By James Gough
Hotels in Ipoh before 2009, were very few. In our September 16, 2011, report under the topic ‘Ipoh City Council’s Plans for VPY 2012’, we reported that Ipoh had six 3 and 4-star hotels and 71 3-star-and-under hotels available with another two big hotels, MH Hotel and Kinta Riverfront and Suites, coming on stream at the end of that year. Fast forward to 2013 and a quick snapshot around town revealed a hotel in many corners all around town. Come 2015 and there will be a total of 98 hotels just for Ipoh.
Will Tourism Growth Sustain the Growth in Hotels?
With the proliferation of hotels all over Ipoh, the question that comes to mind is that of sustainability. Will occupancies keep up with the increased supply of rooms?
MBI’s Hotel Report
At Ipoh City Council’s monthly board meeting in March, Mayor Roshidi produced a report on the number of hotels (star rated and budget hotels) that had been approved by the Council’s One Stop Centre over the last two years. The data did not include the existing hotels opened earlier.
The data revealed 46 approved and operating hotels, one 5-star, one 4-star, eighteen 1-3 star and 26 budgets; with those planned and under construction totalling 39. (One 5-star, three 3-4 star and 35 budgets). These include the Weil Hotel (300 rooms), Casuarina Meru Raya (150 rooms) and Cititel. Of those approved but not yet rated – 13. This includes the Ipoh Convention Centre (250 rooms) bringing the total of all these new establishments in the last two years, and those coming online in the next two years, to a total of 98 hotels just for Ipoh.
In terms of occupancies, it is surprising that despite the entry of new hotel players over the last two years, there has not been a dilution in occupancies and all operating hotels have reported to be doing well.
So what has contributed to this positive state of affairs?
VPY 2012 Promotions Contribute to Longer Stays
The promotions for Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2012 may have started late (in the middle of 2011) but it nevertheless got the message through that Perak was a tourist destination that had yet to be fully discovered.
According to Vincent Ee, the President of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), Perak Chapter, Perak’s three main active tourist destinations are: Taiping, (known for its heritage), Manjung, (and to a greater extent) the attraction of Pangkor Island, and Ipoh known for its delicious food and heritage. All three have shown an increase in visitors.
Although promotions have been going on for years, attractions such as Gua Tempurung and Kellie’s Castle have reflected improved visitor figures for the last two years. Ee attributed this to the good VPY 2012 promotion work that was carried out.
Ee stated that the promotion had contributed positively to better room night figures which translated to an approximate 12 to 15 per cent improvement of extra nights stayed at MAH member hotels.
Considering that there were more hotels opened in the last 18 months, the improved room occupancy reflected a positive and healthy tourism market.
According to Tourism Malaysia Perak’s hotel guests data, the number of visitors to Perak for 2012 amounted to 2.42 million.
Management and marketing
Ms Maggie Ong, the Director of Syuen Hotel, who is also the Deputy President of MAH reconfirmed that even though the room supply has gone up, its MAH member hotels were still healthy and recorded an average 60-65 per cent occupancy rate last year.
Undoubtedly, budget hotels do take away some room nights from the star-rated ones but different customers have different budgets and each hotel will attract their level of customers accordingly.
One strategy that the bigger hotels use to attract visitors is to organise seminars and conventions and introduce stay packages with local tours thrown in. This has opened up new markets and is bringing in new visitors to Ipoh. For example, during the recent school holidays, Impiana Hotel threw in a free entry to Lost World of Tambun as part of its holiday package.
A positive development adopted by several of the older hotels was the initiating of a network of information sharing and cooperation amongst MAH members to standardise prices and tourism activities and to recommend customers when there is a spillover from large events.
This network initiative ultimately benefits the customer in terms of seamless service while at the same time contributing towards a harmonious hotel industry environment. Currently, this team of network members are working on the “International Waiters Race” event, and meet punctually every month.
Tourism Products: Food, Heritage and Ipoh Town Itself
A main attraction for Ipoh has always been about its food, be it chicken and bean sprouts or a whole menu of local delicacies. Then, later came about the Heritage Trails of Old Town. While these two attractions continue to draw the visitor to Ipoh, Ipoh town itself is a popular draw for the adventurous visitor where all the attractions in Ipoh are within walking distance.
Occasionally, it is common to see visitors arriving by train, foregoing the taxi and preferring to walk 2 to 3km to their hotels instead, and in the process take in the sights of the Heritage Trail before arriving at their destination.
Similarly, due to the proximity of the hotels to the popular food outlets, most visitors prefer to walk compared to driving and having to look for a parking lot. Due to this fact, Syuen Director Ong has designed a poster-size map to be placed in the hotel identifying the popular food spots and attractions around town.
Future Challenges: Attract More Foreigners
Ipoh’s hotel industry may be healthy for now but with more hotels coming on stream over the next 12 months will it remain status quo?
According to Ong, the tourism market can still grow and gave the visitor composition which consists of 60 per cent domestic and 40 per cent foreigners as an indicator that the foreign visitor base has volumes of potential for growth.
“Foreigners visit for the Heritage Trail. However, they lament that there is insufficient product knowledge of the heritage products which leaves them dissatisfied,” added Ong.
Another lament the visitor has is the difficulty of access to tourism products, such as, the Lost World of Tambun, Gua Tempurung or even Kellie’s Castle. Sadly this issue was reported by Ipoh Echo two years ago but apparently it has not yet been addressed.
Another challenge that bears consideration is that of direct air links. With the upgrade of Sultan Azlan Shah Airport completed, the relevant authorities should initiate direct air links with ASEAN cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila. Should a direct link with Guangzhou, Southern China be possible, Ipoh will see a consistent flow of visitors even though it will be for food visits initially.
Cleanliness and safety is another issue raised by visitors and is one of the challenges that needs addressing.
Ipoh City Convention Centre
Work on the Ipoh City Convention Centre (pic below) is just starting at the former Bougainvillea Garden in between Syuen Hotel and MBI. When completed in two years time it will consist of a 250-room hotel and have a seating capacity for 2500 convention participants.
Assuming that its first convention in the future is fully attended, it will be a windfall spillover for all the hotels in the immediate surrounding vicinity.
Considering the convention scenario and assuming the measures to attract more foreign visitors are initiated, Ipoh’s hotel industry can, not only grow but in all probability, thrive.