Between now and when hotelier Jonas Sjöstedt first arrived to Phuket back in 1998 as a charter tour guide, the island’s tourism and overall development has been dramatic. Meanwhile the Swede moved on to work as hotel resident manager until he was recently awarded his first general manager position in vibrant city-like Patong, which is also where Jonas has lived since he settled down on Phuket in 2004.
When Centara Hotels & Resorts (formerly Central) in December 2010 inaugurated its first property as part of the new Centra brand, via ubiquitous blessing from monks, Jonas was in the front seat as Centra Ashlee Hotel Patong’s General Manager, centrally located in downtown Patong.
Before then he had worked in Kata and Karon as the person mostly involved with the guests within the management, and to begin with at the hotel formerly named Jiva Resort & Spa on Kata beach which was populated mostly by Swedes. Then when Centara took over the resort they also got the Swede, as part of the inventories. For Jonas it meant marrying into a large brand and an important step forward with the career opportunities that a large hotel operator can offer.
“The old management wanted all staff to be able to stay. So they got the furniture, cars etc. – and me – along with the takeover,” he laughs.
He later moved on to Centara Karon Resort (previously the charter hotel Islandia) during two “constructive years” – a move from 150 to 335 rooms.
So throughout the years he has obviously met many Scandinavians who have also become friends with Jonas. If he has the time he gladly goes out for dinner with them.
“Most of them come during high or peak season when one has the most to do and the least free-time. But one notices that it’s what gives most back, if one can give them that time, and to have a chat etc. Then they’re very happy.”
Patong is improving
Patong these days, he agrees, is more city-like and more four to five star level.
“Scandinavian charter used to be three-star, but has gone four-star,” he says about the hotel scene. “But here there is enormous difference between certain three- and four star hotels. Patong has become too commercial as it has grown too much. But quality will always sell, so certain things will always be there.”
His hotel, Centra Ashlee Hotel Patong was supposed to be three-star and is being sold as such, while the rooms are actually of higher quality. There, Jonas is looking forward to a good number of Scandinavian guests.
“For next high season at least half the hotel is allotted to Scandinavian agents. But it’s a bit mixed in Patong and we have to see how this concept works.”
The large rooftop with pool, bar and dining lounge he thinks will be a strong selling point.
For shopping he gives credit to Jungceylon, the largest shopping centre on the island. Also refurbishment: After the tsunami many renovated and the beach walk has been given a facelift. And they got rid of some of the small roads with corrugated tin roof shacks. And on Bangla Road, you have increasingly seen larger brands taking over. When the rental costs go up the soi bars must move to less attractive plots.”
“I would say it’s being cleaned up. And about the complaints: if Patong should be the worst beach, one must be quite happy because after all it’s still very nice given the high visitor numbers.”
High quality lifestyle
“Phuket is also seeing new additions all the time, so there’s always something happening. And I think one can see an upsurge regarding nightlife; partly regarding disc jockeys. Phuket has a place on the world map now, many well-known DJ:s are coming here. People come for these attractions. That has not worked previously, so that’s a trend. And it’s easier to fly here nowadays than before, with more options.”
What makes them return again year after year, he believes, is that one has an extremely high life quality on Phuket – provided one has the right knowledge where to stay and go etc.
“There are many Scandinavian restaurants for to be Patong and also many tourist traps, but you can still find local food on the street corner for 50 baht and can take the lunch to the beach. It’s good anytime; all people are friendly and it’s always warm. And if you want there’s a nice shopping centre with V.I.P cinema 30 minutes away where you can also shop exquisite wine, cheese etc. And 25 minutes down to the other side, Chalong bay, one can take a long-tail boat to any island beach and often be on one’s own. The possibilities are there.”
People know Phuket well; often everyone knows someone who has been here and has suggestions. Also newspapers are writing enormously and there are blogs on what to see and do, he adds.
Jonas can also disclose one of his special recommendations to guests – an on-water dining experience perfect for seafood lovers on the east coast.
It’s in Lam Hin, north of Phuket Town. From a small harbour one takes a long-tail boat and goes out at sea to some rafts. And around those rafts you have large fish farms, where point out what you want to have on the table; crabs, garoupa, clams etc. Then they cook it and you sit under salas out at sea. And you can go out there at lunch and then continue with the long tail boat to an island out there called Rang Yai and if not coming in high season it’s quite possible you can have a beach for yourself. And prices there are often half of that they are on they west side. That’s a top ten thing one should do.”
As Jonas has just started his new position on his home turf he is likely to stay some years. And then?
“Well, I’ve always had the idea to move here and settle here. My keyword in life is independence. The dream is to run something on one’s own in the future; that’s my goal. And the path to reach there – I am flexible, not ready to sign off on planning to spend the rest of my life here. Of course, if getting the offer to go elsewhere and it feels right, then – why not! I would like to return to Brazil. And Vietnam feels attractive. But returning here in the future could then be interesting.”