Phuket – Performance Boost

A successful staff team-building event can set a solid foundation for a productive year ahead for any company. Yet searching for a venue that can offer a one- or two-day programme with a variety of tasks and activities in different locations is always a challenge.

However, the Thai island of Phuket can offer beach, island, rainforest and five-star hotel options, giving companies a wealth of choice in a single compact destination.

The local industry has stepped up its efforts to bring a higher level of professionalism to Phuket’s team-building sector. For example, the JW Marriott now has a dedicated unit managing its team-building business. With more than 60 corporate groups arriving in 2006, the unit rocketed 300 per cent over its revenue target.

The Laguna Phuket group of hotels also appointed its own dedicated team-building company, Quest, to manage programmes among its hotels and resorts. Laguna Phuket also reports a stellar 2006 in this area.

Diethelm Events (Thailand) executive manager David Barrett says companies rarely want programmes inside their hotels, they go to Phuket to make use of its natural environment.

“Probably 99 per cent of requests we receive for team-building in Phuket are for outside programmes,” he says.

“Customers are usually locked away in a conference room for a morning or a full day and want a change of scenery, which builds bonds among colleagues who mostly communicate via email.

“Lesser used but equally impressive team-building venues include the national park for a jungle experience, Phuket town with its historic buildings and of course a few customers with very limited time, request on-property activities at the hotel.”

As well as taking advantage of the local environment, around half of his clients also want to incorporate local culture into their themes as well.

“More than 50 per cent of customers requesting team-building want an activity that creates camaraderie among colleagues, while giving everyone an opportunity to discover the local culture, travel on local transport and interact with locals during an action-packed programme.”

Over at Laguna Phuket, Quest senior programme facilitator Mark Breit says: “We try to create programmes that take participants out to see the best locations within Phuket.”

At the JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa, recreation director Sean Panton also stresses the need to ensure that groups which have been in a conference room discussing company business get outside and enjoy all Phuket has to offer during the team-building session.

“Groups spend too much time in the meeting rooms so we make the station locations as dramatic as possible,” Panton says.

Diethelm’s Barrett adds another key element. “Food and beverage is a critical factor with any team-building programme,” he says.

“Excitement and activity burn up calories quickly, creating thirst and hunger. It is essential to have ample supplies of refreshments to avoid dehydration.

“Snacks during a half-day programme are vital. A full-day programme will require a full-lunch or full-dinner menu. Taking into account where the activity was held, this is normally healthy and large – buffets often work well.”

Nigel Burt of SBS Training, which organises wargame scenarios, problem-solving activities and physical tests, says the element of competition in team-building shouldn’t be abandoned.

”On many occasions, I am asked to give a team-building event without any competition, by the secretary to the CEO of the company requesting an event. I feel it does nothing to benefit the staff or the company. My observations, both within a business, let alone out in the world where they conduct it, is that it is a ‘dog-eat-dog’ situation.

“We offer most of the elements people in the workplace seldom think about, as they tend to follow a well-entrenched routine. We try to take them out of their everyday world with fun, excitement and humour. This leaves them with lasting memories long after the event is over,” he says.

Speaking for one of the island’s main team-building centres, Laguna Phuket managing director Michael Ayling says team-building activities remain popular in Phuket.

“It is incredibly competitive in Phuket to win this type of corporate business, but if the world economy or regional economies are going strong then corporate budgets are good and Phuket is a popular place for this type of activity,” he adds.

“But because of the ‘active’ nature of team-building events, we need to make sure our product is delivered correctly and safely and we have been investing quite a lot in staff training to ensure this, and this in turn ensures our product is first rate.”

Ayling says attracting corporations to conduct team-building or incentive events around the Laguna Phuket Triathlon (see Review, page 56) was not the motivation behind launching the event but the Corporate Relay Challenge has been a “nice spin-off” to attract corporate business.

The Corporate Relay Challenge involves one member of a three-member team doing one leg of the race, the swim, bike ride or run.

“It is great to get together a team of people who might not be able to do the entire race by themselves, but they compete as a team and do one leg each and there is no doubt they all have to work together to complete the task,” Ayling says.

With improved air access from major centres, such as Hong Kong, the island is well placed to attract team-building groups from across the region. Phuket’s natural blend of beach, sea and forest provides an exceptional backdrop for corporate events – the only true limits are your time and your budget.


Diethelm Events (Thailand) executive manager David Barrett says he finds his international customers want to utilise Phuket’s water-based locations with a variety of themes for their team-building events.

“For customers wanting team-building in Phuket, beach, water-based and offshore islands present the three most popular locations,” he says.

The nearby island of Khao Phing Kan was the scenic backdrop for scenes from the 1974 classic The Man With the Golden Gun.

