as many as 15% of tourists will not return here. That trend must be reversed.
It sounds like these tribulations are attacking the whole Andaman tourism industry. How can The Chava cope with and solve these problems?
“We have to engender loyalty amongst our guests. We have targeted the high end of the market such as the billionaires who fly into Phuket on their private jet. These people want to have peaceful surroundings in which to relax. Such clientele are relatively unaffected by the crises. Nevertheless, we still cater for the family group; mum, dad, two or three children, and we offer them is a variety of spacious two, three and four bedroom apartments set around our 35metre pool.”
During our conversation, Larry declared “The Chava is my first wife.” and continued by telling us how he compares and contrasts himself with the resort.
“I’m a very open person and The Chava is open too. I’m ‘big’ and so is The Chava. The difference between us is that when the lights go out at night, The Chava sleeps; I continue to think. And one more thing: The Chava cannot swim in Surin Beach, so I do not swim there either.” He laughed.
Larry travels a lot but has three favourite resorts are right here in Phuket: the Amanpuri is so beautiful, the Chedi is also and very well managed, and he loves the Indigo Pearl, especially for its Sunday Brunch and the people he meets there.
Do you get much feedback?
“We get a lot of positive feedback as you will see if you visit www.tripadvisor.com. Many comments have been left by our guests. One, from Australia, said ‘The Chava is the only place I can truly relax. It is big enough but not too big, and the staff are lovely. It is one place I can honestly say that I unwind in’. He’s been here four times, so I suppose he knows what he is talking about and must be telling the truth. In fact, he’s coming back with his family at the end of the year.”
“Recently Bruce Mathieson, the biggest hotelier in Australia stayed at The Chava, and he said ‘I just love this place. This is wonderful, I can relax only here.’”
As a final topic, we asked who gave Larry the greatest inspiration
His answer: “The Ethiopian long distance runner Haile Gebrselassie and Barak Obama”
“I saw Haile Gebrselassie win the 10,000 metre race in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He was ranked only second in the world but his tenacity would not let him accept it and he fought like a demon to win the Gold.”
“Barak Obama is, I believe, our hope for the future. He has the ability to do so much to eliminate the problems we all face.”
We thank you Larry Cunningham for your valuable time, we very much enjoyed talking to you and listening to your views.