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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The elegance of E&O

Well-placed lights emphasise the beautiful structures of the hotel

The sun gently slips into the cloudy horizon, casting a pearly pink over the greyish blue waters. The waves lapped gently against the low stone wall which divides the lawn from the Straits of Malacca. Swimmers leisurely lose their calories in their laps in swimming pool.

At Sarkies Corner, waiters lay out the evening’s fare with anticipation. Will the restaurant have another full house this evening? As in yesteday’s evening? Executive chef Bob Lee checks out the Peking duck, giving his efferverscent smile as he welcomes his guests.

Welcome to the famed E&O Hotel in Penang, which boasts of having the longest sea-lined lawn in the country.

Although the famed E&O Hotel in Penang is once again undergoing another round of refurbishment, the movements are hardly noticeable. Unlike its massive restoration programme in 1996, this time around, discretion is the key.

“It’s business as usual. The guests would not even notice it,” says general manager Michael Saxon.

Saxon: Maintenance is an ongoing proce

And how true! One could hear a pin drop as one walks along the corridor to seek the solace of one’s temporary sanctuary. Nary a bang nor the whisper of a drill.

After spending some RM60mil in an 18-month restoration programme, Malaysia’s only heritage hotel is being refurbished for a smaller amount of RM5mil, which also includes training and software, for several reasons.

Says Saxon: “As in any properties, maintenance is an ongoing process. We also want to make sure the hotel stays in pristine condition.”

The other reason is the business the hotel has been garnering of late. For the past 18 months or so, business has increased dramatically, both in terms of occupancy and food and beverage (F&B).

While the rule of thumb in most hotels is 70:30, with revenue from F&B contributing the smaller portion, it is 60:40 over at E&O. Out of eight months in a year, the hotel does about 20 weddings a month.

For a 101-suite hotel, Saxon says there have been times when he counted more than 2,000 guests in the hotel.

Leveraging on its marque as the grande dame of heritage hotels, the E&O Hotel in Farquhar Street has been most popular with foreigners from Britain, USA, Australia and Japan. About 70% of its guests are Westerners.

So far, about 10 suites in the 100-suite hotel have been refurbished and given an all-new modernity set along heritage lines. New carpets and upholstery, new curtains and a more localised use of pictures are being used. Each of the rooms are being upgraded one by one to keep up with the times.

“The move is necessary as the hotel would like to continue garnering premium room rates in today’s competitive hospitality industry,” says Saxon.

Beginning April this year, average room rates increased to RM500, compared with RM250 the last three to five years.

He says the industrial norm is a 10% increase annually, but they have doubled their average room rate in three years.

“But within these three years, there have been a lot of improvements,” he said.

E&O suite tariff vary extensively. A superior suite is about RM900 while the E&O suite is RM10,000. The hotel, which dates back 1885, has several types of suites.

The Rudyard Kipling suite, for example, has been given tastefully austere interiors, with taupe walls and jute rugs on timber floors, predominantly dark stained teak furniture, including an imposing four-poster bed. For contrast, two wicker chairs and a comfortable sofa in a bold black and white floral print.

Says Malaysian interior decorator Mimi Merican: “The challenge for me was to draw inspiration from what we know of Kipling the man, writer and traveller, and have that set the style for the suite.”

The Rudyand Kipling suite

To complete the ambience, a specially commissioned portrait of the man himself, aptly bearing the lines from his book From sea to sea and other sketches: Letters of travel.

Since the E&O group took over Malaysia’s one and only heritage hotel in the late 1990s, the turnaround in terms of look, ambience and maintenance has been dramatic.

“We would like to keep the momentum,” he says.

There have been times when it is fully occupied and the owner Datuk (Terry) Tham has to stay in another hotel.

Its F&B business has been so good that they have set out tents to promote outdoor dining on the Esplanade.

“Sarkies Corner was simply not big enough. So we set up tents outside last year. We did not want to turn away guests. So this current round of refurbishing is really important. It will enable us to have proper set-up for outdoor dining,” says Saxon.

