Cover Story: Genting Highlands continues to attract development

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Genting Highlands, a popular highland holiday destination about 40 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, is often associated with shopping (Genting Highlands Premium Outlet), entertainment (casino, outdoor and indoor theme parks, restaurants) and being a “cool” family getaway.

In addition t… Genting Highlands, a popular highland holiday destination about 40 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, is often associated with shopping (Genting Highlands Premium Outlet), entertainment (casino, outdoor and indoor theme parks, restaurants) and being a “cool” family getaway.

In addition t… ​  ​

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 23, 2023 – October 29, 2023

Genting Highlands, a popular highland holiday destination about 40 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, is often associated with shopping (Genting Highlands Premium Outlet), entertainment (casino, outdoor and indoor theme parks, restaurants) and being a “cool” family getaway.

In addition to being a tourist draw, the location has also attracted property developers, which hope to cater to tourists who may want to buy a property for a holiday home or for investment purposes. These companies have built residential and commercial properties along the main road that takes visitors to and from the hilltop.

Knight Frank Malaysia group managing director Keith Ooi says that visitor numbers to Resorts World Genting increased more than twofold from 7.1 million in 2021 to 22.2 million in 2022, according to the Genting Malaysia Bhd Annual Report.

“The report foresees growth in the number of visitors as Genting SkyWorlds Theme Park has officially opened its doors to the public and is set to be a crowd-puller. Genting Malaysia Bhd expects Genting SkyWorlds to drive Resorts World Genting visitor arrivals to 30 million per annum in the long term,” he adds.

According to Savills Malaysia group managing director Datuk Paul Khong, “The latest update on Genting Highlands is that the secondary market is still performing well, with prices staying relatively stable, and we see several new developments including Tropicana WindCity, Genting Xintiandi and King’s Park already breaking ground.

“Given its strategic location, in close proximity to KL, this may be the ideal hybrid residential place for city dwellers [who want to] live in Gohtong Jaya, commuting daily [from their home] in the hills but working and playing in Kuala Lumpur.

“Developers are already pushing to build Gohtong Jaya into a large self-sustaining township for local residents to reside permanently. In line with this, large-scale investments and integrated projects are already happening in Gohtong Jaya, offering alternative lifestyle choices,” he adds.

According to CBRE | WTW group managing director Tan Ka Leong, “The introduction of new attractions and amenities, especially by prominent developers, will further enhance Genting Highlands’ appeal as a favoured destination for both residents and tourists, resulting in positive spillover demand for residential and commercial properties.”

Meanwhile, existing developments have performed steadily as property values in Genting Highlands remain stable.

“Overall, the secondary property market is seen to be relatively stable with no major movements either way. As per transactions shown in Table 1, residential projects, except for Midhills, recorded a positive compound annual growth rate (in 2021-2023),” says Khong.

“For older stock completed before 2015, Kempas Apartments and Mawar Apartments both recorded some nominal growth.”

He adds that newer units completed after 2015 are trading between RM825 and RM900 psf, depending on project and unit size. Meanwhile, transactions at Geo38 Residence and Vista Residences indicate a positive recovery but with no substantial increases. Windmill Upon Hills continues to do well, Khong says.

According to CBRE | WTW’s Tan, “Overall, the property market remains relatively robust in Genting Highlands. It is well-known as a favoured tourist spot, consequently driving demand for accommodation and other types of properties.

“Moreover, with ongoing developments by prominent developers to enhance attractions and amenities within Genting Highlands, it is becoming an increasingly desirable destination for both residents and visitors alike. This may further contribute to heightened demand within the property sector.”

Ooi concurs. “The residential property market in Genting Highlands remains stable, with the transacted prices recorded for selected high-rise residential projects in the area posting a stable trend over the last five years.” (See Table 2.)

Activities on the hill

According to Khong’s research, recently launched and soon-to-be-launched developments include King’s Park by Yuk Tung Group and Highlands Park City Sdn Bhd; Pavilion Genting Highlands by Sering Manis Sdn Bhd (a joint venture of Global Oriental Bhd with 51% equity interest, Singapore ABR Holdings Ltd with 19%, and Dataran Hartajaya with 30%); Tropicana Grandhill by Tropicana Corp Bhd; and Genting Xintiandi by Genting Malaysia and Aset Kayamas.

Khong believes these large-scale projects will spark Genting Highlands’ lifestyle potential. He says their combined offerings will make Gohtong Jaya and Genting Highlands a top destination that allows one to live and play on the hill, and still be close enough to the city to work there.

He says in addition to these projects, other developers are also stamping their mark in the area.

“LBS Bina via its subsidiary Casa Inspirasi Sdn Bhd entered into an agreement with Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan Pahang to acquire two pieces of land totalling about 310 acres in July 2022. They have already started launching the land in phases, offering bungalow lots, serviced apartments, 2-storey terraced houses, townhouses — in addition to schools and hospitals — with an estimated total gross development value exceeding RM9 billion.”

Khong adds that Hong Kong-based IBN Corp Ltd is developing IBN Highlands City on 20 acres of land.

