Phuket properties commit to philanthropy
When Thanyapura Sports Hotel, the world-class sports centre in Phuket, appointed Philipp Graf von Hardenberg as CEO last year, they also acquired a much needed wealth of hospitality experience. The supersized fitness facility serves many of the world’s swim teams and triathlon contestants. Thanyapura had previously tapped top international trainers and wellness instructors. But recent upgrades of rooms and other facilities positioned it to become more competitive in the market for general tourism.
Enter von Hardenberg, a former senior executive at Ritz Carlton with over two decades of hotel experience. He also brought vital proficiency in the financial world, and as an administrator of private schools, a huge plus for Thanyapura’s companion Phuket International Academy, one of Thailand’s top institutions.
Another bonus added by the new CEO was a cause he had adopted almost a decade earlier. In the aftermath of the devastating tsunami of 2004, von Hardenberg had launched a foundation that built and operates Yaowawit, a school for orphans and underprivileged children in the Kapong district, Phang Nga.
This was among the most devastated areas when waves hammered Thailand and Southeast Asia, killing hundreds of thousands. Although nearly two hours north of Thanyapura, the school has become a part of the operation, offering enriching options for visitors and children alike. Guests can book stays at the school and be blissfully immersed in Thai local life. Students are groomed in hospitality, among the biggest industries and employers in Phuket. Meanwhile, there are plans to increase exchanges between the Academy and Yaowawit,
with more tutoring and vocational training.
Yet the most moving results are unexpected spinoffs, like how staff have adopted the school for its own fundraising initiatives. Recently an outdoor fair was staged at Thanyapura. Employees and their family members cooked food, with proceeds benefitting Yaowawit. Another time, Thanyapura workers washed cars to help the foundation. “Everybody wants to do something positive,” says von Hardenberg.
He knows full well how philanthropy impacts people, and one good turn often leads to another. Von Hardenberg spent several years with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation in Germany. Among his work: outreach in schools to help students become more aware of the Holocaust. This led to be another unexpected life-changing twist in his career. His two children were in private school in his native Germany, and when the institution faced a financial crisis, von Hardenberg stepped in as administrator.
All these skills proved invaluable to his Children’s World Academy Foundation, which has raised several million dollars for the land for Yaowawit school, housing and surrounding plantations. Students receive valuable training not only in hospitality, but also agriculture, another key Phuket industry.
When von Hardenberg took over last year at Thanyapura, there was no specific plan to integrate his foundation. However, German Tycoon Klaus Hebben, the founder of the innovative Phuket sports centre, shared much of von Hardenberg’s vision, not only about philanthropy but also on a style of education broader than that offered by conventional schools. Phuket International Academy actually predates Thanyapura, established by Hebben partly to educate his own children in Phuket.
Julian Whiteley, the new chief executive at the academy, enthusiastically described future options. “We want to challenge the students and also the parents.” He plans to expand scholarships and exchanges to attract more international students, creating greater diversity. And he wants to continue sending academy students to Yaowawit to not only provide tutoring, but also to learn more about farming and local Thai life. Eventually, he says the academy students might even take over and run the foundation.
“Involvement is the key,” says von Hardenberg, who would be happy to see the project become a model for resorts around Phuket, and elsewhere. “Philanthropy isn’t a hobby, it’s a big part of my life. If every company would do something like this, we could solve so many problems in the world.”
Thanyapura and the Children’s World Academy Foundation are by no means the only charitable organizations or supporters active on Phuket. We looked at some of the other island properties that are good-citizen resorts with philanthropic outreach.
Iniala Beach House
Financier Mark Weingard was a zealous philanthropist long before transforming his beachside property in Phang Nga into one of the region’s most talked about boutique inns.
This art-laden 10-room resort has hosted the Kardashian clan and boasts Aziamendi, the knockout restaurant by critically acclaimed Spanish chef Eneko Atxa.
Weingard has pledged 10 percent of room revenue, along with 5 percent of food and beverage takings to charity. Last year, he says, Iniala generated US$200,000 for worthy
causes. But Weingard goes even further; he established the Inspirasia Foundation and says he has personally given US$1 million annually from all his businesses to charity. He espouses the same message of caring to guests and businesses alike. “We can all help.”
Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa
Anantara’s Layan Beach property has the luxury of involving guests in its turtle breeding programme, as they can join in release of hatched young turtles right on the idyllic beach. Turtles are released every April, according to General Manager Andrew Kunz. “Guests can come along and even sponsor turtles, or donate to the foundation. We’re always looking for ways to involve and engage guests in these causes.”
Such sentiments have been a guiding principle of Anantara and parent company Minor, whose CEO William Heinecke mobilizes thousands of employees each year for Founder’s Day (his birthday). Instead of normal duties, they paint or repair schools, and do other charity. But philanthropy isn’t merely a one day a year commitment at Anantara, which also raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for elephant conservation and runs a private sanctuary for the revered Asian mammals at its property in the Golden Triangle.
Six Senses Yao Noi
Six Senses, the unconventional Thai-based chain that prides itself on “Barefoot Luxury,” has always fostered the finest examples of environmental and community consciousness. The small collection of upscale properties even has a vice president of sustainability, tasked not only with overseeing chain-wide ecological measures, but also constantly promoting
innovation at every resort and challenging Six Senses policies.
At the charming Robinson Crusoe-style property on rustic Yao Noi Island, near Phuket, that means free-range chickens roaming a five-star coop with classical music. Guests can choose their own healthy eggs, or see how organic mushrooms are grown at huts shaped and sprouted like mushrooms among the creeks at the idyllic resort. Each Six Senses outlet also boasts its own water treatment facility and in-house bottled water, rather than the expensive imported stuff. And resorts are urged to develop their own local community projects.
Aleenta Phuket Resort and Spa
Philanthropy guides the entire operation at Aleenta, which operates a serene, white allsuite beachside resort north of Phuket airport in Phang Nga. Soon after founder Anchalika Kijkanakorn caught the travel bug, guiding her family property development business into creating award-winning boutique resorts, she added sustainability to the check-list for every property and launched the Pure Blue Foundation.
Phuket guests help pay for marine conservation and turtle protection, in cooperation with Phang Nga Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Center. Pure Blue oversees chain-wide environmental and social responsibility, but each resort tackles specific projects that have the greatest local impact. Beach resorts often look to reef restoration, while inland resorts help farming initiatives.
BY RON GLUCKMAN