“We upped our prices, guests complained and after two weeks, they were back as before. We are not complaining at all. We are delighted with the situation,” he says.

“In terms of service, we always listen to our guests. There was a time when a guest dining at its fine dining restaurant 1885 requested his table to be taken outdoors under the huge Java tree on the lawn which overlook the Straits of Malacca.

“He wanted to savour both the food and the ambience. We obliged. Another time a former British soldier in the 80s came and asked about the old lift, whether it still worked. He stayed here decades ago and I personally accompanied him on that lift ride. There were tears in his eyes when he got off,” says Saxon.

With Penang becoming a popular spot for medical tourism of late, guest-patients are provided total in-suite service until they are confident enough to leave their sanctuary.

“E&O is not just another hotel. It is history, service, ambience and romance all packaged together under the tropical sky on an island that has become well-known around the world,” says Saxon.

By The Star (by Thean Lee Cheng)

YTL keen on more land buys in KL

It intends to invest in prime locations, says Yeoh

KUALA LUMPUR: YTL group, which is paying a record RM2,000 per sq ft for a piece of land in Jalan Stonor, intends to make more acquisitions in the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

YTL Corp Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh said yesterday that land price in Kuala Lumpur city was “still very affordable'' compared with Asian cities such as Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Jakarta.

“We intend to invest in more properties in prime locations in the city, as the Kuala Lumpur property scene is set to be very exciting,'' he said, adding that this was due to Government measures such as the relaxation of approval from the Foreign Investment Committee.

Yeoh said after a briefing on Climate Change Week 2008 that YTL was planning a residential development comprising apartments on the Jalan Stonor land measuring just under 0.4ha, which it acquired for RM85mil.

In line with Climate Change Week 2008, which will be held from April 29 to May 4, YTL has launched the Renewable Energy and Environment Fund (REEF), a green investment fund for the Asia-Pacific.

From Left: YTL director of investment Ruth Yeoh, executive director Datuk Yeoh Soo Min, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and Syarikat Pembinaan Yeoh Tiong Lay Sdn Bhd executive director Jacob Yeoh.

“The fund offers an international portfolio of clean technology companies involved in carbon credits, recycling and alternative energies such as wind, solar and biofuels, all of which contribute immensely to these solutions,'' he said.

According to Yeoh, green technology was set to be the century's largest economic opportunity.

This is the second fund in which YTL would be a main investor. It is also the principal investor in the Asian Renewable Energy and Environment Fund (AREEF), which was launched a year ago and has reaped 28% in annual returns.

According to fund manager Kumpulan Sentiasa Cemerlang Sdn Bhd, REEF was expected to provide returns of 10% to 15% a year.

Yeoh said that as a key utilities player, YTL had been working on reducing its carbon footprint. For example, almost 39% of the total energy used in its British utility company Wessex Water was from renewable energies such as biogas, biomass, wind and solar.

“With our targets firmly in sight, by 2020 we aim to get 50% of our energy from renewable sources and eventually grow that to 100%,” he said, adding that the company's proposed Malaysia-Singapore fast train project was another example of a good environmental project.

“Just imagine the reduction of carbon emissions as a result of the cars it will replace. It will provide fuel subsidy savings as well,” he said.

To a question, Yeoh said the Government was very supportive of the project and considered it not just another mega project but one that was economically viable as well.

By The Star

YTL boss: Bullet train project is environment-friendly

YTL Corp Bhd, a construction and energy group, says the government is supportive of its plan to build a bullet train between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as it makes economic sense.

It is also a project that the people seem to want, managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh said.

"This project is economically viable, so I think the government will listen to the people and put this project on an urgent basis again.

"Nobody looks at it as a mega project, an artificial project, that you do for prestige," he told reporters after launching the YTL-organised Climate Change Week 2008.

When pressed by reporters as to when he expects to get the greenlight for the project, he said: "I think the government is supportive of this project. We'll see."

The previous transport minister, Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy, had said in January that the government was conducting a social impact study on the project, said to be about RM8 billion, because it involves land acquisition.

