Pilot, hotelier, and tour operator, Luzi Matzig began his journey began with a degree in transportation in his native Switzerland, which was followed by positions with Swissair in London, Bern, and Zurich. Before long, however, he embarked upon a two-year overseas posting as a tour operator in Thailand, only for those two years to become a lifetime commitment to tourism in Thailand and South East Asia. He is now the Chairman of Asian Trails, a tour operator with 33 offices across the region, a hotel owner with a number of properties in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and also finds the time to provide executive aviation services through VIP Jets Ltd.
Your businesses are heavily involved in tourism, so why do you think this is a good industry to be in? And what are the risks when having all your eggs in one basket?
With a variety of investments in tourism, particularly in tour operating, hotels, river cruises, and aviation, I believe that we cannot really talk about all the eggs being in one basket. I strongly believe in the overall continued success and expansion of the tourism industry in Asia in general, with Thailand always playing a major role because of its central geographical location, its varied attractions, its friendly people, good year-round climate, and excellent shopping and entertainment.
Which one of the three sectors (tours, jets, or hotels) do you enjoy the most and why?
What I enjoy mostly is aviation, particularly the operation of private jet flights as well as medevac missions. The latest addition is operating helicopter flights for tourists and businessmen in Cambodia, especially serving the new five-star beach properties like the Royal Sands Koh Rong Resort off Sihanoukville. I personally enjoy piloting both jet aircraft as well as turbine helicopters using the latest glass cockpits and advanced technology.
Let’s talk about your resort in Koh Rong. What’s so special about it? And what were the challenges for you in building it?
The Royal Sands Koh Rong is the first five-star beach resort on the island of Koh Rong near Sihanoukville in Cambodia, a 30 million US dollar investment which took us almost three years to build. Building a resort on a totally unspoiled island like Koh Rong presented us with major headaches as there was zero infrastructure, meaning no roads, no piers, no water, no electricity, and hardly anybody living there. As such we had to build up everything from scratch. Ferrying construction materials to an island results not only in operational difficulties due to wind and waves crossing the sea but also increases costs by around 30% compared to building on the mainland.
Getting to Koh Rong can be difficult, so how do you get your guests there? And how does the local government help with infrastructure?
Foreign tourists usually visit Siem Reap first to explore the temples of Angkor Wat and its surroundings. From Siem Reap various Cambodian carriers offer daily flights to Sihanoukville where we pick up the guests for a half hour trip by limousine or bus to the port, followed by a 50-minute cruise on one of our own boats to the island. Air Asia offer direct flights to Sihanoukville from Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam Airlines serve Sihanoukville daily from Ho Chi Minh City. With Cambodia still being a developing country, we couldn’t expect any infrastructural support from the local government so we had to manage everything on our own.
From your own experience in different tourism sectors, what’s the future of Asian tourism? Where are we heading to? Where would you place your bets – in transport, tours, or hotels?
I believe that tourism in Asia in particular will continue to grow faster than anywhere else in the world. I am not worried about having sufficient growth in inbound tourism in Thailand and South East Asia in the future but I am more concerned about potentially have too many local and foreign tourists converging on major tourist attractions and beach areas. Overcrowding is what we have to worry about in the future, and governments will have to act by limiting access to the most popular sites and by trying to disperse tourists to less visited areas in the future.
In general, I believe that inbound tour operators will see little growth in the next 10 years or so as more and more visitors will make their arrangements directly via OTAs as well as with accommodation providers. Traditional airlines will continue to lose market share to low-cost carriers. While sites like Airbnb will erode bookings for city hotels by shifting accommodation to private homes and apartments, I don’t foresee that particular trend having an effect on up-market beach resorts as private accommodation cannot compete with the prime beach locations of five-star resorts with their many exclusive services such as spas, large pools, modern fitness centers, and broad selection of in-house food outlets.