Barret suggests a “James Bond 007 Licence to Thrill” programme, using speedboats or a luxurious day sailing aboard luxury yachts. He adds: “Programmes can be built around a sports theme, such as ‘corporate beach Olympics’.”

Beach volleyball, soccer and the like are easy to arrange, although the age and fitness of members of your group need to be considered.

The cult TV programme Survivor has inspired numerous variations on the theme, offered by a number of properties and events companies. The JW Marriott promotes its “Survivor Phuket” theme as a programme where delegates get the opportunity to sightsee around the beautiful islands just off the Phuket coastline.

After being briefed by the programme instructor and receiving equipment rations, the teams depart by speedboat. They have to navigate the course together and direct the boat’s captain, answering questions, finding information and collecting items all along the way. Team members will need  to swim, snorkel and explore the islands to gather the necessary information.

While each team heads off in a different direction, they also meet up at various points around the course, where small competitions are held. Each boat has an English-speaking guide for safety and to assist with any queries.

Once all the information and clues are collected, the teams gather on the beach to search for the treasure.

For the next 90 minutes or so, the groups have to solve various problems such as raft-making, and negotiate obstacles such as a spider’s-web course with ropes.

The programme is designed to build trust, enhance teamwork and decision-making and test leadership, planning and communication skills.



At the Laguna Phuket complex

The Laguna Phuket complex built Thailand’s first corporate training and development centre back in 1995. It now occupies seven acres of beachside land. The site has high and low rope courses, as well as a 15-metre climbing tower.

“The main programmes we operate are themed, like ‘The Amazing Race’, which is conducted onsite in the grounds of Laguna Phuket,” Quest senior programme facilitator Mark Breit says.

Like the TV show, this programme combines information collection and quizzes as well as mental and physical challenges.


At the JW Marriot Phuket Resort and Spa

“We offer different areas of the hotel for a selection of programmes and activities,” says recreation director Sean Panton. “Whether it is a treasure hunt using the most beautiful areas of the resort, including out-of-guest-contact areas, or using the ballroom for ‘Rhythm Nation’, or putting on ‘Yoga in the Gardens’, we are lucky enough to be able to have a large and diverse property.”


At Le Méridien PhuketBeach Resort 

“Many teambuilding activities at our hotel also include elements from our wide array of leisure and sports activities, for example, basketball, golf, mini-putting and Thai boxing. Activities related to water and the beach are well liked by meeting delegates and event planners.

“We once designed a jigsaw activity around our swimming pool, which enhanced communication skills and strengthened co-ordination skills. In the future, we will plan Thai-related activities, such as fruit and vegetable carving, napkin folding or a Thai cook-off,” says general manager Rudolf Borgesius.



On wheels

The tuk tuk is a Thai icon, a transport necessity for busy locals and a quaint trip for overseas visitors. Groups can work tuk tuks into their programmes.

“We use the National Park for programmes such as the Tuk Tuk Rally,” says Sean Panton, recreation director at JW Marriot Phuket Resort and Spa.

The Tuk Tuk Rally winds its way through the Sirinath Marine National Park. Groups of eight are given a map and special objectives. With their own tuk tuk and driver, they must race against the clock and their rival teams to solve a series of clues and tasks and be the first to reach the base.


In the jungle

Nigel Burt of SBS Training runs Jungle Squad, a simulated combat game using Phuket’s lush vegetation as the background to a fun and competitive wargame, using electronic weapons rather than splattering paintballs.

He says: “If people are not schooled in dealing with fierce competition, they will be useless in the workplace. This is where our exclusive combat games really come into their own. As the weapons are electronic, there is no pain and no mess, so it is just as suitable for women as for ‘Rambo’ guys.

“In fact, the girls tend to be three times more deadly than the average male. They have a secret weapon – patience. A guy will sit in cover for about five seconds, then if nothing comes, he gets up to go and look for it. The women will plan an ambush and wait patiently for the men to fall right into it, then there is no mercy given.”


In tune

The JW Marriott offers “Rhythm Nation”, a musical team-building exercise which introduces the group to local culture. The whole group listens to a traditional Thai song played by professional musicians. The group is then divided into five separate teams; each practices a specific part of the song with a music teacher. Then the teams are brought back together again to perform the song. This serves as a means of illustrating the progress of the whole group toward a common goal. Suitable for groups of up to 500 people.


The Laguna Phuket Triathlon provided two major corporates with the chance to combine team-building with brand-building. Mark Armsden writes

International brokerage and investment bank CLSA takes its team-building so seriously that the company organises its major annual event around the Laguna Phuket Triathlon.

Eighty delegates and their families from eight CLSA offices around Asia ventured to Phuket for the weekend of December 2-3, 2006.

Twenty individuals competed in the entire triathlon, which consisted of a 1.8km swim, 55km bike ride and 12km run. CLSA also entered 16 relay teams of three, where team members did just one leg of the race. The remaining 12 participated in a 6km fun run.

