When you are hailed as the father of tourism on Phuket, as Wichit Na-Ranong is, then you are clearly not afraid of change. Born into a family that revolutionized the island’s trade sector with tin mining, Wichit could have stuck to that industry. But in the 1970s, after hosting a film team that was working on a James Bond film, he realized that sleepy little Phuket could become an international destination. His efforts put the island on the world map.
Flash forward now to The Slate. When the hotel was first conceived, Wichit originally thought of doing something with a traditional Thai look and feel. But then his daughter and now business partner, Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, had a vision of her own.
“She convinced me to move from traditional style to modern,” he says, though notes that he still wanted to incorporate one traditional Phuket element into the hotel. “My biggest inspiration with The Slate was to create a place inspired by the island’s rich tin mining history. I said to my daughter, it can be modern but it must reflect Phuket.”
To achieve this seemingly contradictory goal, the pair brought in Bill Bensley, one of South East Asia’s leading resort architects. The result, as Wichit proudly notes, “Killed two birds with one stone. The hotel is contemporary and strong on design. But it also tells the story of the island’s tin mining past. We are very pleased!”
It’s no accident that Prakaikaew Na-Ranong would have strong feelings for design. After studying management at the prestigious Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, she worked at many high-profile spots, such as the Intercontinental Paris and the Four Seasons Bangkok. Then she brought her experience and bold philosophies to the family business.
“A hotel that is very strong on design has never been done before on Phuket,” she says.“But we didn’t want to just do something modern for modern sake. Design without history is missing something. At The Slate every corner is a conversation. Here, guests encounter tin from our own mines. You can just feel the flavors of the past.”
When she is not working at the hotel, Prakaikaew can be often be found playing her harp. But even her passions outside The Slate, such as art and fashion, often find their way into the hotel. One current project includes an art gallery called SHADES that features conceptual sculptures, painting, and photography, which will soon be a part of The Slate. She has also created a collection of resort jewelry called INIS (Celtic for “island”).
Wichit, on the other hand, is still a visionary at heart. “Any book with ‘technology’ in its title, I buy!” he says. “Travel is another pleasure. But whenever I visit a new hotel I always check out the engineering department to see where they buy their spare parts. I don’t go to relax. I go to learn.” That’s just what you’d expect from a man who whose vision in the past reshaped an island—and whose vision, along with his daughter’s, today is changing the very idea of what a hotel can be on that island.