LOOKING out from the balcony of a room in a nearly completed hotel facing a beach in Pangkor Island, Datuk David Chua smiles with relief as he gazes at the calm sea that reflects the shine of the morning sun into colourful rays of light.
He has finished the most challenging stage of the development in his Pangkor Resort World (PRW), a 10-year integrated hotel-residential-commercial project that began construction in 2012.
“The most difficult part in any property development is the first three to five years. I have gone through that stage.
“In a few months, guests in this hotel will be able to enjoy the serenity and sea breeze. Looking out from their room, they can see YTL’s world-famous Pangkor Laut, the rippling waters, pristine beaches and even Sumatra Island on clear days,” Chua says, just after climbing four flights of stairs to take a panoramic view of the area.
“With all my five on-going projects completed or nearing completion, I can embark on my next stage of planning to bring in investors from countries where they are sources of tourists to Pulau Pangkor,” he adds.
The three-star tourist hotel is one of the five current projects within PRW plan that covers some 53.5 acres (21.6ha) of land sandwiched between the largely untouched Pasir Bogak beach and Sungai Pinang forest reserve.
The PRW hotel has been sold to a hospitality player, who operates a hotel in Cameron Highlands. As Cameron guests have often enquired about beach stays, this hotelier decided to own a sea-fronting hotel to create business synergy.
Boasting modern facilities meant for holidays and corporate company retreats, this soon-to-be-launched hotel that overlooks the Straits of Malacca has become the talking point of Pangkor hoteliers. It will add 50 rooms to the total 2,000 hotel rooms in Pangkor.
“We are not building a five-star hotel as the current market for this segment is too small. It is also difficult to find talents who can provide five-star service. In fact, over here most tourists go for outdoor activities. What they want is a clean and comfortable accommodation.”
Another project, which has been completed and is about to be handed over to the Federal Government, comprises a cluster of chalets with a large function hall. The Government appointed Chua to be the developer after acquiring a 10-acre land from DC&A Developments Sdn Bhd, a company owned by Chua.
The RM25mil Rumah Peranginan Persekutuan project, meant for holding government-related events and as a holiday destination for senior civil servants, can accommodate up to 500 people.
One other project that has been completed and fully sold is Pangkor Lot 10 (PL10), a mixed development of 120 studios, 30 suites and 30 units of ground floor shops. Indeed, some business activities are up and running.
PL10 is the first phase of PRW’s development on Pangkor Island. Its overwhelming sales response has encouraged the company to expedite its Phase 2 (88RV) and Phase 3 (Villaku) residential developments that sit on freehold commercial tourism land.
88 Resort Villa (88RV), near completion, is a gated development covering six acres of land. The 88 double storey linked houses, priced at RM500,000 and above, are only minutes’ walk to Pasir Bogak beach and Sungai Pinang forest reserves that offer a breathtaking view of the Straits of Malacca.
Fronting 88RV, which has witnessed sales of over 60%, will be a recreational parkland with water-based features and F&B outlets, as well as supporting facilities to offer fun-filled activities and quality food. Chua has named this Ark in Pangkor and promised it will be the new tourism icon next year.
Villaku ResortStay (Villaku) are apartment blocks housing 190 two-room two-bath units that come with a balcony, lounge, dining area and kitchenette.
Priced from RM175,000 per unit, these units can be used for residence or business activity, as they sit on freehold commercial tourism land.
Chua has blocked the sale of 32 units for entrepreneurs who aim to operate a holiday resort or small business. More than 50% of the balance of the units has been sold.
“While 88RV caters for investors and locals who want to upgrade their homes, Villaku will provide an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to start a trade or business,” says Chua.
“In terms of quality and critical mass, we have no competitor on the island currently. We are set to bring a positive change to this island. We will demand standard and quality from our F&B operators and people working for us here,” declares Chua.
Unlike Labuan and Langkawi, Pangkor appears to have missed the radar of the Federal Government in the development and promotion of international tourism. But low development and commercialisation also means that this picture-postcard island is largely unspoiled.
Activities on the island are driven mainly by the private sector. Currently, the best three-star hotels there are old and in need of refurbishment. Tourists have to contend with moving around in old pink-colour vans whose engines threaten to break down any time.
DC&A may start its own regular shuttle service to ferry hotel guests and residents to and from the jetty in the town centre, which is a five-minute’s drive.
To go to Pangkor, visitors will have to take a ferry from Lumut and the newly-built Marina Bay.
Chua is confident his projects will bring a refreshing change to this little sleepy fishing island of 18 sq km.
