Tourism Malaysia

Five-star at Kuta

The Italian restaurant Bene commands spectacular sunset views for diners lucky enough to book a table by the floor-to-ceilingglass walls.The Italian restaurant Bene commands spectacular sunset views for diners lucky enough to book a table by the floor-to-ceiling
glass walls.

A stylish new resort along the famed Kuta Beach marks the transformation of a much-loved landmark.

KUTA’S maddening traffic jams, which usually begin at the airport, often mark an unlikely start to a visitor’s holiday at the idyllic tropical paradise that is Bali.

But it’s to be expected, as Kuta is one of the earliest areas of Bali to draw tourists and is one of the original “3K’s of the backpackers� trail, along with Kathmandu and Bangkok’s Khao San Road.

My taxi swerves and jostles its way through narrow lanes packed with pedestrians and vehicles, before turning a corner into Jalan Pantai Kuta. Although it’s early morning, surfers are already riding the waves as Kuta is a renowned surfing paradise.

And, it’s directly across the beach that the brand new Sheraton Bali Kuta has opened as the first five-star resort in the area.

Sprawled across prime ocean-front land, the hotel is touted to mark the transformation of Kuta from a backpackers’ paradise into a more upmarket destination on par with the Sanur or Seminyak areas where well-heeled tourists congregate.

Guestrooms are devoid of typically Balinese features and decor. Instead, they are contemporary with a neutral palette and the
hotel brand’s plush signature bed.

Two traditional Balinese dancers welcome me at the entrance, making a pretty photo op against a sculpted bronze waterfall illuminated with silver lotuses. Elevators lead me to the lobby upstairs, where an unexpected view of the ocean directly across the hotel appears.

The expansive, naturally ventilated space is completely column-free, offering a panoramic view of Kuta Beach just beyond the swimming pool below. As contemporary as the Sheraton is, its architecture and interior design is inspired by Balinese culture.

Mounted on the ceiling is a beautifully decorated replica of a jukung boat, a customary fishing boat used in Bali, while decorative wall-sconces are made from laser-cut stainless steel with traditional Balinese geringsing pattern.

After a typically warm welcome by the Balinese staff, I head for my deluxe guest room, one of 203 spread around the resort’s low-lying blocks. In line with the contemporary style of this Sheraton property, my room is minimalist with Balinese design inspiration.

Decked out in a neutral palette, the room is spacious and uncluttered, and thoughtfully designed without any fussy décor. A small balcony accessible via a sliding glass door is positioned diagonally so that it overlooks green lawns with views of the beach just across the road.

The elegant design is accentuated by a lovely mother-of-pearl shell that reflects the ocean, which is seen in the coffee table and bathroom wall. A freestanding bathtub, rainforest showers and exquisite Statuario Italian marble over the vanity offer just the right amount of luxury. Each room features a plush signature Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed that makes for wonderful slumber.

Bathrooms arevery spaciouswith freestandingtubs,rainforestshowers andmarbled vanitybacked by amother-ofpearltiled wall.Bathrooms are
very spacious
with freestanding
showers and
marbled vanity
backed by a
tiled wall.

I head for a late breakfast at Feast, the hotel’s all-day dining outlet. Located on the ground level, it can be accessed from the street. Vivid magenta tones add a vibrant energy to the place, which I find to be very cheerful after a slumber.

Many guests gush over the extensive breakfast buffet here, and it’s easy to see why as it’s truly a feast. Open kitchens dish up freshly cooked eggs, noodles, pancakes and waffles. I love the free flow of freshly-squeezed-to-order fruit and vegetable juices and Balinese or Italian gourmet coffees.

Homemade yogurts, Western continental fare, Asian specialities and an assortment of just-baked breads and pastries make every breakfast special.

It isn’t often I dig into scoops of ice creams for breakfast paired with crispy Churros, but it’s impossible not to be tempted at a restaurant named Feast.

In the afternoon, I explore the adjoining Beachwalk, a brilliant new concept of an open-air mall that was designed by EnviroTec, a Jakarta-based architectural firm that also worked on the Sheraton, as both properties belong to the same company.

