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cover story - Gulu Lalvani

Gulu Lalvani, founder and owner of the Binatone Telecom Group, the world’s second largest manufacturer of digital cordless phones, makes it to various Rich Lists every now and then. However, in this exclusive with Asia-Pacific Boating India, he shares his passion for yachting, how it led to the building of the Royal Phuket Marina, his decision to set home in Phuket and his views on India’s potential as a boating destination... By: Nisha Verma

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asia-pacific boating india

asia-pacific boating india

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cover story - Gulu Lalvani

When did your affair with yachting and sailing start? Since the 1970’s my hobby was exploring three new destinations every year but always following my “4-S” rule—Sun, Sea, Sand and Sailing. Over the years I have explored all the best areas around the world. 

When and how did you come up with the idea of building the Royal Phuket Marina? And what has it taken to make it a reality? I came to Phuket for the first time in 1991, staying in a sumptuous new resort called the Amanpuri. On a sailing trip during that visit, we discovered the truly breathtaking beauty of Phuket and its surrounding islands. Nothing I had experienced in the world prior to this came close. I decided there and then to buy a villa at the Amanpuri. The development of Phuket as a yachting destination was hampered by two things, a high import duty of 220 per cent on boats and the lack of an international standard marina. In 2002, I met the then Prime Minister of Thailand, and told him “I have an idea to entice more affluent, higher spending yachting tourism to Phuket and if the Thai government would consider waiving the import duty on boats, I would build a world class marina.” He realised that more affluent tourism would generate more income for Thailand, which, in turn would also create jobs. He loved the idea and the rest is history. I bought a site on the eastern seaboard of the island, hired top architects to create a master plan and took them on a world tour to visit the best marinas, yachts, apartments and villas in Europe and the United States. In 2004, work started on the Royal Phuket Marina and by 2007 we opened the first phase of the marina with over 90 luxury condominiums and penthouses, and berths for 150 yachts. Two years later we completed the second phase featuring additional condominiums and luxury villas, with their own private boat berths and garages. Both phases are now almost totally sold out and have proved to be a great investment for the owners, having appreciated in value by as much as 100 per cent in many cases. The third phase of the development will be launched in early 2012. This new phase will feature very unique investment opportunities in one and two bedroom units managed by an international hotel group who will manage the rentals of the units for owners when they are not in residence.

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The Royal Phuket Marina is a destination in its own right. Please comment. Royal Phuket Marina features Phuket’s only waterfront villas with private yacht berths at the foot of each garden, full marina facilities, fully enclosed indoor hard-stand for yachts up to 10 meters in length, a ‘Fisherman’s Wharf” style boardwalk around the marina with fine dining, shopping, Phuket’s largest and best appointed health club, flood lit tennis courts, spa and even an international exhibition centre all located in one secure, gated community. My vision was always, to create not just a parking lot to moor your yacht, but a fully integrated lifestyle community in its own right—a place where I personally would like to live. In fact, that’s where I do now live. In addition to being the venue for many international brand launches, we have also hosted some of the world’s most lavish weddings including my daughter’s wedding six years ago. Vijay Mallya visited recently and so has Bill Gates, who said he had never experienced a holiday like it. What is it about this project that makes it different from other marinas around the world? I can say with a little pride, we are on par with the best marinas anywhere in the world. The Royal Phuket Marina is endorsed by many prestigious awards including the only “5 Gold Anchor Award” recognition in Thailand. Combined with stunning cruising grounds, Phuket is a place where you can enjoy your life to the fullest. Why did you choose Phuket as the home for your marina and not India? India’s immense coastline makes it potentially one of the best yachting destinations in the world. However, government red-tape, security concerns and a lack of safe harbours and marinas is holding it back. The government has to take the first steps to entice entrepreneurs to make the move.

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cover story - Gulu Lalvani

How do you promote the Royal Phuket Marina? Mostly through the many honours and awards we received. Royal Phuket Marina is often in the news as host to some of the world’s trendiest events, launches, parties, weddings and also for ground breaking, cutting edge architectural innovations such as our ‘Aquaminiums’ which feature the world’s first and only Triplex Penthouse with its own private, direct access yacht garage. We don’t do a lot of advertising. However, we are about to go to the market with the launch of phase III in January. Which are the yachts that you love and tell us about the ones you own? Personally I prefer luxury, comfort and speed. Over the last 12-15 years, I’ve had many yachts including a Benetti, Sunseeker, Ferretti and Riva. This January I acquired a Mangusta 72, a new model which does 45 knots. In this yacht I can reach the Andaman Islands in just 9 hours, Langkawi in Malaysia in 2.5 hours and Burma in only 2 hours. Which are your favourite yachts? I like all fast yachts! The Mangusta has luxury interiors and is very fast, just like a Bentley. Which are your favourite sailing destinations? Phuket is definitely my favourite, with literally hundreds of pristine deserted tropical islands such as the famous ‘James Bond Island’ from the movie the ‘Man with the Golden Gun’. Phuket is also one of the most cost-effective yachting destinations in the world with crew, mooring and fuel costs being only a fraction of those in Europe and the Caribbean. I firmly believe Asia is becoming the fastest growing yachting destination in the world. I could live anywhere in the world I wanted but I choose to live in Phuket because it offers the best quality of life.

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What are your interests other than sailing? Playing golf and spending time in the company of close friends and occasionally, partying till the early hours. Since different yachts are meant for different waters, what kinds of yachts are ideal for Indian waters? Indian waters vary according to the season and location. I think Ferretti is the best all round yacht for Indian waters. Are there any sailing experiences that you would like to share? When my friends come to visit, we go cruising. Sometimes we just go for a day and sometimes we spend a few days and nights at sea exploring the hundreds of seemingly undiscovered islands in the region. I often say that owning a luxurious villa with its own private yacht berth is better than owning a super yacht. You live in greater luxury and comfort in a villa than on a super yacht and you can set off for a cruise whenever the urge takes you without having to make any major arrangements.

What is your take on the Indian yachting industry? The potential of the Indian yachting industry is great because of the country’s huge coastline. However, the industry can only develop if the government allows the development of marinas.

How is a normal day in the life of Gulu Lalvani? Since we started work on the development of Phase III, the first thing I do after waking up is go to the gym from 7:00- 8:00 am, 5 days a week. Then I have breakfast and shower and reach the office by 9:30 am, for meetings with architects and interior designers.

What does the Indian yachting industry lack and where should it start from to be at par with other countries? The first thing is the construction of marinas. Having marinas would give a boost to the industry and create employment opportunities.

How is a day of cruising in your life? What are the different things you do while cruising in the sea? On day cruises we look for new and beautiful locations to go jet-skiing, snorkelling or diving. For a day cruise, we often stop at an island and try the local fishermen’s catch of the day cooked for us on the beach. We return after sunset and since my private yacht berth is attached to my villa, we can quickly freshen up and set off in the evening in search of land based adventures on the island of Phuket.

Do you have any plans to make a marina in India? I would love to build a marina in Mumbai. Without any marina facilities, India is losing out on a lot of revenue and a lot of possibilities for its citizens.

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Royally Cruising in Phuket