All delegates and their families, around 170 in total, stayed at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket and, while the athletes prepared for their events, an extensive programme was arranged for their families.

CLSA chief executive officer Rob Morrison says: “The investment banking industry is a very hard driven one where people work long hours, entertain a lot, travel a lot and generally lead lives that are very demanding on their health.

“We wanted to look for a way to help our staff and clients to get some balance back in their lives and give them some goals to achieve outside the workplace and get healthier along the way.”

Unlike some other team-building activities, the CLSA event had no formal element, such as a regional meeting or presentation, or a speech from Morrison.

All delegates went to the event focused on achieving their goals for the event.

CLSA did hold an informal barbecue the night before the triathlon for athletes to “eat as much as they can” to build energy reserves, and the company also held its own “awards” party at the conclusion of the event.

And CLSA was not the only major corporate to get in on the triathlon act.

Herbalife, the global health and weight-loss supplement distributor, wants to be involved with active events and have its business partners “live the life” it is trying to sell.

The company’s Thailand managers saw the triathlon as the perfect chance to bring together its Thai and top Asian distributors for a team-building event.

Around 900 Herbalife distributors arrived in Phuket two days before the triathlon for a two-day product-training session and 400 stayed on for the race, with many participating in the triathlon. Herbalife is also one of the title sponsors of the event.

The Laguna Phuket Triathlon organisers also built Herbalife its own grandstand for the event to cheer on its own athletes as well as the elite competitors.

Edi Hienrich, Herbalife vice-president for Southeast Asia, says the team-building exercise perfectly combines bonding among its partners and the chance for the company to update its distributors on its products.

“A very high priority has been placed on getting our top distributors throughout Asia to participate in this event,” he says.

“In addition to the race, we have also organised the Phuket Retreat for top distributors to get together in a seminar, which will be held two days before the race day.”

Luigi Gratton, US-based Herbalife vice-president for global medical affairs, says: “Not only are we selling the products to help people lose weight and live healthier, but being involved in sporting events and keeping active is also a part of a healthy lifestyle. Being involved as a sponsor and participating in an event like this gives us great exposure as a branding exercise.”



Schedule plenty of drink stops to keep everyone hydrated

l    Build in assignments that get participants interacting with local people

l    Integrate a beach, the sea, a temple and a market on the route. And, if time permits, the iconic James Bond Island for a “007” themed activity

l    Build in a surprise massage on the beach for 15 minutes of pampering, while having another attraction for those who prefer not to take the massage

l    Issue colourful Thai batik sarongs to differentiate and easily identify teams rather than standard branded caps

l    Remember safety, safety, safety

l    Respect local residents and their culture

l    Make use of the sea and jungle

l    Care for and protect the environment; clean up when you have finished

l    Make sure the company managing the team-building event is also working as a team in harmony



l    Keep participants at the hotel when Phuket has so many other great places

l    Offer a scavenger hunt with a pre-printed booklet as this lacks imagination and creativity

l    Form teams that are too large. Eight to 10 people per team is ideal

l    Buy a fixed-format programme; insist on a customised one for your group

l    Arrange beach activities from 10:30am to 3:30pm, unless you want team members to succumb to heat stroke from the midday sun

l    Use unlicensed companies or unprofessional companies

l    Disturb local residents and ignore permission for off-site activities

l    Try to do events cheaply – buy a great programme at the right price

*Source: Diethlem Events and Asian Trails




As team-building specialists on Phuket like to move members outside the comfort zone of air-conditioned indoor space, there are obvious issues of safety. Companies should use only reputable companies with insurance coverage. Working with a major hotel brand can also assist in facilitating this process.

Rudolf Borgesius, general manager of the Le Méridien Phuket Beach Resort, says: “From a legal standpoint, we recommend using a disclaimer for participants that focuses on a ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy – meaning participants declare themselves fit for activity, make decisions about their health and can stop when they want.

“The (participating) company should check whether hotel insurance covers the specific activities offered. If any activities are outsourced then a full risk-assessment of other suppliers is done first including a insurance check.

“In addition, all activities are preceded by a short safety briefing and any equipment checks are done by specially trained and qualified people.”

Over at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa, director of recreation Sean Panton says staff training and management are vital to ensure safety standards remain high.

When making use of Phuket’s superb beachfront, only qualified staff are permitted to work with JW Marriott groups.

“Waivers need to be signed by every participant. The health and safety standards need to be very high to offer a controlled environment,” Panton says.

“Staff must be trained in first aid and CPR – any able-bodied person can do the programme easily even if they cannot swim. It is very safe.

“Whenever anybody goes into the water they must wear a lifejacket; engines are off before anybody can get on or off a boat and so on.

“These may sound obvious, but they are details that must be rigorously adhered to.”


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