Soft veils of green vines hang from each circular level that was inspired by Bali’s picturesque padi fields. The restaurants are contained in little pods encircled by water and plants, while the over 200 retail outlets offer a mix of local and imported brands.

While the Sheraton Bali Kuta will no doubt attract many business travellers due to its facilities and ample meeting rooms, it is also a very family-friendly hotel. Its family programme ensures that little guests are welcomed with their own drinking bottles which allow them a free-flow of soft drinks, juices or milk.

They also enjoy a Kids Eat Free package, while just next door at Beachwalk is the Miniapolis water park and Cheeky Monkey Playground.

Evenings are best reserved for the hotel, as this is where we enjoy some truly spectacular sunset views over Kuta Beach from the building’s elevated position. I spend the first evening catching it from the wind-swept open rooftop deck of Bene, which is the hotel’s casual Italian trattoria which offers mesmerising views of the beautiful Balinese Straits.

This is a much-in-demand space for hosting private functions or sunset cocktails, ideal for the hotel’s business travel segment.

A table at Bene’s is just as magical, as the floor-to-ceiling glass walls are specifically designed for the views over wine and some tasty wood-fired pizzas or some more elegant fare. But for me, a quiet spot off the pool deck is the best place to enjoy the blazing palette of dusk.

Sunsets tend to stir a certain sort of melancholy in me. It makes me reflect how the day has gone by and the possibilities that come with tomorrow. The Sheraton Bali Kuta indeed offers a welcome respite from Kuta’s crazily crowded haunts of rowdy bars and nightclubs.

Time will soon tell if it marks the start of a renewal for Kuta.

All Malaysia Info

Legoland Malaysia ready to receive visitors

Legoland Malaysia will open its doors to the public soon, way ahead of schedule.

Many of us can remember spending hours of our childhood building structures from colourful Lego pieces. With a pinch of creativity, simple Lego bricks were cleverly stacked to construct vehicles, buildings and even cities, leaving many with fond memories of the construction toys.

Nonetheless, the initial announcement in 2008 about the arrival of the Legoland theme park to our shores elicited less than enthusiastic responses from some quarters.


Beautiful creation: The gates of Legoland Malaysia will officially open Sept 15.

In fact, the Malaysian Tourist Guide Council initially expressed disappointment as the Legoland park was an unfamiliar brand in the region and industry players were expecting theme park icons like Disneyland to be set up in Iskandar instead.

But, after more than two years of changing the minds of sceptics and efforts to attract the public, Legoland Malaysia is ready to welcome enthusiasts and cynics alike to take a joy ride come Sept 15, 2012.

“We are opening earlier than expected so that is a good thing,” Legoland Malaysia general manager Siegfried Boerst said.

The theme park was originally slated to open in 2013.

Legoland Malaysia is the first Legoland in Asia and the sixth in the world. The 76 acre theme park features seven themed areas with more than 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions.

Legoland started promoting its pre-opening annual passes late last year and Boerst noted that there was huge interest in the theme park from the public as well as trade partners. Much to the delight of Boerst, more than 45,000 annual passes have been snapped up.


Magnificent: A miniature of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building featured in Legoland Malaysia.

“I believe interest will grow with word of mouth particularly when we open and people start coming to experience what Legoland has to offer,” Boerst said.

The theme park is targeting over a million visitors annually in its first few years and Boerst expects visitor numbers to hit 1.8 million by 2020. On average, annual pass holders are expected to visit Legoland four to five times a year.

The bulk of the park’s traffic will mainly be local and Singaporean visitors, but plans are afoot to draw more international tourists.

The growth in visitor numbers, Boerst said, will be supported by the growing tourism industry here.

“We hope to tap into the 40 million tourists a year expected to come into Malaysia. We want to be a part of the attractions for new visitors as well,” he said.

Legoland Malaysia a part of the tourism landscape

According to Tourism Malaysia, there were 24.7 million recorded tourist arrivals last year, with tourism receipts totalling RM58.3bil. The Malaysia Tourism Plan 2020 is targeting 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168bil in tourism receipts by 2020.

