At Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu, more than 2,500 people attended a New Year’s Eve party that featured a live performance by Singapore band Reverie and a 12-minute fireworks display on the waterfront. This was the third consecutive year that the resort had held a New Year’s Eve party with fireworks to usher in the New Year, and the turnout was the highest so far. The event was not only attended by hotel guests but also local residents.

Singapore-listed GSH Corp, controlled by Singapore tycoon Sam Goi, purchased a majority stake in Sutera Harbour Resort in 2014 for RM700 million ($225.7 million). The resort sits on 384 acres (about 155ha) of reclaimed land fronting the South China Sea, 1.3 times bigger than Sentosa Cove, Singapore’s waterfront residential resort.

Sutera Harbour Resort contains two hotel properties: the 500-room Pacific Sutera and the 456-room Magellan Sutera. After acquiring Sutera Harbour Resort, GSH set aside RM50 million to upgrade the property, including the hotel rooms and presidential suites. The resort was developed by Singapore entrepreneur Edward Ong of OCK Group more than two decades ago and completed in 1998.


Within the 384-acre Sutera Harbour Resort that overlooks the South China Sea are two hotels, a 27-hole golf course and a marina


The resort also contains a 104-berth marina that can accommodate 13 mega-yachts and 91 smaller vessels. Within the grounds are a helipad and a marina clubhouse with an Olympic-sized pool, jacuzzi and sauna, a 100-seat theatre and a children’s club. There is also a 27-hole Graham Marsh-designed golf course and the Golf Academy Borneo, which is famous for nurturing young Malaysian talent. The resort operates the North Borneo Railway, which runs twice weekly from Kota Kinabalu to Papar. A yacht chartering service, the North Borneo Yacht Charter, is provided by a third-party operator from the marina of Sutera Harbour Resort.


Pickup in tourism

During the peak seasons, such as the year-end holidays, the two hotels at Sutera Harbour Resort operate at 95% to 100% occupancy. During the slow months, the occupancy rate is around 55%. The average occupancy rate throughout the year for both hotels is 75%, says GSH’s CEO Gilbert Ee.

The number of visitor arrivals in Sabah in 2014 was 3.23 million, a 4.5% drop from the 3.38 million in 2013, according to figures from the Sabah Tourism Board. International investors represented just under 30% of all visitors at 996,552 in 2014, down from 1.09 million in 2013. Overall visitor arrivals dipped a further 1.7% y-o-y in 2015 to 3.18 million. The biggest number of overseas visitors to Sabah continue to be from China, Indonesia and South Korea.

However, the tourism sector in Sabah picked up pace in 2016 and this helped stabilise retail spending despite a drop in domestic consumer spending, says Knight Frank in its 1H2016 Malaysian real estate report. The increase in the number of foreign arrivals, and accommodation and retail spending is due to the recent launch of flights to Kota Kinabalu by Chinese carriers Spring Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines, as well as South Korea’s Jin Air. AirAsia also launched a new service from Wuhan to Kota Kinabalu in January 2016, and Malaysia Airlines obtained approval to operate new charter flights from China in October 2015. International flights to Kota Kinabalu increased 7% over the past year, according to the Centre for Aviation and OAG, a UK-based air travel intelligence company.