Monday, October 29, 2007

Hotel sector high on investors’ radar screen

Hotel sector high on investors’ radar screen
By Angie Ng
Monday October 29, 2007

Foreign groups are coming in greater numbers to acquire hotels in Malaysia, especially in the Klang Valley, to take advantage of the good value and expected strong growth in the industry.

Last year, a whopping 85% of the value of hotel transactions in the country was by foreigners compared with 44% in 2005.

Foreign investments in hotels grew by 64% last year with foreigners, including regional chain players, hotel funds, foreign investment funds and individuals, making up 42% of the ownership of 4- and 5-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur now.

According to Zerin Properties chief executive officer Previndran Singhe, the growing interest among foreigners in the hotel sector was triggered by the strong growth in the tourism sector and the economy.

Generally the foreign investors were from the region and the Middle East, he said, adding that there was also a growing interest from investors in Singapore, Thailand and Europe and American funds and hotel chains.

“The advent of low-cost carriers and the strong tourism drive may create an insatiable appetite for hotels,” Previndran told StarBiz.

In the past few years, Zerin Properties has concluded a number of hotel transactions within and outside the country for foreign groups.

“We are basically hotel dealmakers in the region. We are in the midst of concluding a sale in Indochina and selling a resort in the Philippines, and has been appointed by a Middle East fund to negotiate the purchase of hotels in the region.”

Hotel transactions in Malaysia

Previndran said Zerin was also involved in hotel sales in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and other emerging markets.

As the exclusive agent for the asset disposal programme of the Sheraton Chain of Hotels in Malaysia, it concluded the sale of the 207-room Sheraton Perdana in Langkawi for RM77.5mil and the 267-room Sheraton Kuantan for RM36.6mil in 2005.

It was also involved in the sale of the 149-room Merlin Johor Baru for RM10.46mil and the 66-room Merlin Inn in Cameron Highlands for RM13.5mil.

Last year, the 100-room Grand Centerpoint in Kuala Lumpur was sold for RM12.5mil, and the latest deal was the sale of the 91-room Four Seasons in Langkawi for RM435mil.

The 452-room Westin Kuala Lumpur was sold for RM455mil in 2006, or a whopping RM1mil a room

“Malaysia has some of the finest hotels in the region and the growing number of foreign brands and players is adding a new dimension to the local hospitality sector.

“The hotels here are on par with other international markets and the local industry is leading in terms of product innovation through products such as The Datai, Hilton Batang Ai and Tune Hotel.

“New hotels coming in with truly leading designs include Maya Hotel and KL Hilton, which are niche in their market positioning and are market leading,” Previndran said.

Renovation work to spruce up some of the leading existing hotels such as Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, Sheraton Imperial and The Regent is also underway.

With the tourism drive, average room rates (ARR) for 5-star hotels have moved up by at least 20% over the past two years while other categories of hotels have recorded an ARR increase of to 5% 10%.

Hotel occupancy rates in the Klang Valley have also increased from the mid-60's two years ago to about 70% now.

In August, 4- and 5-star hotels recorded an average occupancy rate of 86% while the average room rate climbed to RM361 from below RM300 previously.

“Moving forward, I think we are going to see a consolidation of hotel ownership – from fragmented ownership to chain ownership, and maybe even a hospitality-based real estate investment trust (REIT) like the Starwood REIT in the US.

“These consolidated owners will be locals and foreigners from the region who are already chain owners. There is also a strong Middle Eastern interest coming into the market, mainly in the premium properties,” Previndran said.

He said more top class brands, such as Conrad and Intercontinental, were expected to come into the market in the near future.

Ownership of 4 and 5 star hotels in Kuala Lumpur.

“On the other end of the spectrum, more chain-based limited service hotels in the likes of Ibis, Formula 1 and Holiday Inn Express will also be making its presence felt. I also see interest in resort locations picking up tremendously.”

Around the region, Previndran said Vietnam was experiencing a boom in the hotel industry due to shortage of good hotels.

“We see strong opportunities in the Vietnamese cities and resorts for premium and limited service hotels.

“The Philippines is also a good market as the population base is big and its islands are truly a big attraction for the Korean and Japanese markets.

