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Sabah at the crossroads

 

Sutera Harbour

BY RODERICK EIME IN KOTA KINABALU
 
Kota Kinabalu’s signature resort complex, Sutera Harbour, is changing with the times.
 
On a recent trip to KK, the capital of the East Malaysian state of Sabah, HM met with Sutera Harbour CEO, Frank Liepmann, who was appointed in October 2010. He was most recently the GM at Ayodya Resort Bali, Indonesia.
 
Additionally, Samuel Gacos was appointed as the Group Director of Sales & Marketing and was most recently in Bali as Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing for The Legian in Seminyak and The Chedi Club Ubud apart from a stint at Conrad Bali.
 
Other new appointments at Sutera Harbour include Martin Sticht as the Executive Chef for The Pacific Sutera Hotel and Alessandro Di Cosimo as the Italian Chef for The Magellan Sutera Resort’s signature fine dining Italian restaurant, Ferdinand’s.
 
Sabah is a place torn between the financial imperatives of agricultural and resource exploitation and eco-tourism. While travel marketers extol its qualities as a vibrant ecological destination, the contradicting elements of logging, palm oil plantations, land reclamation and oil and gas exploration are equally obvious.
 
Kota Kinabalu is the tourism hub of Sabah, with annual visitor numbers doubling in the ten years to 2010 and currently running at around 800,000. Australians and New Zealanders make up the bulk of the money-spenders, followed by the US, EU and Japan. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mount Kinabalu Park is the flagship location in this biologically abundant region accounting for around 250,000 visitors alone, 47,000 of whom climb the 4000m peak annually.*
 
Yet despite the hype, hotels have not enjoyed the full benefit of any tourism booms. With tourism hitting a peak in 2007 and hotels enjoying an average occupancy rate of 77%, that figure fell to 60.8% in 2009, with the 5-star segment at just 48.3%.
 
Hyatt Regency KK recently refurbished its 288 rooms and Sutera Harbour is soon to follow with the first phase of refurbishment due for completion in December 2011.
 
In January 2010, rumours spread that Singaporean Datuk Edward Ong Han Nam, the resort’s founder had put the expansive 956-room integrated resort up for sale. At the time he countered with “Sutera Harbour Resort is not up for sale. As President of the resort, I assure all stakeholders that there is no intention to sell the resort.”
 
While it is true that the resort and its many assets are not for sale as a job lot, it is however, inviting equity partners.
 
“The refurbishment of the Pacific’s 500 guest rooms will be complete in December,” said Liepmann “It was a rolling process and the property was able to trade uninterrupted throughout.”
 
“The 456 rooms at the Magellan Sutera will follow next year (2012).”

*Source: Oxford Business Group – The Report – Sabah 2011

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