"We are for it (the project)," he'd told Reuters in an interview then.

YTL's bullet train plan involves travel time between KL and Singapore being cut to just 90 minutes compared with existing trains which take about seven hours.

Yeoh said the bullet train project would not only save the government "tens of billion ringgit" on fuel subsidies over the long term, but would also cut down the country's carbon emission significantly.

"This is an environment-friendly project," he remarked.

By New Straits Times (by Adeline Paul Raj)

YTL invests in US$5m green fund

YTL Corp Bhd, a well-known advocate of environmental protection, said it will be the main investor of a US$5 million (RM15.75 million) "green investment fund" launched by local fund manager Kumpulan Sentiasa Cemerlang Sdn Bhd (KSC).

The Renewable Energy and Environment Fund (REEF), meant for global investors, will invest in a portfolio of clean technology companies around the world.

"We have no doubt that clean and green technology is set to be the largest economic opportunity we've seen so far this century," managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh told reporters yesterday at the launch of the Climate Change Week 2008.

YEOH: Clean and green technology is set to be the largest economic opportunity we've seen so far this century

KSC director Choong Khuat Hock said YTL would take up "quite a large portion" of the fund, the second of its kind to be issued and managed out of Malaysia.

The first such fund, launched last March, was meant for Malaysian investors and posted a 28 per cent return last year, helped by robust market conditions.

"We're targeting a return of 10 per cent to 15 per cent a year for REEF," said Choong.

YTL was also a seed investor in the first fund, known as the Asian Renewable Energy and Environment Fund. It has a value of about RM12 million to RM13 million today.

Yeoh said activities during this year's Climate Change Week, which will be held from April 29 to May 4, will focus on solutions instead of merely highlighting the problems of climate change.

Activities will include a business conference, a youth workshop and free public screenings of "The 11th Hour", an acclaimed climate change documentary narrated by US actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

More information on the week's activities can be found on

By New Straits Times

The Nomad Group to expand new core business

KUALA LUMPUR: The Nomad Group Bhd, previously known as Kuala Lumpur City Corp Bhd, plans to expand its new core business in serviced residences to Penang and Thailand as well as increase the number of its serviced office centres to eight by year-end.

It hopes to acquire a hotel with at least four stars in Penang by middle of the year, chief executive officer Hew Thin Chay said after the company AGM and unveiling of its new corporate identity and logo yesterday.

Hew Thin Chay

The acquisition was estimated to cost about RM70mil, he said, adding that the company was looking at a yield of 6% and above.

On expansion to Thailand, Hew said talks to operate serviced residences in Bangkok were at the early stage but a deal was expected to materialise by year-end.

“We are looking at the location, size and yield of the acquisitions,” he said, adding that the company had net cash and equivalents of RM170mil currently.

Currently, The Nomad Group owns The Nomad Residences SuCasa serviced residences and The Nomad Residences Bangsar, which provide a total of 238 rooms.

“We hope to push the yield of The Nomad Residences SuCasa to 8% from the present 5% and The Nomad Residences Bangsar to 6% from zero yield,” Hew said, adding that the latter was due for launch in July.

Last year, the company acquired SuCasa Sdn Bhd for RM53mil and Bangsar Suria condominiums from Malaysian Assurance Alliance Bhd for RM34.5mil.

On the expansion of serviced offices, Hew said the group would operate two new centres – at Tower 2 of Etiqa Twins and The Gardens at Mid Valley City in Kuala Lumpur – by July.

Currently, it manages two serviced office centres with a total built-up area of 19,259 sq ft comprising 183 workstations in Singapore’s Raffles Place and Menara Hap Seng in Kuala Lumpur. It recently opened a centre at Suntec City Tower 2.

“We are also in the process of closing deals in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok,” said Hew, noting that the company rented buildings in city centres to cater to the needs of mobile business travellers.

“We aim to operate eight serviced residences in eight locations by year-end,” said Hew, adding that the company had identified Manila and Jakarta as target locations.

The group registered a net profit of RM7.4mil on revenue of RM20.3mil for the year ended Dec 31, 2007.