“Australia is also another strong market, with Sydney being the most visited city in the Asia-Pacific.” -- The StarBiz

Thursday, October 25, 2007

King of the hill

King of the hill
Thursday October 25, 2007

Genting Bhd founder Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, who died on Tuesday, went against all odds and did the unthinkable when he developed a worldclass casino resort in a place no one dared to venture to more than 40 years ago.

Lim, who started development of the hilltop area around the present day Genting Highlands Resort in 1965, was reportedly inspired by the cool mountain air of Cameron Highlands.

He transformed the hilltop gaming and entertainment complex into the powerhouse of his multi-billion dollar empire.

Genting - the city of entertainment
Genting - the city of entertainment

Dubbed the “Casino King,” his career was also a rags-to-riches story he arrived in Malaya in 1937 from China after a 10- day voyage with only US$2 in his pocket but persevered to become one of the richest men in the world.

In March 2003, he was included in the Forbes Global magazine's list of World's Billionaires, coming in as the 206th richest man with a net worth of US$2.1bil.

Born on Feb 28 in 1918 in the Anxi district of Fujian Province, China, he worked as a carpenter with his uncle upon his arrival here, sold sundries and started a scrap-metal business.

He saved up enough money and set up Kien Huat Construction in 1950, which remains his flagship private entity.

One of his major breakthroughs was as a subcontractor for the Old Klang Road development project in Kuala Lumpur.

He later worked on a RM300,000 project to develop a drainage system from the Kuala Lumpur city centre to Pantai.

His competence paved the way for Kien Huat Construction to become a government- licensed contractor, which resulted in him obtaining a string of contracts.

Among the major projects undertaken by Kien Huat were Penang's Air Itam Dam, Kelantan's Kemubu Irrigation Scheme and the Cameron Highlands Hydro Electric Power Project It was while working on the dam in Cameron Highlands in 1964 that he saw the possibility of developing a hill resort nearer to Kuala Lumpur.

In 1968, he founded Genting Bhd, which was granted the only casino licence by the federal government.

Well-known for his hands-on approach, he was worker, project manager and engineer for the project.

His leadership propelled Genting to emerge as a key blue chip on the stock market, diversifying into plantations, paper, oil and gas, and power.

The company also transferred its gambling and resort-related operations to its subsidiary, Resorts World Bhd, which remained cash-rich even during the crippling 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.

A philanthropist, he is also well remembered for the RM20mil donation to Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, from where he received an honourary doctorate.

The late Lim also received a string of awards including “Property Man of the Year” in 2002 by International Real Estate Federation FIABCI, 1987 Manager of the Year by the Harvard Business School Alumni Club of Malaysia, and “Business Achiever of the Year” by Yazhou Zhoukan, a Hong Kong-based international Chinese business daily.

Lim leaves a wife, Puan Sri Lee Kim Hua, and six children. — Bernama

Friday, October 12, 2007

Seeing Malaysia on wheels

Seeing Malaysia on wheels
By Ng Wei Loon
Friday October 12, 2007

THE MotoGP will visit the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) on Oct 21.

Although Australian Casey Stoner secured the crown at the Japanese Grand Prix last month , the local and foreign motorcycle racing fans will be flocking to the circuit to catch the high-speed action.

For the foreign visitors, the newly formed Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways is offering the recreational super bikers from abroad a milder adrenalin pumping action on Malaysian soil and a chance to explore the beauty of the country.

Scenic sight: The riders taking a corner during their outing.
Scenic sight: The riders taking a corner during their outing.

Driven by the passion for riding, the local tour motorcycle operator was formed as a result of the partnership between M. Feizal Abu Kassim, 36, and former creative director Lawrence Ong, 51.

Feizal is confident that their new venture has huge potential to complement and boost the tourism industry.

“Malaysia has a lot to offer. The friendly people and hospitality as well as the wide selection of good food,” he said.

In fact, both were determined to turn their dream into a reality.

“For more than a year, we have been talking about the idea over regular teh tarik sessions. We got out website up and running in February. From there, we have established a strong foundation,” said Ong.

In addition, Akfar Tariq Abdul Khalid also serves as a part time guide for the group.

“Usually, visitors will travel from one point to the other using other forms of transport. We are catering to the foreign biking community to enjoy the journey riding on Malaysian roads. They will see more while riding. So far, we have received positive comments from our guests,” said Feizal.

