It was here that we enjoyed a superb supper created by Bart’s widely-experienced Consulting Executive Chef Anthony Reynolds and served by the beautiful 9th Floor ‘angels’… the lovely waitresses who float about this elegant, clubbable space ensuring that every customer feels pampered.
Since 2008 Bart has managed his own company, Basic Elements, which is focused on real estate, restaurants and fine wines. Basic Elements manages a wine wholesale and retail business (for importer BB&B), the 9th Group (the 9th Floor; the 9th Glass Wine Bar and Bistro; the 9th Grape on-line wine retailer; and the upcoming 9th Spoon Tapas Bar), plus a property brokerage.
Bart is fluent in five languages, including Thai, and his philosophy of building and managing property complexes of high calibre goes back to when he started with Forum Hotels in Amsterdam in 1984 as an assistant office manager.
His first Thailand appointment was as Resident Manager of the Amari Coral Beach Hotel in 1989, and he also spent three years as GM of the famous Boathouse Resort on Kata Beach.
Bart was also a ‘greenie’ long before it was fashionable and continues to be involved with several Phuket environmental projects.
I asked Bart how recent changes in the economy, regulatory environment and arrivals patterns had impacted his businesses.
“Frankly it is somewhat negative. We have seen a decline in the type of sophisticated international travellers and also local residents who appreciate the fine dining of a group like the 9th Floor. A few higher-end independent Chinese and Asian visitors appreciate our service and standards and can pay the appropriate prices, but the vast majority of cheaper mass-market Asian arrivals are definitely not our market. Many previous longer-staying regular visitors who were our loyal clients are now avoiding Phuket because of restrictions such as no back-to-back tourist visas; draconian police stand-over tactics in Patong; and the general traffic and environmental decline. These well-heeled international visitors can go wherever they like and so they are voting with their wallets and staying in other tropical destinations like Sri Lanka and Vietnam instead.”
I asked Bart about the support that he gets from the public sector as an entrepreneurial businessman trying to boost Phuket’s attractiveness and (tax-generating) revenues.
“It’s rather disappointing. We feel at odds with the current restrictive militaristic atmosphere. Laws such as the beach-chair ban, removing restaurants chairs and umbrellas from beaches may be improvements, but surely if you take something away, you have to put something else in place. For example, I am totally in favour of getting drinking drivers off Phuket’s roads, but you have to provide a reasonably-priced public transportation alternative if people want to go out at night. At present, if you elect not to drive to Patong in order to avoid police roadblocks, you are then faced with local taxi fares! So, Patong, the heart of our 9th Floor business, is increasingly becoming a ‘no go’ area.”
I mentioned to Bart that in this ongoing series of articles I’d discovered that attitudes towards Phuket’s future varied depending on how ‘invested’ the respondent who I was dining with was in the island.
Bart laughed at this and said, “Well, I am deeply invested here. I not only have wide-spread business interests, but I am also raising a young family with children aged 20, nine and seven. So, I’ve been committed to the success of Phuket for almost 30 years now, but currently I do feel that the world-famous “Thai value and smiling brand” is under threat as locals become more stressed and price gouging grows.”
Sitting in a fabulous restaurant like the 9th Floor looking out over the lights of Patong while being waited on by lovely Thai ‘angels’ it was easy to think all is well with Phuket.
But when I asked Bart for a succinct answer to the question of where Phuket is heading, he smiled ruefully and said, “Personally, I remain optimistic, but the short answer is that only God, or perhaps Buddha, really knows!”