Superyacht owner Gulu Lalvani who founded the Royal Phuket Marina and has been a catalyst in Thai tax reform, comments on the country’s yachting scene.
“My hobby between 1970 and 1991 was to go to three new destinations every year with four things in common; sun, sand, sea and sailing. Someone told me about a new resort called Amanpuri in Phuket one year so off I went for Christmas with my wife and kids. In those days there weren’t many boats available for charter as import duty on yachts was prohibitively expensive at 220% - but I got a local charter and travelled around Phuket and all its islands. I thought it was so beautiful, I ended up buying the villa I was staying at in Amanpuri!
Some years later in 2002 I was in the process of handing my telecoms business over to my son and decided to retire in Phuket. I knew it had excellent potential for yachting so I met with the prime minister and told him about my idea to bring more affluent tourism to the island. I explained that if they would fix one problem, I’d take care of the other. I said ‘if you bring import duty down, I will build a world class marina.’ The governor of Phuket liked the idea, especially after I explained how Langkawi had become a duty free island and that it would by default become the yachting hub if we didn’t act. He dropped the duty and by 2005 the first phase of my marina was complete. By 2008 the second phase was ready and now we are extending it even more.
More recently I have been working with the government to start allowing people with yachts over 30m to come to Thailand for a year at a time and charter without paying the 7% VAT. I also successfully lobbied the issue of 12 month visas to crew as this was a big headache before.
I firmly believe Phuket will now become a big paradise – many yachts that used to go from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for winter will now come here. The waters are much better, the service is better – times are changing. There are so many places to visit, like Phi Phi, Krabi or James Bond island. Langkawi is about four hours away or four hours the other way you have the coast of Burma which is totally isolated – you don’t get places like that in Europe. Phuket has become the Riviera of Asia as the South of France is the Riviera of Europe. It has so much natural beauty.
Services for superyachts are getting better all the time too, there are world class facilities here now, I don’t think there is anything missing for a superyacht coming here. I own a 30m Benetti and day to day I use my Monte Carlo MCY70 which is parked right behind my villa.”
The full story appears in issue 21, out soon.