Recently, two representatives each from Motor Cycle News (MCM) and Motorcycle Cruiser magazines based in the United Kingdom and United States respectively were invited to join them on a five-day tour courtesy of Tourism Malaysia.

The five legs on the central tour that they covered were Kuala Lumpur – Cameron Highlands, Cameron Highlands – Genting Highlands, Genting Highlands – Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur – Malacca and Malacca – Sepang.

On their first visit to Malaysia, MCM production editor Marc Abbott and MCM on-line video producer Angus Farquhar rode on the Suzuki K2 600.

Abbott was delighted that he was given the rare privilege to ride on the SIC.

“Now, I have featured on two circuits on opposite ends of the world with different characteristics. Donington Park is a circuit with fast corners. In contrast, riders are required to break hard on tight turns at Sepang. Besides a tour around the control room and media centre, going on the podium was definitely the highlight for us,” said Abbott, 33.

Abbott added that he would be coming back for a honeymoon with his wife next year.

“There is so much more to see. I would like to go on the northern tour. I felt very comfortable riding with the group because the tour operator provided thorough briefing as well as a leader and a sweeper to ensure the riders’ safety.”

Farquhar said the scenery was just a perfect selling point to entice couples to visit.

“Visitors could spend as much or even more coming here on their own and staying at posh hotels and not see half as much as we saw. Considering it is an experience of a lifetime, it is worth paying for,” said Farquhar, 29.

It was also a homecoming for Motorcycle Group Western Marketplace advertising manager Zack Adnan who came with Motorcycle Cruiser editor in chief Andrew Cherney.

“I am still a Malaysian citizen. Prior to this trip, I have not been home for more than two years. To be honest, not many Americans know about Malaysia. The tour operator has revved up the pioneering initiative to raise the profile of the country through motorcycle riding and put the country on the world map,” said Zack, 29, who has been residing in the United States for more than 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, Cherney pushed the Kawasaki Vulcan VN900 to its limit.

He is a renowned motorcycle journalist who has travelled around the globe and he was impressed with the good road conditions here.

In conjunction with Malaysian MotoGP, the tour operator has also lined up a four-day tour from Oct 21 to 24.

“We have also mapped out the courses for our eastern and northern tours. We also tailor the itinerary to suit the visitors’ needs. Our aim now is to see our establishment grow. We also want to explore new routes,” said Feizal

For details, visit

Friday, October 05, 2007

Scrabble Tournament at Equatorial Cameron Highlands

Noble gesture
Scrabble Scene with Chuah Sim Swee
Friday October 5, 2007

Some of the finest Scrabble players from Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore groaned through three days of intense competition at the 7th Equatorial Cameron Highlands Malaysian Open Scrabble Tournament held from Sept 28 to 30 at the Equatorial Hotel after which it was named.

No, it was not mental strain and anguish, which they were suffering from, but the staggering amount of delicious food showered on them by the hotel’s friendly staff. And so, for three days, they valiantly staggered from dining tables to tournament tables to outwit and outspell their opponents.

Yes, after a one-year hiatus, the tournament was back with a vengeance, thanks to Tan Khee Chiang, the man who inaugurated it single-handedly. An avid Scrabble player, Tan ran the tournament successfully from 2000 to 2005. When he was transferred to the Equatorial Hotel Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, last year, the tournament was cancelled much to the dismay of Scrabble players in and outside the country. Tan vowed to hold it again this year with the help of his old team of helpers at the hotel.

Most players find this tournament special because of the gorgeous scenery, cool weather, the courteous and helpful staff of the hotel and the scrumptious food.

Back to the tournament, day one was dominated by Nigel Richards from New Zealand, as he won all his three rounds with ease. His leisurely walk to the finishing line turned into a brisk trot by day two when he mowed down all newcomers, suffering only a hiccup when he was beaten by Tony Sim from Singapore in game 14 (462 versus 409 points). On day three, it was a full gallop to the finishing line.

Sim hung on grimly to second place until the last game. He had the unfortunate “pleasure” of meeting Richards seven times. His defeat in the last round was the straw that broke the camel’s back and he fell to fifth place.

By the end of game 15, with just three more games to go, it was obvious to all that Richards would take the crown even if he were to lose the remaining games. That left the rest of the field to fight for second placing. Although Sim had been fighting valiantly to hold on to this placing, many others stood a good chance of wresting it from him unless he could beat Richards.

