High-Octane Asia of 2012
Category: Newspaper / Magazine Columns
Call them 'Integrated' or 'Destination' Resorts, but the final solution for leisure travel continues to reinvent itself. Remember back to a golden age when these master planned destinations started rolling out? One large scale proponent of it was in Mexico where the government master-planned large tourism estates under Fonatur (National Tourism Development Fund) resulting in the Cancun, Cozumel and Ixtapa resorts we know today.
In the United States the wonderful world of Disney sprung up with the Orlando mega-attraction of Disneyworld. Later in Asia came Nusa Dua in Bali and Thailand's Laguna Phuket.
These days the IRs - Integrated Resorts - in Singapore, include Resorts World and Marina Bay Sands, and have thrust the 'Hotel California' proposition forward: you can check out any time you like, but you never have to leave - at least as long as the credit card keeps above the thin red line.
It wasn't always a rosy picture; many of the large mega resorts in Hawaii developed by Chris Hemmeter eventually got to such a scale that the fallout of a recession and stress in the Japanese investment sector required many projects to restructure and downsize in order to survive.
Here in Asia, a lovely bit of coastline in Malaysia, just up from Singapore, called Desaru went under master planning in the 1980's.
Backed by a local partner and Japan's Kajima Corporation the development stopped when a financial downturn hit close to home.
Meanwhile the latest Asian 'Golden Age' of the past few years has seen a buyout of large land parcels by Malaysia's state finance arm Kazanah Nasional. Welcome to the new and improved Desaru.
Master-planned and ready to roll are multiple hotels including an Aman (a development comprising both a country club and villas), as well as names like Sheraton and Datai. And of course there are golf courses, designed by the likes of Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Next to these will emerge golf inspired residences.
Driving much of the demand will be two Orlando inspired world class theme parks - Ocean Quest Marine Park and Ocean Splash Water Park.
According to a recent piece in Malaysia's Business Times, the 1,618 hectare land parcel was bought over by Kazanah in 2010. Highlighting the new IR will be a 17 kilometer part called the Desaru Coast.
Plans for later stages include a convention center, retail and other commercial offerings expected to come into operation. Indeed the business of tourism's "one size fits all" is running like a bull.
Legoland will debut in Malaysia's border area in the not too distant future. Nearby Indonesia is also witnessing large projects, including the Trans Studio in Bandung, which has brought with it the biggest Ibis hotel in Asia, more than 600 rooms.
Near Bali, Middle Eastern giant Emaar signed on for a massive development in Lombok back before the global financial crises, but this was put on hold.
Many industry observers believe a part of this development will return to life, given a brand new international airport which opened on the island last year.
And Manila Bay in the Philippines is dotted with construction cranes with an assortment of gaming and themed hotel complexes rising over the horizon.
In this high octane Asia of 2012, bigger seems to be the trigger on the gun of mass tourism.
And then of course there are concerns about sustainable economic models and questions over the checkered history of IRs.
But at the end of the day after doing the math, Asia remains within a short flight to half the world's population.
As long as a middle class rises and there is disposable income for discretionary spending, projects such as these make financial dollars and sense.
In Greater Phuket, two destination developments have taken separate pathways. During the boom period in the mid-2000s, The Cove Krabi was touted to be Thailand's next great IR. Things went south and the project failed.
While in Thai Muang, Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li's mega project hit a road bump with a government rezoning of Southern Phang Nga's prime west coast, and to date remains a question mark. Can Desaru position itself in the same league as Bali and Phuket a second time around? We'll have to wait a few years for the answer to that one. In the meantime you can almost hear the thunder of construction next door, down south in Malaysia. During the boom period in the mid-2000s, The Cove Krabi was touted to be Thailand's next great IR.
Things went south and the project failed.
While in Thai Muang, Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li's mega project hit a road bump with a government rezoning of Southern Phang Nga's prime west coast, and to date remains a question mark.
Can Desaru position itself in the same league as Bali and Phuket a second time around? We'll have to wait a few years for the answer to that one.
In the meantime you can almost hear the thunder of construction next door, down south in Malaysia.