An artist’s impression of Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto.
It is a rainy day in Kyoto, Japan, when executives from Berjaya Land Bhd (BLand) bring a group of Malaysian journalists to see for ourselves the site where the first luxury hotel in the city the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto will be built.
The rain does nothing to dampen our spirits as we stand on the 5-acre site in historical Higashiyama-ku, situated among beautiful and serene surroundings and the great heritage sites of Kyoto, a city which was once the imperial capital of Japan.
Discussions for this project took more than two years and has finally borne fruit, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, the founder of Berjaya Corp Bhd, the parent company of BLand, tells us.
“Armed with little more than a vision and a conviction to succeed, we approached the city of Kyoto to work together, not merely to build a hotel but to be given a chance to craft an experience like no other in the world,” he says later in a speech at a ceremony to mark the collaboration between BLand and Four Seasons.
BLand's move into Kyoto marks its foray into Japan after two other projects in North Asia in Jeju, South Korea, and Beijing, China.
The company purchased the 5-acre site from the Takeda family, a prominent family of doctors who owns several hospitals and elder care facilities across Kyoto.
The site, which itself used to house a hospital, will cost BLand US$320mil or close to RM1bil to be developed into a luxury hotel with 186 rooms.
The figure includes the acquisition price of the land.
While the exact financing structure has yet to be determined, RHB Bank Bhd is the principal financier and the entire project is expected to be funded by a combination of equity, internal funds as well as bank borrowings.
Return of investment is estimated to be between 5% and 10% and is expected to come “pretty fast”, given that Kyoto gets some 50 million visitors per year, making it the most visited city in Japan, according to Tan.
Construction will start next March and the hotel will officially open its doors to guests in early 2015.
“The hardest part of the project, which is securing approval from the city, is over. With financing in place, we do not foresee major challenges during the construction period,” BLand executive director Leong Wy Joon says.
Kyoto is strict with its building guidelines, given that many sites in the city enjoy a Unesco World Heritage status. Hence the process to obtain the relevant permits took some time, says Leong. Understandably, Leong is excited about this project.
Kyoto, according to him, has a huge pent-up demand for luxury accommodation. It currently only has two international brands the Hyatt and Westin. A Ritz-Carlton will be ready next year.
“We are not worried about demand at all. Demand should come from both business and leisure travellers,” Leong says.
As a luxury hotel positioned also as an “urban resort”, Four Season's room rates will start from 55,000 yen (RM2,200), compared with Kyoto's current average hotel rates of between 28,000 yen and 35,000 yen per night.
The Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto will be BLand's signature and flagship development in Japan.
For this reason, BLand is pulling out all the stops to build a hotel which Tan says “will be one of the most iconic in the world on completion”.
The property itself will have an estimated built-up area of 8,106 sq m with four floors and three basement floors. It will be built with a combination of modern styles and traditional Japanese design.
In other words, expect the hotel to be infused with traditional Japanese arts and crafts, says Leong.
“Age-old traditions will go hand-in-hand with modern luxuries and it will have the understated elegance of a traditional ryokan,” he enthuses.
He points out that among the special facilities, the hotel will have a specially dedicated hall for wedding ceremony.
Other facilities include a banquet hall, main and fine dining areas, fitness gym, pool, spa and shops. An existing pond is expected to be one of the hotel's main attractions, once it is further beautified.
In terms of location, the hotel will be quite ideally located, being less than 2km away from the Kyoto train station, which is the main entry point into Kyoto as well as being the main stop for all the bullet trains going into the city.
“It's an excellent piece of land. We were quick in deciding that we wanted it ... and acted quick as well,” Leong says.
When it is completed, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto will be close to tourist sites such as the Myohoin, Sanjyu Sangendo and Kyoto National Museum as well as to various cultural locations such as Gion, the neighbourhood of the famed geishas.
By The Star