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Published on: Jan. 10, 2023, 3:45 p.m.
Teeing up India
  • Banyan Tree Laguna Resorts is looking to attract more Indian golfers

By Suman Tarafdar

Golf may yet be a niche sport in India – almost at a cusp between business and leisure. But its popularity is growing rapidly and, among the trends to emerge of late is of travellers, especially business travellers, making their bleisure trips have a golfing component. 

India pre-Covid was only 3-4 per cent of our source market, points out Ravi Chandran, CEO, Laguna Resorts & Hotels. “At the moment, it has increased to 9-10 per cent.” For decades, the 35-year old Phuket-based resort, one of Asia’s pioneering premier integrated resorts with five hotels and an 18-hole golf course, has been a popular choice for hosting Indian weddings, with six large ones even in recent months.

Chandran admits that the focus earlier was not on India. “Pre-Covid China was 23-24 per cent of Laguna’s market,” he points out. “It was our largest. Then came Russia and then the other European countries, such as the UK and Germany. But we never really focussed on India. Indians have always come to Thailand, but it was never a big market share of Laguna. India is such a big market. It took us years to crack the Chinese market.”

As with much else in hospitality, Covid has caused several rethinks across the sector. Chandran now wants a greater focus on India. “We know that there is a class in India that plays golf. Now, there are direct flights to Phuket from Delhi and Mumbai. Sport is one avenue. Then, there is a larger market – the family. We have resorts and various activities for the family, whether it be spas or activities for kids.”

A possible reason for the uptick is also the introduction of direct flights from India to Phuket, increased costs at many erstwhile popular golfing destinations, many of which also have travel restrictions. Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has played an active role in promoting the destination, which was considerably impacted by Covid and seeks the tourism route as one of the ways to revive its economy.

“Thailand has welcomed almost 700,000 Indian tourists during January-October, 2022,” says Vachirachai Sirisumpan, director, TAT New Delhi Office. India has emerged as the top inbound market for Thailand.

  • Chandran: We want a greater focus on India

    Chandran: We want a greater focus on India

Greener pastures

Golf is one of the priorities and golf resorts are looking afresh. A recent event in Delhi saw a number of Thai golf courses come together to promote the destination. “Now, we want more FIT, leisure, spa breaks, weekend golf, etc,” says Chandran. “So, that’s what we are promoting. We weren’t targeting the MICE segment earlier. We are going to do so now. India and the Middle East will be our focus markets now. We have just signed up a partnership with the PGA. We are promoting golf in the Indian market through a golf league run by Shiv Kapur. Then we have a deal with Jeev Milkha Singh. We will be using his contacts to kick off golf. We will be hosting pro-am tournaments and are looking at promoting golf weekends. Jeev has always been a special guest and we hope to work closely with him in the future to strengthen our foothold in the Indian market and capitalise on the increasing traffic to Phuket.”

Singh, a leading Indian golfer, held a ‘Master Golf Clinic’ recently to promote the destination for potential Indian golfers, which Chandran describes as the ‘first real exposure to the Indian market. Golf as a sport has a huge potential in India and has always been popular amongst the business segment but now, we even have the younger generation expressing their enthusiasm,’ he says.

“Thailand is just a short-flight away and the direct connectivity that Phuket has with key metro cities, will enable more golfers to visit frequently. Laguna Phuket serves as an ideal destination for golfers and their families, as it is a holistic spot to enjoy golf as well as other holidaying activities that transforms the trip into a perfect family vacation.”

Banyan Tree is certainly hoping golf gets added to weddings and holidays, as a reason for Indians to travel. And, it is pulling out all stops to attract the bleisure-oriented Indian traveller.

  • Jeev: Laguna Phuket serves as an ideal destination for golfers

    Jeev: Laguna Phuket serves as an ideal destination for golfers

Why Indian golfers head to Thailand

With over 250 golf courses located throughout the country, Thailand positions itself has a golfing destination of choice. “Due to the proximity and direct connectivity between the two countries, we see many golfers starting to visit different parts of Thailand from Chiang Mai to Phuket,” says Vachirachai Sirisumpan, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), New Delhi Office.

According to the ‘Golfing in Thailand’ conducted from 21 June-5 July 2021, by Sports & Leisure Worldwide (SLW) on 1,001 golfers of different ages from across India, Thailand was seen to be a destination of choice for golfers. Respondents identified Thai hospitality, value for money and affordable luxury as the top three factors influencing their choice of Thailand as a premier golfing destination. Thailand’s proximity to India was seen as another positive factor, along with diverse scenic locations of golf courses throughout the country.  

  • Set-against-the-backdrop-of the sparkling Andaman Sea, Laguna Resort is home to eight world-class hotels

Holiday, weddings and now golf

One of Thailand’s best known holiday resorts, Laguna Resorts Thailand is a subsidiary company of Banyan Tree Holdings, listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. European hospitality major Accor has a 5 per cent share in Banyan Tree, increasing its reach across markets.

Banyan Tree, one of luxury hospitality’s most marquee names, almost entered India via a resort in Kerala a few years ago, but the deal fell through. Banyan Tree Holdings however has a presence in India. It used to manage the spas for the Oberoi Hotels.

Now, one of its brands, Angsana, is present in Bengaluru as Angsana Oasis Spa & Resort. It also plans to bring Cassia, a hotel targeted at millennials, to India. “We could get Cassia in India tomorrow,” says Chandran. “We are looking at opportunities.”

Chandran also points to the current uncertainty about the future of hospitality and cautions about issues, such as the lack of manpower, though he expects Thailand to do better in this respect than other markets. He also expects the current recession to impact the sector and expects brands such as Cassia, which have lower staff ratio but deliver quality service, to do better in the future.

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