Banking on the Kempinski factor

  • Property
  • Saturday, 24 Oct 2015

Working together: Kua with Bernab

NEW property player KSK Land Sdn Bhd is looking to take luxury living to the next level with maiden venture 8 Conlay – the upcoming branded residential, retail and hotel development that owes its name to its auspicious address in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle.

Luxury living is no longer equated with how much it costs. It is a “lifestyle” where meticulous attention to detail and understated elegance result in harmony and an aesthetic that is a cut above the rest.

But above good architecture and design is service of a certain standard. Hospitality, after all, is about people.

For this, KSK Land has roped in Europe’s oldest luxury hotelier Kempinski Hotels SA, which will operate and service all three components of 8 Conlay, marking the latter’s foray into the Malaysian market.

Kempinski, headquartered in Geneva and established in 1897 in historic Berlin, is known for its rich heritage of impeccable personal service and superb hospitality, complemented by the individuality of its properties.

Project 8 Conlay comprises two branded residential towers of 62 storeys (Tower A) and 57 storeys (Tower B) linked by two sky bridges. Both will be serviced by Kempinski.

Berlin hotel: The entrance to Hotel Adlon Kempinski. Behind is the historical Brandenburg Gate.
Berlin hotel: The entrance to Hotel Adlon Kempinski. Behind is the historical Brandenburg Gate.

There is another 68-storey tower comprising a five-star hotel, Kempinski Hotel, and a nine-storey retail podium.

Tower A, marketed as YOO8 Serviced By Kempinski, is set to be launched this November with prices ranging from a higher bracket of RM2,700 per sq ft.

The project, which sits on 3.952 acres bought for RM568mil two years ago, is slated to be completed by 2020. The entire development has a gross development value of RM4bil.

Kempinski, which manages a portfolio of 76 five-star hotels worldwide, is not new to this part of the region. It has hotels in China, Bangkok and Jakarta and several more are in various stages of development, including in Bali and Phuket.

Kuala Lumpur had always been on its axis but it was not able to find the right partner until KSK Land came into the picture.

How did Europe’s oldest luxury hotelier team up with Malaysia’s new kid on the property block?

Impressive: Artist’s impression of 8 Conlay.
Impressive: Artist’s impression of 8 Conlay.

Shedding insight into the alliance, KSK Land’s managing director Joanne Kua says that when the company first conceptualised 8 Conlay, it had a vision “to create a lifestyle as opposed to just selling a piece of apartment”.

“When you build a branded residence, you need to have very good architecture, design and lastly, impeccable service.

“Customer experience has to be seamless right from the moment you step into the place. So, we sought to look for a partner that truly understood service and was able to share our vision very early on. Therein started our relationship with Kempinski,” says Kua, who is also the chief executive of parent KSK Group or formerly known as Kurnia Asia Bhd.

She says that branded residences carry a certain value and when people buy into a brand, they expect a certain level of service and quality.

“At Kempinski, we realise that the level of service is the same everywhere you go, but still, all their hotels have their own identity,” Kua tells journalists during a recent joint-interview with Kempinski Hotels CEO Alejandro Bernabé.

Kua says the partnership with Kempinski was spurred by the fundamental desire to provide good customer relations. Throw in a little chemistry and the two parties were able to seal the deal in a record three months at the end of last year, she quips on a light-hearted note.

Grow with quality

The interview was held at Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin, in Germany, as part of a Kempinski brand familiarisation media tour.

The legendary Adlon, which sits near the famous Brandenburg Gate, is Germany’s leading hotel and the birthplace of Kempinski’s hospitality story.

It is often described as “the facebook of the 1890s and 1990s” being a famous meeting point place and hosted royalty, luminaires, politicians and celebrities throughout its colourful history. Most recently was Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh who checked in during their state visit to Germany in June.

Sharing the Kempinski perspective, Bernabé says that it was attracted to KSK Land’s vision to create something unique and its association with luxury and quality.

“Kempinski has a philosophy of looking at every project in individuality. Our approach is to grow with quality and we are extremely selective with the type of property and the partners with whom we want to grow.” Partners must comply with stringent criteria encompassing brand values, standards and delivery.

“I personally fell in love with 8 Conlay as the location is great – you are in the business district but still a little far away where there is still greenery. It’s close to the shopping centre, yet secluded to give you a little more privacy in the city. The development with the three towers is an opportunity to attract different people and provide different types of services and experiences,” says Bernabé, who was appointed to the helm last year and has been with the Kempinski group since 1998.

“But you can’t replicate the Adlon and put it into Kuala Lumpur. What we can do is bring the (Kempinski) standard of service of the hotel there.

“Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city and at the same time still deeply rooted in culture. So we ask: do we need German fine dining in 8 Conlay? Probably not, so we would like to incorporate Malay cuisine here.”

If the food and beverage (F&B) of a hotel is not good, then the hotel will not be integrated into the community, which is crucial for success, he explains.

Kempinski adds its touch of class in customer relations by empowering its employees to do so, inspired by the belief of “placing people at the heart of everything we do” as espoused by founder Berthold Kempinski.

Its premium is driven by innovations like the Lady in Red – now its brand ambassador. They are staff recognised by their red dresses who complement the role of the traditional concierge in making their guests’ stay comfortable and memorable.

You will find the ladies in red in every Kempinski Hotel around the world, with dresses reflecting the identity of the city, but always in Valentino red.

Bernabé says the luxury lifestyle is being redefined all over the world, with close attention being paid to F&B and guest experience and the group intends to be at the forefront of these changes.

Each hotel has an innovation committee, which is expected to constantly reinvent itself.

On whether the company is taking on an ambitious venture, Kua says the 2½-year journey has been a steep learning curve.

“Building a brand is not whether you undertake a small project or a big one. It’s whether you carry out the project with quality, have the right concept and story,” she says, adding that this is why the company is selective on its second project.

Kua believes with Kempinski in the fold for hotel cum services, it would differentiate the project from other branded developments in the city centre and establish the budding company as a serious developer.

Besides Kempinski, it has also assembled an international A-list of architectural, interior and landscape design talents to realise the 8 Conlay dream which she envisions as “the heartbeat of the Golden Triangle with positive vibes where there is something for everybody.”

Marketing-wise, it is aiming for the global market, targeting half foreigners and half locals. “We are confident in China, where Kempinski is a strong brand with 17 hotels. Elsewhere, we are looking around Asia and the Middle East.”

As to the weakening ringgit and soft property outlook, Kua says it has not been impacted, as branded development is a niche market where buyers are affluent and look at the investment as long-term play. From the construction point, tender for the main contractor will only be done next year and it is looking to reduce the fluctuating currency risk.

The development is financed part equity and loan. Listing is also not a route it is considering for now.

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