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Hospitality and heritage are close to Prakaikaew Na-Ranong's heart: they run in the family and are much in evidence at The Slate, the luxury beach resort she owns in northwest Phuket. Na-Ranong, also known as Krystal or Khun Moo among her friends, is a member of an illustrious local family whose forefathers hailed from Fujian province and were early settlers on Phuket - so she has more reason than most to be proud of the island's transformation from a sleepy trading post to a world-famous tourist destination. Her great-grandfather was the first governor of Ranong Province in the south and her father Wichit Na-Ranong is credited with putting Phuket on the world tourism map - he has been a hotelier on the island since the 1980s. Her family prospered during the 19th century tin-mining boom and The Slate, built on a family-owned former tin mine on 35 acres of prime beachfront property, is merely the latest iteration of the family business.
The resort is situated on Nai Yang Beach and was previously known as Indigo Pearl - it was rebranded about a year ago in order to more closely reflect its tin-mining roots. With 177 suites and villas, ample on- and off-site options - including cooking classes and heritage tours of Old Phuket Town - The Slate now more closely resembles Na-Ranong's personal vision, which she describes as a luxury lifestyle resort. The industrial chic design, inspired in part by the family's tin-mining roots, is a contemporary take on Phuket with discerning, sophisticated travellers as the target audience - people like herself, in other words. As a committed foodie, she also takes a special interest in The Slate's various F&B offerings with Black Ginger, a Thai restaurant set on an island in the middle of a lagoon, as its featured outlet. There are also plans to open a branch in Singapore sometime in 2018.
Visitors to Phuket have a steady diet of five-star resorts to choose from. What makes The Slate special?
The Slate is probably the only resort in Phuket that boasts 35 acres - all of it on flat land. The resort is a tribute to the history of Phuket and to tin-mining, because slate was always found alongside the tin deposits. We want guests to discover a deeper side of Phuket, not just its beaches. Every single detail at the hotel has been thought through, from the scents to the uniforms, and there are little design elements that reflect the flavour of Phuket. We try to give guests an experience that connects to the culture of Phuket - most people don't know that 80 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese.
How different is Phuket now from the Phuket of your childhood?
Growing up, I remember my father used to take me to a quiet beach north of Patong. Then I went abroad for many years and when I returned there were all these huge developments on the island. It's grown very fast and in a way, it's good but sometimes I feel sad at losing the natural corners we used to have. The northern part where we are is still the peaceful part. Although it's very developed you can still choose parts of the island - guest houses near Phuket Town, for example - where you can enjoy Phuket in a different way. There are still a lot of small villages and hidden gems. Not many people visit the old town but once it is properly communicated, tourists will appreciate going there.
Is Phuket still an attractive option for people in search of a holiday home?
Prices are still very affordable and Phuket still offers good value for money. We run a real estate company so we know the market. There is room for growth but now it has to be communicated to the world, to make people understand the value that tourism has brought to Phuket.
You prepped for this gig by going to hotel school in Switzerland and run The Slate in partnership with your father: was it a given that you would follow in his footsteps, and what is it like working together?
For me it was a natural process - I grew up in a Chinese home where business conversation was carried out at the dining table. I ran around the construction site when my father was building his first hotel, so I really didn't have to think about it very much. We have a Toyota dealership which my mother and brother run, so each of us has our focus. My father has been in business for many years, he started tourism in Phuket so he has this macro view of the tourism business as well as a micro view. I advised him to transform the existing property to The Slate - it was a bold approach but it has turned out to be a successful collaboration between two generations. Of course, we have conflicts at times but in the end, we will agree to do whatever is best for the business.
There is an emphasis on art and creativity throughout The Slate - it plays a significant role in the resort's identity.
Art is very dynamic, it leaves room for interpretation. We have an artist-in-residence programme where artists come to visit, we give them a studio space to work in and they help to decorate the hotel - their artworks are also available for sale. I relate well to people who come from a creative background and have a similar mindset. INIS is a line of jewellery that people can wear at the beach. The name is taken from the Celtic word meaning island and it's a collaboration between me and a friend - I just love design in any form.