Story and Photos by Geoff Morrison - www.siamscenes.net
For a man who makes a living around the golf course, Tjeert Kwant doesn’t take his swing too seriously. “It’s probably about time I learned to play a half-decent round, jokes the CEO of Banyan Thailand. “I spoke to John, our in-house golf pro, the other day and he’s promised to help me at least stay on the fairway.”
Located on the fringes of the kingdom’s eastern coastline only moments from the heart of Hua Hin, the resort community is home to one of Thailand’s most celebrated golf courses. The par-72 facility, designed by legendary links architect Pirapon Namatra - winner of multiple “Best Golf Experience in Asia-Pacific” accolades - consistently ranks in Thailand’s top three.
Nowadays, however, Banyan Thailand’s array of upscale residential, leisure, and – increasingly – villa rental and active lifestyle offerings boast a reputation on par with the championship course. Indeed, the addition of a long-term lease component and recent efforts to diversify leisure activities is part of Banyan’s wider vision to broaden its appeal beyond the green and transition it into a holistic lifestyle destination.
“Even prior to the pandemic, we identified this great opportunity to support the wellbeing of our residents and guests by developing a healthy and active lifestyle concept,” he explains. “It’s something I’ve personally been doing for many years.”
"Another factor behind the recent Hua Hin renaissance is the proliferation of high-quality leisure activities such as windsurfing, sailing and water-skiing since restrictions on international travel encouraged tourists to holiday closer to home."
A real estate veteran of almost two decades, the Dutch native cut his teeth in the nascent property markets of eastern and central Europe in the early 2000s. When the markets overheated towards the end of the decade, Kwant and his family relocated to Bangkok, beckoned by the local culture, high-quality education and healthcare institutes, and the city’s strategic location at the heart of the region. Eight years on, he made the 200-kilometre switch to Hua Hin to spearhead operations at Banyan Thailand.
“It was already a great project when I arrived, but what really attracted me was the huge potential to create a destination,” Kwant says. There are only a few true destination resorts in Thailand, including Laguna on Phuket and Toscana Valley in Khao Yai, where you have this mix of quality leisure, lifestyle and residential.”
Throughout Kwant’s tenure the number of permanent community members has steadily increased. Each of the bespoke villas at the Banyan Residences is designed to personal specifications and homeowners can select their preferred plots, with properties ranging from THB14 million to ultra-luxury options around the THB80 million. They also have the privilege to become a member of Banyan Golf Club and enjoy onsite services including residential management, 24/7 security and housekeeping.
Many of the owners traditionally hail from Western Europe, but in recent years domestic investor interest has surged, led by an uptick in Bangkokians searching for a second home within easy reach. So, when Banyan temporarily shut part of the hotel component for renovation prior to the global pandemic outbreak, Kwant used the opportunity to replace it with a long-term rental segment, capitalising on the Covid-induced demand. Although the pandemic has inevitably accelerated this trend, he also credits shifting perceptions of Hua Hin.
"Hua Hin has changed exponentially from a sleepy beach town into a vibrant destination with many exciting activities for families and the younger generation."
Another factor behind the recent Hua Hin renaissance, according to Kwant, is the emergence of high-quality leisure activities — both on land and at sea. Water sports, such as windsurfing, sailing and water-skiing, have long been popular on the eastern coast, but have proliferated since restrictions on international travel encouraged tourists to holiday closer to home.
The opening in 2015 of world-class leisure complex True Arena, which has already hosted major events including the WTA and ATP pro tennis circuits, in addition to featuring state-of-the-art basketball, futsal, volleyball and athletics facilities, meanwhile, has cemented Hua Hin’s reputation as a serious sports hub.
Kwant is eager to build on this momentum and the coastal city’s moment in the sun to weave the latest plans for Banyan into the wider destination’s DNA. “Since joining, we have been integrating a healthy active lifestyle concept within the community, which is something very close to my heart, and now we have the chance to formalise it,” he says. “There’s between 800 and 900 rai of land still vacant at Banyan and we are currently working with experts in various fields like health, wellness and hospitality to create a master plan for it.”
The concept, which features five core pillars - active, health, wellness, social and nature - is already well represented by the golf course and other onsite leisure activities, while the initial physical component, Be Well Medical Centre, launched in January 2020.
"The primary care clinic, located onsite, is in fact the first general practitioner centre in Thailand and recently partnered with the renowned Bumrungrad Health Network to provide patients with world-class cardiology treatments."
“It’s a no-brainer, really, that this concept works in Hua Hin,” Kwant says, “It’s a perfect fit with everything else that is currently going on here.”
Finally, the social aspect of the active lifestyle initiative is represented by the Banyan Privilege Club. In addition to receiving a slew of onsite benefits and discounts from local partners, such as Chiva-Som, an array of five-star hotels, Vana Nava Water Jungle and True Arena, Banyan hosts a series of exclusive events for the almost 1,000 members, which aim to foster a close-knit community and encourage members, including frequent golfers, Banyan residents and visitors to Be Well Medical Centre to socialise with like-minded people.
A handful of well-known celebrities has recently joined the growing group too such as Thai movie star Vithaya (Pu) Pansringarm of The Last Executioner and Only God Forgives fame and world-renowned tennis coach, Sly Black, who has coached huge stars on the women’s circuit including Sloane Stephens and Cori “Coco” Gauff.
These have to date included a barbecue with live music and cocktail party held at the Residences since the initiative launched last October with the inaugural ‘Banyan Privilege Club Golf Classic event. Kwant hopes to host another theme event just as soon as Thailand overcomes the latest Covid setback. Next time around, however, he aims to have knocked a few strokes off his handicap.