Interview: Tengku Faisal – Senior General Manager – Sand & Sandals Resort – Desaru Coast
Built in the late 1980s as the Desaru Perdana, and with several owner changes over the years, the Sand and Sandals Resort on Malaysia’s Desaru Coast has recently seen a number of renovations in order to bring it “up to date”. We asked Tengku Faisal, Senior General Manager, to tell us more.
Indeed, after several changes of ownership, the new owners took possession of the resort in 2016. In the last two years, US$15m has been spent on refurbishment of rooms and public areas. The aim is to make this place an “exotic escape” for travellers. All the rooms with terraces have a bath tub on the terrace. The lead-in room is the “superior” room, followed by the “deluxe” room, all of which have the bath on the terrace. We also have family rooms, which are duplexes. When you open the door, there are “pirate” twin beds for the children, and the parents’ room upstairs. We also have “couples” suites. These are also duplexes. The lower level is a living area, complete with a casino table for two, where people can play strip poker! We also have six unique rooms with private saltwater pools. The pools are private, covered with louvres so no-one from higher floors can see what the people are doing in the pool.
What about F&B
We have a total of seven food and beverage locations, including a sunken bar. We have a beach-hut where we serve snacks and burgers. In the main building, we have all day dining, as well as three specialty restaurants – Japanese, Chinese and Thai. On the other side, we have a café where we serve pastries, cakes and coffee.
And other facilities?
For children, we have a games room and a kids’ corner. We have a very unique spa concept – with a mix of Indonesian and Malaysian treatments, and the possibility of being placed inside or outside. In the new building (eds: still under construction at time of visit end June 2018), there is another F&B outlet, which will just cater for breakfast. Water sports are of course very popular, and we have the full range of water sports activities. We have our own jet skis, canoes and banana boats for hire. Some resorts sub-contract this kind of thing, but accidents can happen, and we want to be sure the guests are fully covered with insurance. On the land, we also rent our ATVs, and have our own circuit.
How are source markets evolving?
Around 60% of bookings are via OTAs. The majority of the market is South-East Asia. Many come from Singapore, but we also have guests from Indonesia, other parts of Malaysia, even Vietnam. From China, we are beginning to get clients, but they are not the same as those who travel to Johor Bahru, looking for cheap rooms. Our average daily rate is currently about 420 Ringgit (eds: US$104). Many Chinese agents try to negotiate, saying “I will give you volume, but you have to price the rooms at 150 Ringgit (eds: US$37),” and I say, “Sorry, thank you.” I tell them if they accept this rate they can come… and they do come. Selling cheap is not the best way to make profit. You have to maintain a certain quality and a certain standard. From Singapore, we get a lot of ex-pats, from the US and Europe. On weekends, there is always a big flock of ex-pats here. On the other hand, arrival numbers of European tourists to Johor is not very encouraging. But I think with the opening of the theme park, the Els Golf club and other attractions here on the coast, more and more Europeans will pop across from Singapore to visit for a few days.
Do you have a booking interface for travel agents?
We do use the GDS, and there are tools for B2B travel agents to link to our system. Asian Overland, the local wholesaler, uploads to their agents overseas. Discovery Overland is doing the same thing. We can do direct contracting, but we still prefer to go through the local ground handler, because payment is much easier to control. If I have a deal, for example, with a Swiss agent and they don’t pay, I cannot fly to Switzerland to work it out. And travel agents can close overnight. It’s dangerous. But in terms of arrivals from the States and Europe, we have some big corporate accounts, like Siemens or Halliburton, who all go through their own GDS. Then they can book direct, going through an RFP process.
What would you describe as your three key “USPs”?
The size of the rooms – beginning at over 50 sq m, our facilities, and the fact we are catering for all markets in a lifestyle resort.