People Focus: Larry Cunningham – GM The Chava Resort Surin Beach


Larry Cunningham - GM The Chava Resort Surin Beach
Larry Cunningham - GM The Chava Resort Surin Beach

Could you please introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Larry Cunningham, the owner, developer and GM of The Chava Resort, Surin Beach, Phuket. I am also the Australian Honorary Consul for Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi and owner of Phuket One Real Estate. I have lived in Phuket for nine years.

The resort opened during a bad economic time, how did you manage to get through this time?

Yes we opened at the time of the airport blockade in Bangkok and at this time we had a lot of bookings for Japanese and Korean guests. Unfortunately, these people don’t like anything in the slightest bit risky so everybody cancelled their trips. This was not a great start for the opening. Since then we have had other political issues which have kept people away from Thailand.

This has made it very difficult for us. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do about any of these problems. You will get extremely stressed if you sit and try to sort out what you can do about it. So you just have to be strong minded and say to yourself, there really is nothing you can do. So what you try to do is look at your strengths. Luckily one of our strengths is repeat business. We actually have people coming back this year and it will be their sixth time staying here. When you think that we have only been open for two and a half years and we have people coming back for their sixth time that is pretty good!

How successful has the resort been since opening?

We have been very successful really. We’ve had a lot of VIP’s, movie stars and Australian media. Miss Universe has been here. We receive a lot of free publicity from these people and it is all free advertising. We are also lucky with our resort location and with our staff. We have 80% of the staff still here from when we opened. It’s good for them here. We are relaxed and not too serious all the time.

The ChavaThe Chava

In what way does your resort differ from those in the Surin beach area?

I think the main difference we have is that we are not very big, we are a boutique resort. We also offer apartments which the other resorts don’t have. We are very popular with families. Our typical guests are mum, dad and the two kids. This is because they can all stay within one of our self contained apartments. If they were to stay in a hotel, they would usually have to rent two rooms. Here they are in two rooms but behind one door. It’s a lot safer for them.

What facilities do you have to offer here at The Chava?

Our smallest rooms are 2 bed apartments. During the low season we do offer these as one bedrooms and just close off one of the bedrooms. We also have 3 & 4 bedrooms apartments and 4 bedroom penthouses. The smallest apartments are 160sqm and the penthouses are 350sqm. Some of the apartments have actually been sold and you can still buy them if you want to. We have a range of facilities here. The focal point of the resort is probably our lovely pool.

We are so lucky with our location; this is probably the key to our success. We are within walking distance of the best beach on the island. I would class the beach as an Australian beach, it’s very deep, and it has nice clear water and fine sand. There are no rocks here like at the other beaches. It is also very clean. I would say that it has become the most high society beach in Phuket. We offer massage here both by the pool and in room and we have a great restaurant. We have a tour desk and laundry service. So really we have full facilities to offer our guests.

The ChavaWhat is your return rate for your guests and what do you think makes them return?

This peak season we are probably looking at a 70% return rate. We have been very fortunate because from very early on people have been writing reviews on and are giving us a 4½ or 5 star rating. This was always one of the things that we were hoping for when we opened the resort. We are not a big resort and our maximum occupancy is only 140 guests. A lot of the guests come the same time each year so they get to know one another and we also like to get to know the guests more personally, so this really helps.

Is there anything you feel you would like to change or improve about the resort?

There are always things you want to improve or change. It’s more to do with whether you can actually do it or not. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t put a Spa in here. But then there are many other nice spas nearby for guests to go to. There’s not really anything I would change.

Many resorts promote their restaurants to non resident guests, do you follow this example?

Yes we are finding now that our restaurant is developing a great reputation for its burgers. Especially for The Chava burger! We are having a lot more people come back for that. Recently we had a lawyer who brought his father to us to try the Chava burger because he had heard so much about it. We have a guest who owns 20 restaurants in Hong Kong and the first thing he does when he comes to Phuket is have his Chava burger. So yes we are getting a lot more people coming from outside particularly in the peak season.

What is your goal for The Chava Resort in 2011?

Our goal is to maintain the business that we have and keep the repeat business coming back. Also we still want the free exposure from our VIP guests, both Thai and International. We are happy with the way things are going. All we can hope is that there are no more political problems, because this can have such a great impact on us. The only problem we envisage is the strength of the Thai baht.

We really need it to be weaker. We have seen a big change in where the visitors are coming from. The Australian dollar is so strong compared to European currencies, so we are seeing a lot more visitors from Australia. But anyone that reads this, please come and have a look around and see what we have to offer here. Maybe even come and try a Chava Burger!


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