“With these five projects, I have something solid to show people and this is why I am going to the press now. We will highlight to people that Pangkor has all the attributes for holiday making and this is an ideal investment in land-scarce Pangkor for value appreciation and attractive rental returns,” adds the veteran developer.
After monitoring developments in Pangkor for 25 years, Chua believes that PRW will become the focal point of tourism and commercial activities due to its location and activities to be generated.
So far, there has been no major publicity and marketing activities. But before the end of the year, there will be advertising and online promotions using social media, Chua says. One of these will include putting up a video of the projects on YouTube.
As the land for PRW was bought 25 years ago, the holding cost for the land is low. This partially explains why Chua can afford not to rush through his development.
“My family members and I bought the land in 1992. The Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 and other subsequent slowdowns caused us to stop or change our plan. But five years ago, we decided to go ahead,” recalls Chua.
Despite keeping a low profile, Chua’s projects had attracted investors and buyers.
Chua is satisfied with the sales performance given that in the past three years, the central bank has tightened loan applications, the economy has slowed and the ringgit has been hit by a host of negative news.
Pangkor Treaty 1874
To Chua, Pangkor Island is more than just a tourist place with sandy beaches, fishing activities, seafood and 85% of virgin tropical rain forests. The historical importance of Pangkor is seen as a strong selling point.
“Pangkor has a history that has not been highlighted. It is the genesis of history of Malaya in 1874, following the signing of the Treaty of Pangkor,” Chua says.
Unlike Malacca and Penang, not many people are aware that an important event of historical importance had taken place in Pangkor Island that triggered the start of British intervention in Malay politics.
The Pangkor Treaty was signed on Jan 20, 1874, between the British and the Sultan of Perak then on board HMS, anchored off Pangkor. It is significant in the history of Malay States as it legitimised British control of the Malay rulers and paved the way for British imperialism in Malaya.
Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) finally gained independence from the British in 1957.
Before the British arrived in the 19th century, the island was occupied by the Dutch. In 1670, the Dutch built a fort they called Dinding to prevent smuggling of tin, which was the coveted commodity mined in Perak state during that period. The remains of the fort could still be seen on this island.
Although this island is attracting more tourists, many are back-packers and visitors seeking short and cheap holidays. Last year, arrivals stood at 1.05 million.
“Our projects, once completed, will attract more high-end tourists. We are targeting tourists with higher spending power to stay two days or more here. We will get well-known food outlets to set up shop. People will not need to go to Ipoh for chicken rice and noodles once they come here,” he quips.
Tourist traffic is projected to take an exponential rise once construction of the West Coast Expressway (WCE) is completed in 2018, as this will cut travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Lumut to about 90 minutes from over three hours currently.
And if Perak takes steps to reduce its current 29 traffic lights from Ipoh to Lumut, Pangkor will be poised to lure more visitors from Ipoh.
“In our promotion and marketing, we must get people excited about Pangkor. Once the WCE is open for traffic, we see a 15% per annum growth in tourist arrivals for the next three years, and 10% after that.”
Positive impact on Pangkor
Chua is projecting that the tourism prospects for Pangkor to be bright and is planning the next stage of development for his PRW resort.
There will be another five plots of land to be developed on PRW area over the next five years. But the actual plan will emerge when partners are found.
“Pangkor has all the attributes to develop into an international tourist destination. If we depend on the local market, it will be very slow. Hence, we need to collaborate with foreigners.
“We are seeking to partner with foreign investors in countries where there will be new and strong sources of tourists,” says Chua.
There have been interests shown by potential investors from Asean, the Middle East and China.
But Chua appears to prefer China as its nationals love to stay at beach resorts due to the shortage of such opportunities in their country. The potential to draw mainland Chinese is huge, given that more than 80% of China’s 1.37 billion people have not gone overseas.
In addition, Chinese tourists normally choose Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as their first foreign destinations due mainly to cultural similarities.
Pangkor, inhabited mainly by 30,000 fishermen and people involved in tourism, is also known to be safe. Lying within the stretch of the Straits of Malacca, it is sheltered by Sumatra island.
“As Pangkor is short of quality accommodation, our projects will fill the gap. Future developments can be high-end hotels, service apartments that come with F&B outlets, spas and recreational facilities.”
According to Chua, once PRW’s current and future projects are completed, its total gross development value could rise to RM700mil-RM800mil, from the current RM150mil.
But to attract more upmarket tourists, Pangkor may have to upgrade its local transport system and expand its airport services beyond just chartered flights.
“We have come a long way. We have reached a stage where we can take PRW to higher development. When all phases are completed, our visitors will account for 10-15% of additional arrivals. We will create jobs and business activities. This will benefit everybody here.” Chua says.
The impressive rise and resume of David Chua