indepth

Proving that preserving nature can be profitable

Editor’s Choice Awards: Malaysia’s Outstanding Sustainable Resort 2020: The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is a sanctuary where your senses will be soothed by the harmonious coexistence of man and nature.

Nestled in a 22.7-acre valley just 15 minutes from Ipoh, Perak, the boutique spa resort created by Sunway Group offers 45 villas set amidst 260 million-year-old towering Paleozoic limestone hills in a tropical rainforest offering natural geothermal hot springs, ancient caves, cascading waterfalls and translucently clear waterways.

Even on the hottest time of the day, we had a pleasant walk around the resort –birds were chirping while two geckos were basking in the sun on the pathway, unfazed by the presence of humans. Even the fishes in the lily pond leisurely swam up to the surface to greet us as we passed by. This world-class sustainable development truly celebrates the splendour of nature.

It is no surprise then that this eco paradise has clinched the Editor’s Choice Award: Malaysia’s Outstanding Sustainable Resort 2020 at EdgeProp Malaysia’s Best Managed and Sustainable Property Awards 2020.

The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is part of the integrated Sunway City Ipoh development. Notably, it is conceptualised and created by Sunway Group founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah AO himself.

“Sustainability is emphasised in our vision statement, which is to be Asia’s model corporation in sustainable development, innovating to enrich lives for a better tomorrow. At Sunway City Ipoh and at Banjaran Hotsprings, we have preserved the natural environment and built around it instead of clearing the forest and bulldozing the hills,” he tells EdgeProp.my.

“The development has helped Ipoh in particular, and Malaysia in general, to attract worldwide attention and international accolades. This latest award by EdgeProp.my is a very welcome addition to the growing list and is another powerful endorsement of our policy and practice of doing well by doing good,” says Jeffrey.

He adds the perception that sustainability entails higher costs is misguided. “Our own experience here at Sunway demonstrates that sustainability and profitability can go hand in hand.”

During the planning and construction phase, various elements of sustainability were taken into consideration to ensure that the development was built on the principle of environmental protection, hence the ancient rainforest, limestone hills and caves were preserved.

According to Sunway City Ipoh executive director Wong Wan Wooi, construction was done without destroying the natural hotsprings underground while more than 90 % of the construction materials were locally-sourced and the interior design of the villas used mainly recycled materials.

Wong, who helped curate and build this amazing retreat, reveals that before the commencement of construction, Sunway had engaged and collaborated with a geologist to identify the sources and the routes of the hotsprings underneath the surface.

“We have carried out temperature mapping of the site to make sure our construction activities, particularly our foundation works, would not destroy the hotsprings,” recounts Wong.

“We harnessed the gifts from nature and built around them, keeping our utmost respect for nature,” he adds.

Sunway Bhd property division managing director Sarena Cheah notes that the retreat is proof there is no need for a trade-off between profitability and environment protection.

“Unlike before, there are now many studies that show the financial advantages of building green. Compared to when we started, there are now a lot of rating tools and performance measurements that can guide us all to be more environment-friendly while building.

“Green building materials and furnishings are now more widely available and their prices have dropped considerably, unlike in the past when they were only available at a premium,” Sarena says.

Today, The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat has remained true to sustainable practices and has become a self-sustaining resort with revenues on an uptrend in the last five years, Wong reveals.

He says that 90% of the management and staff are locals and all the items used in the retreat are derived from local sources. On top of that, the team has been putting in measures to reduce the retreat’s plastic footprint to a near-zero level. These and many other green practices are included in the resort’s Sustainability Management Plan.

Wong believes that behind the success and sustainability of The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is the inspiring leadership of the Sunway Group management.

Although the resort is now under the group’s hospitality division to operate and manage, Jeffrey and Wong often visit the resort, keeping an eye on its condition and maintenance.

“Both of us know this place very, very well and we are very meticulous. Even something as minor as a faulty light would catch Tan Sri (Jeffrey)’s attention and he would request someone to fix it as soon as possible  — that is how we ensure this place is maintained in tip-top condition,” he shares.

The team always looks for ways to keep improving and learn from mistakes. Wong cites an example of an expensive lesson learnt  — the selection of thatched roofs at the resort that were made from processed oil palm leaves.

“The material became brittle quite quickly under our hot and humid weather, resulting in the proliferation of algae growth, breeding of insects, roof leaks and bad smell,” he recalls.

In less than two years of opening the resort in 2011, the team ended up with no choice but to carry out an entire replacement of the roof to bituminous shingles that cost millions of ringgit, but the new roofing has lasted ever since.

“We do make mistakes but we are quick to identify them and take corrective action,” Wong emphasises.

Positive reviews from near and far

The success of The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is evident from the positive reviews by its guests, achieving a full five-star rating on Tripadvisor based on 1,173 reviews as at March 19, 2020.

The average occupancy in 2019 for the 45 villas was 70%.There are three types of villas, namely Garden Villa, Water Villa and Lake Villa, with built-ups of 2,808, 1,667 and 873 sq ft, respectively.

Sarena adds that the retreat is a masterpiece that has captured the attention of people from around the world  — including academics, media, economists, scientists, celebrities, various thought-leaders, ministers and government officials.

“We hope that it will continue to inspire others to develop sustainably,” she says.

Meanwhile, the developer is planning another phase in Banjaran with at least another 50 villas to be built on a 30-acre contiguous land.

This will be guided by Sunway’s core values — Integrity, Humility and Excellence, says Jeffrey.

“The commitment to sustainability and the upholding of our core values are deeply ingrained not just in the group’s corporate culture, but also among all our external stakeholders. As such, the next generation of leaders is well-versed and committed to our vision and our mission. I am confident they will continue to pursue our goals in a manner that is aligned with our philosophy,” he asserts.

Get the full results of EdgeProp Malaysia’s Best Managed & Sustainable Property Awards 2020 here: https://www.edgeprop.my/awards2020

View the virtual awards ceremony here: https://buff.ly/2YFNcVg​

This story first appeared in the EdgeProp.my e-Pub on July 2, 2020. You can access back issues here.

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