THE Kuala Lumpur Mayor’s Tourism Awards (KLMTA) 2014 recently honoured octogenarian and veteran hotelier as well as developer Tan Sri Low Yow Chuan, 81 with the Mayor’s Commendable Award for Outstanding Contribution.
The KLMTA, initiated in 2011, is held every three years to recognise the “best of the best” of service providers in 15 different categories with the aim of raising standards in the tourism industry. In the citation by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), Low was acknowledged as a driving force behind the city’s tourism industry since the early 1960s.
Visibly lost for words, his pride shone through when Low told reporters “I feel very honoured. I have worked hard since Merdeka to promote tourism in the country.”
The Low Yat Group chairman received the award from the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah at a ceremony attended by industry luminaries.
Low oversaw the Low Yat Group’s development of iconic properties such as the Federal Hotel — Malaysia’s first international-class hotel; the Langkawi Country Club which opened in 1973 and becoming the first hotel in Langkawi when there was little infrastructure to speak of on the island; the pioneering integrated development that is City Square Centre, which won the FIABCI Commercial Development Award in 1994; and Plaza Low Yat which earned the accolade “Malaysia’s Largest IT Mall” from the Malaysia Book of Records in 2009.
“I like being a pioneer and this would mean going against conventional wisdom at times,” he has been known to say.
Low’s training started at the early age of 13, by following his father to meetings, listening and absorbing knowledge that no textbook could teach.
Later, he enrolled in a matriculation course in Australia with the intention of pursuing architecture but that was to be short-lived when he had to return home to help in his father’s business.
Following in the visionary footsteps of his father, whom he credits with predicting Jalan Bukit Bintang’s place as one of Kuala Lumpur’s tourist magnets, the Low Yat Group continues to own many key properties in the area including Hotel Capitol, Low Yat Plaza and the Bintang Fairlane Residences. It is fair to say that the Group continues to shape Kuala Lumpur’s future as a tourist draw.
Low has advised the younger generation to learn more about the hotel industry, saying that Malaysia has a lot of potential to draw even more tourists, reflecting his aspiration to see Malaysia grow via tourism, hospitality and property development.
In the 1970s, he was responsible for establishing a brace of international-class hotels not just in Kuala Lumpur but also in other parts of the country, namely The Federal Beach Hotel in Port Dickson, The Federal Hotel in Ipoh, The Federal Hotel in Penang and The Plaza Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, helping to build early momentum in the Malaysian tourism sector and indirectly in the nation- building process.
In 1985 he launched the hotel management company, Federal Hotels International to manage three other hotels, namely Prince Hotel in Jalan Imbi, the Ferringhi Beach Hotel in Penang and the Federal Hotel in Singapore.
“I have never regretted being involved in this industry for the past 50 years,” the indefatigable Low said.
He believes the true secret to success lies in strong moral values and a good religious upbringing.
Low has abided by his father’s words: “Your word should be as good as a written agreement, especially in business” and this practice has firmly established his reputation as a respected figure.
His roll-call of achievements include being founding member of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Malaysia and its president in 1969, executive member of the Asean Tourism and Hotel Trade Committee, member of the Joint Labour Advisory Council, the National Advisory Council on Industrial Training and the Tourism Development Corporation, deputy chairman of the finance sub-committee of the Olympic Council of Malaysia as well as a committee member of the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation.
“Now that my children are grown up, I hope they will continue what I have done and contribute to the tourism industry,” he added.
His three sons — Gee Tat, 51, Gee Teong, 50, and Gee Soon, 45, — and daughter Su Ming, 48, run the diversified conglomerate that is the Low Yat Group today.
The Group’s diversification plans include development projects in China, Australia and Japan as well as establishing a core business in the palm oil industry.
A notable project is the 38-storey Tribeca, which is sure to become yet another landmark in the Bukit Bintang area. The Tribeca development leads the Group’s expansion into luxury urban lifestyle projects.
More significantly, it will also see the Group continue to play a leading role in shaping and catalysing growth and transformation of inner-city urban areas much in the same way their grandfather, Tan Sri Low Yat, did in the 1960s.