One&Only vs Aman in Malaysia’s fledgling luxury destination

Either Aman or One&Only would be what the destination needs to better position itself in the upmarket segment

The six-star property in Desaru Coast that One&Only Resorts recently announced it would manage was a contract signed between Aman and the developer, Desaru Development Holdings.

It is understood that details are still being finalised between Aman and Desaru Development Holdings from a legal standpoint. Aman’s spokesperson Anna Nash said the company was not able to comment at this point; likewise Desaru Development Holdings’ CEO, Roslina Arbak, declined to comment what the legal issues were. However, she said: “What we would like to update is that we are progressing well towards the opening of the One&Only Desaru Coast.”

A luxury brand like Aman or One&Only could help anchor the destination’s upmarket ambitions

“We have replaced the operator and we are delighted to work with One&Only, the new operator of the branded luxury resort in Desaru Coast. With One&Only brand added to our collection, we will continue to curate new and quality offerings to increase optionality and strengthen our destination’s overall offerings, reflecting our disciplined approach to the management of our portfolio towards building sustainable values,” said Roslina, when asked why the change in management.

Either One&Only or Aman would be the anchor Desaru Coast needs to bolster its aspiration to be ‘a premium integrated destination resort’. Located in Malaysia’s south-eastern region in the state of Johor, the whole development spans over 1,578ha along a 17km unspoilt beachfront. To-date, Desaru Coast has also secured a Hard Rock Hotel, a Westin and an Anantara which, along with a Desaru Coast Conference Centre, are expected to open from the fourth quarter.

What has opened in Desaru Coast since 2016 are a 27-hole and an 18-hole championship course designed by golf luminaries Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, a 23-acre waterfront retail village and, just last month, an adventure waterpark.

News that One&Only is going to be in Desaru – a name that conjures wholesome fun, good value and a down-to-earth vibe rather than glamour and impeccability – draws some gasps from luxury travel planners. One said it was “like Four Seasons coming to Legoland”, while others eschew the improbability for the hope it will make Desaru Coast a more interesting destination for high-end travellers.

From previous announcements about Aman managing the resort, there’s not going to be much change in the resort’s concept, which will offer 42 suites, two luxury suites and a four-bedroom villa, and 50 One&Only Private Homes available for purchase. No opening date has been announced by One&Only.

The residential sale component is certainly a pull factor for One&Only. In an interview during ILTM Asia Pacific in Singapore in May, Philippe Zuber, president & COO of One&Only, who is leading the brand to extend its beach resorts offering into three other offerings, namely, private homes, nature resorts and urban resorts, told TTG Asia that any new property One&Only operates would have private homes for sale as part of the project. The recent renovation of One&Only Le Saint Geran in Mauritius included the development of these residences; there are also private homes in upcoming properties One&Only Mandarina, Mexico, One&Only Kea Island, Greece, and One&Only Portonovi, Montenegro.

“We are starting to sell some of these units now, and will go to market in September or October. We believe in this model and will continuously look for sites where we can accommodate this development,” said Zuber.

Moreover, Singapore has become a key Asian market for One&Only, apart from Japan and, increasingly, China. Desaru Coast is just next-door to the Lion City, wth Desaru Development Holdings’ Roslina confirming that a ferry terminal linking Desaru Coast to Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, which is close to Singapore Changi International, is going on as planned.

While some may view a One&Only in Desaru as a fish out of the water, Zuber shows it is actually in keeping with the brand’s DNA. “We don’t want to be in mainstream destinations; we want to surprise our clients,” he said, when asked how One&Only picks ‘unique’ locations. “No one expected us to go to Rwanda (One&Only Nyungwe House, opening end of this year, and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, opening 1Q2019, its first new nature resorts offerings after Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in Australia). We are going where others are not. Of course, the site must be spectacular, the project must respect the environment and we want it to be longterm, so we want to have the guarantee as well that it’s something to last.”

One&Only Desaru Coast is the brand’s first expansion in Asia since One&Only Reethi Rah Maldives opened nearly 13 years ago. Zuber said he has a long wishlist in Asia and this includes Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand.

On Malaysia, he said: “We believe Malaysia lately has become a very interesting destination. It has a lot to offer and is not mainstream. Many people have not been to Malaysia and we know our clients want to discover it.”

Said David Song, founder & managing director of luxury travel company Beyond X Boundaries Singapore: “I’m not surprised One&Only has decided to penetrate Asia given the newfound wealth of the Far East with emerging markets like Thailand, Indonesia and India.”

Another luxury buyer, Justin Moxley, CEO of Luphoric Malaysia, said Desaru Coast could possibly be “a destination resort with nice golf or a nice place for people to escape from Singapore for the weekend”.

“I know some HWNIs that go up there for events but I haven’t heard of someone going there for a luxury holiday specifically. If a resort like One&Only sets up there and more of that stature develops there, with the right support, it could be an interesting destination. You can stay at the resort, then head into Singapore for shopping and dining and return the same day,” said Moxley.

Meanwhile, Roslina said it’s business-as-usual for Desaru Development Holdings when asked if there’s any impact from the new government, which is widely seen as doing, in a source’s words, “corporate cleansing, project cleansing, leadership cleansing in the name for the former government’s poor governance, corruption and over-spending” and has also been flip-flopping on various key infrastructure projects.

Desaru Development Holdings is a subsidiary of Desaru Development Corporation, a joint venture among the state government of Johor, prominent Malaysian architect/planner Esa Mohamed, and Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional.

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