The Pioneers of Phuket Tourism

The Thavorn Hotel was the first ever hotel built by the Thavornwongwongse Family, a name synonymous with Phuket’s tin mining heritage and later as pioneers in the development of Phuket into a world famous tourism destination. The hotel maintains a vintage, historical feel and guests can enjoy a privileged glimpse into the family history, through the wonderful and eclectic collection of antiques housed in the Thavorn Hotel Museum, located next to the hotel lobby. The memorabilia charts the rise of Phuket from a tin mining and rubber producing island to the modern, international holiday paradise we see today.

The construction of the Thavorn Hotel in 1960 in Old Phuket Town marked the beginning of the story for Thavorn Hotels and Resorts, which today operates two five star beach front resorts on Phuket’s prized western coastline, in addition to the original Thavorn Hotel.

Today, Phuket Town would be unrecognizable to the founders of the hotel, due to rapid urban development and expansion, but the historic core has been painstakingly preserved and is widely regarded as one of Thailand’s finest heritage sites. The Thavorn Hotel, still standing on its original site in the Old Town, is testament to the vision of its founders to establish Phuket as a world class tourist destination.

With modern hotels seemingly being developed overnight in all four corners of the island, it is difficult to imagine how the construction of one hotel could pave the way for all that has come. However, the construction of the Thavorn Hotel as the first full-service hotel in Phuket and possibly in Southern Thailand, showed incredible foresight on the part of the founders and would not have been possible without three key individuals; Mr. Ong Sim Pai (Original Founder), Mr. Tilok Thavornwongwongse (Second Generation), and Ex-Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat. All three individuals had the vision to develop Phuket into an international business and tourist destination and in many ways pioneered the islands’ meteoric rise into the consciousness of world travelers.

Before the Thavorn Hotel, Phuket was a primitive island, whose main source of income was from tin mining and rubber plantations. The story is all the more extraordinary, as father and son, Mr. Ong Sim Pai and Mr. Tilok did not at the time have any experience in the hotel industry at all. Before embarking into this fledgling industry, the Thavornwongwongse family were extremely successful in the businesses of tin mining and selling rubber and had to rely extensively on outside help from their network of influential contacts to bring their vision to fruition. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Sarit Thanarat was gracious enough to commission one of the best architects in Thailand at that time to design the Thavorn Hotel.

When construction of the Thavorn Hotel was completed in 1962, the initial fanfare and excitement gave way to skepticism about the island’s capabilities to cater to the tourism masses. The hotel suffered heavily as the island’s infrastructure was not conducive to support tourism and business. At the time, there wasn’t even a bridge connecting Phuket to the mainland, so only limited numbers of people could gather at the pier and wait for a ferry to transport them to and from the island. Indeed, it wasn’t until the construction of a modern airport in the 1970s that Phuket began to gain traction as a popular tourist destination and the numbers of arrivals began to swell.

Thavorn Hotel was too far ahead of its time and until this day, it has never been considered a business success. Nonetheless, it remains a significant symbol of Phuket’s development into the booming tourist and business destination we all know today. Equipped with room service, laundry, and food & beverage department, the Thavorn Hotel paved the way for developers in Thailand to build full-service hotels, which are now par for the course in Phuket and on islands and beaches throughout the kingdom.