Legoland parks typically house miniature Lego structures built around themes such as Star Wars as well as mini villages with landmarks in the area. Other Legoland parks are located in Denmark, Germany, the UK and the US.


Hop on: A train that runs through the park.

The heart of Legoland Malaysia is Miniland, which features various Asian landmarks recreated using more than 25 million Lego bricks.

Apart from Legoland’s own features, Boerst believes that up and coming attractions nearby will drive visitors to the Iskandar region and by extension, to Legoland.

“Legoland fits well with the tourism pillar of Iskandar. There is a good concept for Iskandar and we are working with other attractions in the vicinity to offer attractive packages,” Boerst said.

The Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park in Nusajaya is scheduled for a November opening with attractions such as Lat’s Place and a Sanrio Hello Kitty Theme Park among other things. Iskandar Malaysia is looking to add more theme parks for the region to boost tourism activity there.

Some have been quick to point out that Legoland is no match for Singapore’s integrated resorts, which have stronger products to offer. The attractions at the resorts include Universal Studios Singapore, a casino and the Marine Life Park which cater to a wide range of visitors compared to Legoland’s target audience of young children.


Legoland Malaysia model builders Muhammad Khairul Zainon Noor (left) and Stefan Bentivoglio putting on the final piece of the miniature Petronas Twin Towers.

But Boerst believes that Singapore’s resorts are not direct competitors.

“It is always good to have healthy competition, but I believe we can profit from each other. Legoland’s presence here adds to the whole tourism attraction in this part of South-East Asia and tourists on longer stays can visit parks in both countries,” he said.

Additionally, a water park and Legoland Hotel are slated to be opened in 2013 and 2014 respectively, which would mean more integrated offerings for Legoland. This will draw longer-staying visitors and add to Legoland’s revenue.

Legoland expects to generate more than RM100mil in revenue in its first year of operations. This will come from all the attractions in the park, restaurants as well as retail outlets.

“We should see operational profit in the first year itself, but to recover the full investment will depend on the long-term development of the park which usually takes about 15 to 20 years,” Boerst said.

The combined cost of the theme park and planned water park is RM720mil, which is fully funded by the Malaysian government, while the construction of the hotel will cost RM190mil.

Boerst said, although Legoland essentially only manages the park in Malaysia, UK-based Merlin Entertainments Group, the owner and operator of the other Legoland parks, will look into acquiring at least a 20% stake in Legoland Malaysia moving forward.

This will increase Merlin’s reach in Asia, which is expected to be the new playground for theme park operators as the North American and European markets mature and visitor numbers plateau.

A report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers forecast Asian theme park attendance to grow to 290 million in 2012 from 249 million in 2007, while spending in that period is expected to rise from US$6.4bil (RM19.93bil) to US$8.4bil.

Market research company Global Industry Analysts Inc estimates that the global theme parks market could reach US$29.5bil by the year 2015 and US$31.8bil by 2017, offering plenty of room for growth in Asia.

Boerst said Legoland may venture into other Asian markets and is already in negotiations for a theme park in South Korea.


Sneak peak: A view of Miniland

“In Asia, the market is huge and it is relatively untapped. In the past, local players tend to lack the financial strength and expertise to set up really good theme parks. But the market is ready for that now,” he said.

He noted that the entertainment industry in East Asia particularly is not saturated and as infrastructure improves and disposable income increases, the region is turning out to be an important market.

He added that Legoland parks did not see much of a slowdown during the economic downturn despite views that consumers would cut down on leisure pursuits.

“We have seen a good 10% growth in visitors and sales annually for the whole of the Merlin Group. I am positive that if everyone focuses on what needs to be done here, we will see investments growing in Iskandar and that can only be beneficial for Legoland Malaysia.

“This is a new market for us so we are optimistic,” he said. – By Joy Lee, Photos by Abdul Rahman Embong
and Kevin Tan

For more, please visit the Legoland Malaysia official website

Map: Legoland Malaysia


Building frenzy


Legoland Malaysia on track

Legoland Malaysia

Legoland to showcase iconic buildings

Legoland Malaysia

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