This current global crisis sprung upon us by the COVID-19 virus has had an enormous effect on life as we know it, and particularly on the hospitality industry. Countries are still in varying degrees of lockdown, several are going back into lockdown to avoid a ‘second wave’, flights to many destinations, including Thailand, are still suspended and hotels are as a result, suffering single figure occupancies.
The pleasures of the Banyan Tree Phuket Serenity Pool Villa.
Whilst across Thailand, restrictions have been eased, due to our heavy reliance on tourism, we are experiencing a higher level of pain than many others. Travel, and more specifically, vacation travel has been the most significant short-term casualty.
However, hoteliers worldwide are in fact a resilient and creative bunch. With the absence of international arrivals, several hotels in Bangkok and Phuket are promoting ‘staycation’ offers to attract the local resident population. The beauty of a staycation is that it allows trips to local attractions that otherwise as a resident you may well be aware of, but have never explored.
My friends have been posting on social media their stays in Bangkok city hotels including therapeutic visits to spas, leisurely swims, even short visits to the gym, capped off with a gourmet experience in a restaurant with the benefit of no need to drive or launch a taxi hunt to reach home. Without the need for lengthy air travel and with competitive pricing, available only to domestic residents, this seems to have huge benefits for both parties. It also may well manage to relieve the stress of the current financial outlook whilst enabling couples with or without offspring to relax, rejuvenate and focus on family time.
Of course, social distancing can still be practiced and most if not all hotel restaurants are maintaining a minimum one vacant table’s distance between diners. Whilst, frankly speaking, with hotels running at such low levels of business, less crowding is a direct if unwelcome consequence.
So, I recently set off for my two-night staycation at Banyan Tree Phuket. This resort has undoubtedly changed a lot, evolving from when it first opened over 25 years ago to what it is today: 120 villas have grown into 220 with world-class golf courses, a signature spa and a variety of dining opportunities. We have been allocated a one-bedroom Serenity pool villa of which there are 25, and eight three-bedroom units launched late last year.
Our villa is truly idyllic, a spacious lounge with day bed and for once a table with convenient height and chairs for me to stay connected on email – I know, but a fact of life. A large-screen TV neatly swivels so I may follow the news and latest sport, mostly indoors. Doing its best to dominate the room, is an absolutely huge bed, which for me looked like a ‘super super-king’, if this size even exists, and a smart and chic bathroom with double wash basins, shower and wardrobe area.
I head outside to enjoy a brief swim and spy a jacuzzi which occupies me till time for dinner. Following a refreshing shower, we make our way to Saffron, Banyan Tree’s signature Thai restaurant. We were not disappointed. Returning to the villa, our living area and bathroom have been refreshed and the bed turned down. As we sink into the luxe bedding, I reflect that my wife and I have unusually not really talked about work; in this relaxing environment, our conversation has been more about planning our next staycation destination.
Morning arrives and we head for breakfast and experience a vast array of items, far too many to list here, accompanied by fresh juices and roasted coffee. My wife chooses a visit to the spa, a true Banyan Tree sanctuary for a complimentary massage, which is incidentally included in the staycation price. When she returns, she is somewhat surprised to find me swimming in our private pool; a little light exercise is not such a bad thing.
The rest of our stay positively flies by; whilst watching a movie with an in-room meal which impressed. Whilst we did not venture off campus as it were, as we depart, Filipa, Banyan Tree’s marketing guru, did in fact tell me of several lesser known local attractions, including the Phuket’s Victory Field, a shrine to famed Phuket Heroines and the Phuket Museum. Perhaps next time.
As we drive the short journey home, I must say I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this short and effortless break from the day-to-day routine. A staycation may well be a successful recipe for both parties and am reminded that a great man once said, ‘Out of adversity comes opportunity’.
Banyan Tree Phuket is offering local resident packages for bookings and stays from now until Dec 20 (minimum two-night stay).
Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly restaurant column.