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The Sutera Harbour Resort experience: Turning reclaimed land into a tranquil getaway destination

DESIGNED to be a lifestyle haven, the tranquil
Sutera Harbour Resort is one marvellous getaway destination.

So much so, sometimes it is hard to imagine the resort is just a five-minute drive from the hustle bustle of Kota Kinabalu city. Harder to imagine that it was an afterthought.

"It came to fruition by coincidence, sheer determination, tremendous support from the government and financial institutions, a strong dose of confidence and some good old-fashioned dreaming," said its founder and chief executive officer Datuk Edward Ong.

Ong, then the director of the Singapore-based OCK group (a family concern) first went to Sabah to develop a series of property projects. The companyís first foothold was the initiation of the successful developments of the Sembulan projects in partnership with the Kota Kinabalu City Council, namely Grace Square, Grace Court and Grace Ville.

Then an opportunity arose for development on a reclaimed land in the middle of town

The opportunity was too good to miss because of the fantastic shoreline location of the proposed project but the cost to develop it, then estimated at RM1.4bil, was enormous.

"It was RM155mil to just reclaim the land," Ong said.

On Sept 18, 1993, Ong scored a hole-in-one in golf and the next day, a Bird of Paradise flew into his house in Singapore. He took the two rare incidents as confirmation to go ahead with the project.

"To Asians, having a bird flying into the house, especially when itís a rare bird, was something very meaningful. It gave me a lot of psychological confidence," he said.

The bird now residing in the Jurong Bird Park has since been immortalised in the form of a monument in the resort and the logo for the group.

Sutera Harbour Sdn Bhd had support of the bankers from day 1, but support from the public was much harder to get. When it started major reclamation work many objected on environmental grounds, not knowing it had already done extensive research, Ong said.

"The first four years was an uphill task for us. We were foreigners coming in to do something entirely different - building a golf course (and then a beach resort) in the middle of town instead of building a shopping centre or office site as most developers would do," he said.

Ong said at that time the city needed a green lung and it made more commercial sense to build a golf course than a park.

The Sutera Harbour Resort project was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad in July 1994 and later he officiated the opening of the resort in July 2000.

The company persevered and overcame the many objections and suspicions, and Ong said he believed that Sutera Harbour was now well accepted by the local community.

The integrated resort has two five-star hotels - Pacific Sutera Hotel and Magellan Sutera Hotel & Spa - with a combined capacity of 956 rooms and suites.

Among its host of facilities are 15 restaurants and bars, and a 27-hole Graham Marsh designed golf course - a scenic yet challenging course for both amateurs and professionals alike. It also has a 104-berth marina, two fitness centres, a bowling alley and 14 courts for three different racquet sports and a two-level spa centre, Mandara Spa.

It even has its own power plant. Ong said there used to be frequent power outages in Kota Kinabalu and as power failures were unacceptable for a five-star resort, the company decided to build its own power plant. The by-products of the plant, steam and water, are used for the resortís laundry and cooling systems, respectively.

In the next three years, Sutera Harbour would be busy completing its two luxury condominium projects - The Point at Sutera Harbour and The Vista at Sutera Harbour (besides completing the final phase of the Grace Ville development, Grace Garden condominium) - a venture Ong describes as "returning to our roots in the real estate sector."

"My biggest concern is that as the company grows bigger there is a tendency to set up lots of rules, policies and procedures. We may fall into the trap of strict adherence to the rules and procedures and thus stifle creativity," Ong said.

He said the challenge was to continually encourage creativity among the staff. He acknowledged that allowing creativity meant allowing room for mistakes, as long as the core values of integrity, honesty and transparency were upheld and due recognition given to the 'creators.'

"What we want is for our staff to keep the hotel guests not just satisfied, but delighted to be in Sutera Harbour," Ong said.

"The hotel is but a body, the staff its soul," he said.

Humble and unassuming in his ways, Ong is well respected and loved by his staff.

"When you have a boss like Datuk sometimes you just donít mind working a bit harder," one of them said.

Ong is pretty much an introvert, preferring the company of a good book, especially of intriguing nature, and hardly socialises. Whenever he has something to think about or just feels like it, Ong would drive up to Mount Kinabalu.

"Itís a beautiful drive, especially during a full moon, and itís only one hour 45 minutes drive. Iíll drive up, listen to music on the way, have a cup of coffee and drive back," he said.

Ong calls himself a yachtsman, having sailed much in his younger days. With the heavy workload he has not been able to get away for the past few months and yearns to sail again back to his hometown in Singapore.

"Iíve been going back to Singapore less and less now. I love Sabah very much," said Ong, now a Malaysian permanent resident.

Click here for more info on the resort and reservation.

Source: The Star

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