In game 18, the final game, Ng Chee Eng beat Alex Tan (371-301) and would have clinched the spot but for Jocelyn Lor who defeated Tengku Asri by a whopping margin (481-285). Four players tied with 11 points each and it was the spread that settled the matter with Lor wresting second position and Ng Chee Eng, Alex Tan and Tony Sim coming in third, fourth and fifth respectively.

The champion, Richards, also won for most number of bingos (44), pipping Chuah Sim Swee who had 40. He also won a lucky draw prize of a two-day one-night complimentary stay for two at the Equatorial Hotel Cameron Highlands on top of his trophy, a prize money of RM1,500 and a complimentary stay at the Equatorial Hotel Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam.

Vannitha Balasingam won a trophy for highest game (602), while Tan Khee Chiang won for highest score for a word – ENFIXING (126 points). It is interesting to note that he also made the second and third highest scoring words – RESEIZED (121 points) and QUAFFING(113 points).

Scrabble has thus far been a gentleman’s game. Most players have always tried to uphold the unwritten rules that include honesty, courtesy to opponents and good sportsmanship. This could not have been more evident during the Equatorial Cameron Highlands tournament.

At the end of the second day, in the very last game (game 14), Ng Chee Eng tied with John Lam and each earned half a point instead of one point. The scorecards were signed, the results entered into the computer for the next day’s draw and everyone duly turned in for the night. Back in his room, Ng recounted the scores and found that he had actually won by a margin of two points. The next morning, he showed the results to Lam.

Under the rules of the game, once the scorecards have been signed by both parties and the marks entered for the next draw, the result should stand even if a mistake was discovered later. However, Lam gallantly agreed to change the result even though this would affect his standing and he even appealed to the organiser to do so. We salute you, John Lam. -- The Star Lifestyle.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Justlife aims to promote eating organic produce

Justlife aims to promote eating organic produce
By Bavani M
Photos by Ong Soon Hin
Thursday October 4, 2007

THERE is a lot one can do to preserve the environment. One is not expected to start a compost heap at home or change light bulbs to energy saving ones.

The simple act of buying organic vegetables or using biodegradable utensils is just some of the many little things you can do to save the environment.

And that is what customers who visited the newly opened Justlife outlet in the Gardens Mid Valley found out recently.

Simple steps: Tai filling her grocery basket with organic greens at the new Justlife outlet.
Simple steps: Tai filling her grocery basket with organic greens at the new Justlife outlet.

The outlet, which specialises in selling food, fruits, vegetables and products that are environmentally friendly, had organised a farmers' day to create awareness on organic products recently.

Farmers from Cameron Highlands, Kuala Kubu Baru, and other areas were brought in to teach shoppers the benefits of eating organic food.

“We’re here to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle because people are getting more and more concerned about their environment, global warming and healthy living,” said Justlife Group Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Callie Tai.

Yummy: Lee taking a bite out of a cherry tomato.
Yummy: Lee taking a bite out of a cherry tomato.

“You can help by simply changing your diet and opting to live a healthier life by consuming organic food,” said Tai.

Organic farmers do not use any form of pesticide or chemicals that harm the soil to plant their vegetables hence their fruits and vegetables are healthier and greener.

No doubt Tai does not dispute the fact that organic vegetables are costlier, in fact everything that is organically produced is more expensive but she is quick to add that the long term value of enjoying a healthy lifestyle free from diseases and sickness is priceless.

Farmer Jingle Kon from Kuala Kubu Baru who was one of the farmers at the outlet said organically produced vegetables are rich in vitamins and are good for the immune system.

A helping hand: Justlife stocks environmentally friendly products.
A helping hand: Justlife stocks environmentally friendly products.

“In the long run, eating them will only make a person healthier and stronger,” she said.

Lee Ong Sing, a farmer from Cameron Highlands, said people were still unaware of the goodness of organic food.

According to him, less then 1% of people in Malaysia consume organic food.

“It’s very big in the United States, Japan and Europe as people there are more concerned about their health and are aware of the need to conserve the planet,” he said.

Justlife outlets are located at Ikano Power Centre, Queens Park Retail Centre, Subang Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Puchong, Seremban, Malacca and Penang.

For details, call 03-7880 8035.

-- The Star Metro