By The Star

RM4.3 billion second link

Finance Ministry, UEM Builders and China Harbour Engineering finalise cost for Penang bridge project, says source

ICONIC BRIDGE: The 24km link is expected to be opened by 2011

The Government has finalised costings for the second Penang bridge, setting the figure at RM4.3 billion.

Business Times learnt that the matter was finalised at a meeting held yesterday between the Finance Ministry, UEM Builders Bhd and China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd (CHEC).

"The RM4.3 billion price was given by the government and both parties will now have to adhere to it although each had presented higher costings," a source said.

It is learnt that Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Tan Sri Zaini Omar, who heads a task force for the implementation of the second bridge project.

The 24km second Penang bridge (of which 17km will be on water) will link Penang island and Seberang Prai.

UEM Construction Sdn Bhd - a subsidiary of UEM Builders Bhd - has named port builder and bridge construction firm CHEC as its main contractor for the bridge which will link Batu Maung on the island with Batu Kawan in Seberang Prai.

The source said in setting the final cost for the second crossing project, the government has taken into consideration the rising cost of materials such as steel.

"Both parties must come to an understanding on how they are going to work things out before they sign an agreement on the price," the source added.

It is learnt that the deal will be inked by the end of this month.

The iconic bridge, which will comprise 294 piers and 9,364 sections, will be the longest in South-East Asia and expected to be opened to the public by 2011.

By New Straits Times (by Marina Emmanuel)

RM239million for Penang Cyber City 1 upgrade

PENANG: Government agencies are spending some RM239.6mil to upgrade the infrastructure at Penang Cyber City 1 (PCC 1).

PCC 1 comprises the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, Bayan Mutiara and the commercial centre of Bayan Baru.

State government investment arm investPenang chief executive officer Datuk Md Aris Ariffin said Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB), Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM), Penang Island Municipal Council Penang Water Supply Corp Bhd (PWSC), and the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) were among the agencies implementing the upgrading exercise.

“TNB had allocated RM143mil (from 2007 to 2010) to upgrade electricity supply projects while TM will spend RM45mil (from 2006 to 2010) to increase the broadband capabilities of PCC 1,” he told a briefing on “MSC Malaysia: Giving you the edge through ICT” Thursday.

PWSC would spend about RM9.6mil to upgrade the water supply system, including the supervisory control and data acquisition system, this year, Md Aris said.

By The Star (by David Tan)

Khazanah seeks more investors for Iskandar

JOHOR BARU: Khazanah Nasional Bhd wants to attract more investors from China, India, Indonesia and Singapore to Iskandar Malaysia.

Managing director Datuk Azman Mokhtar said currently, Middle Eastern investors made up the majority of investments in Iskandar, formerly known as the Iskandar Development Region (IDR).

“Everybody is welcome to invest here regardless of where they come from and we’ll always treat investors with the utmost respect,” Azman told StarBiz after attending the fourth Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) meeting chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday.

Abdullah and Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman are co-chairmen of IRDA.

Datuk Azman Mokhtar

Azman said Middle Eastern investors were attracted to Iskandar for its conducive investment environment.

“We never limit ourselves to investors from certain countries or regions and it so happens that Arab investors are coming here,” he added.

Earlier, at a press conference Abdullah said Iskandar had to date secured total investments valued at RM33bil, representing 70% of the RM47bil target by 2010.

Meanwhile, Ghani told StarBiz that the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for the Iskandar development would meet next month.

Asked if Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator Datuk Amirsham Abdul Aziz would take over from former minister Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi, Ghani said Abdullah would make an announcement soon.

The meeting will be the first after the 12th general election.

Ghani also said the state government would no longer use the terms low and medium cost houses in Iskandar region to better reflect the improvement in public housing.

He said 40% of the property development projects by the private developers in the region would be allocated for public housing scheme.

The allocation of RM200mil under the Ninth Malaysia Plan is for the construction of 2,000 houses in the first phase with a minimum built-up of 850-900 sq ft per unit from the present 650 sq ft.

By The Star (by Zazali Musa)