A point of interest that he highlights is that most of the residential units that have been sold are furnished. In addition, local developers tend to partner short-term accommodation management companies to attract potential buyers and investors. He cites the example of Tropicana Corp engaging HostAStay for its Twin Pines Serviced Suites in Tropicana Grandhill.

Institutional investors have also entered the fray, with two investing in the ongoing Antara Genting Highlands developed by Aset Kayamas.

“Kanger International Bhd acquired 126 serviced apartments at Levels 30 to 45 in Tower A for RM142.87 million on Feb 24, 2021, and Harvest Miracle Capital Bhd acquired 187 serviced apartments on various levels in Tower A for RM246.35 million on April 28, 2022,” Khong informs.

He observes that wellness and medical care offered by the projects can be developed into medical tourism.

“On record, Malaysia attracted 850,000 healthcare travellers, contributing RM1.3 billion in revenue in 2022, according to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council. In its latest statement, revenue surpassed RM900 million and is estimated to reach RM1.7 billion by the end of 2023.

Units at Geo38 Residences (Photo by Low Yen Yeing/The Edge)

“This medical angle has been taken by Tropicana Grandhill, which offers a wellness hub, and King’s Park featuring hospital and wellness facilities in the development. This again will further stimulate development demand here.”

He also believes that the cool weather and natural environment make Genting Highlands ideal for another niche industry, senior living.

Challenges

Developers in Genting Highlands face more than just high construction and development costs.

“One of the primary challenges is to enhance the attractiveness of the highland area and increase demand for accommodation and commercial activities during the non-peak season,” says CBRE | WTW’s Tan.

“Another aspect involves evaluating utility capacity, such as ensuring sufficient water supply for daily visitor requirements and minimising any adverse impact that may arise from construction activities on the surrounding environment.

Midhills are steady performers on the secondary market (Photo by Low Yen Yeing/The Edge)

“Recently, there have been safety concerns in Genting, particularly regarding landslides and traffic accidents. The mountainous location has made it vulnerable to landslides, with several incidents occurring in recent years. Additionally, due to its popularity as a tourist destination, the high volume of traffic on the roads leading to and from Genting Highlands has resulted in frequent accidents.

“Efforts are being made by the government and Resorts World Genting to address safety concerns in Genting. One of these measures involves enhancing infrastructure, including the upgrading of roads and drainage systems. These improvements aim to minimise potential hazards such as landslides and accidents. It is also paramount for developers to obtain an Environment Impact Assessment prior to launching their development,” Tan adds.

Knight Frank’s Ooi says that in addition to higher construction costs because of land elevation, the risk of landslides requires the building of retaining walls as well as good drainage, among other things.

The buildings must also have earthquake-resistant designs, which may be costly and increase the construction cost, he adds.

“Then there is limited access as there is only one major highway to and from Genting Highlands, which is the Genting Sempah–Genting Highlands Highway. The road experiences traffic congestion during peak hours. Its altitude has also deterred people from staying there for the long term, apart from those who work there.”

Ooi says safety issues such as landslides and road accidents require immediate attention. To prevent a recurrence of a disaster like the December 2022 landslide in Batang Kali, he says ground area requires covering and surface drainage water must be redirected. In addition, tilt sensors should be installed to monitor ground movement.

As for mitigating road accidents, he suggests: “For night-time safety features, there should be more raised reflective pavement markers on the road, warning signs pertaining to foggy environments and warning signs to road users about accident-prone areas. Having adequate emergency escape ramps will also enable vehicles that are having issues with their car brake system to stop safely.”

For Savills’ Khong, the biggest challenges for developers are the construction cost of both infrastructure (water, electricity, roads, hill slopes and terraces, retaining walls and others) and building activities on the hill slopes. He points out that the landslide at Batang Kali was not due to development in the area and as such should not be linked to Genting Highlands.

“In Genting Highlands itself, road and slope maintenance is done diligently and consistently by Resorts World Genting to ensure all smallish problems with regard to the basic infrastructure and hill slope are well attended to and substantial funds are used to ensure this for the safety of visitors.”

With all these developments going on, is Genting Highlands being overbuilt? Property experts do not believe this is the case.

Resorts World Genting’s entertainment offerings draw tourists and investors alike (Photo by Patrick Goh/The Edge)

“Multiple factors must be considered when evaluating the extent of development in Genting Highlands such as the reliance on tourists to support activities due to the limited population within the resort itself,” says Tan.

“However, generally, the outlook for the real estate market in Genting Highlands is optimistic. The tourist resort town is highly sought after by visitors, leading to demand for various types of accommodation and properties in the area.

“Furthermore, the ongoing development of new attractions and amenities in Genting Highlands by prominent developers enhances its appeal as both a residential area and a destination for tourists, potentially resulting in an increased demand for properties.”

For Ooi, Genting Highlands requires careful planning considering that most developments will have to contend with slopes and different land gradients.

“Genting Highlands falls under Environmentally Sensitive Areas (KSAS). KSAS aims to create a balance between development and environmental protection. KSAS’s standard operating procedure for any development within Genting Highlands will require intensive and comprehensive planning and involve various levels of technical expertise. Intensive development planning is also necessary to mitigate the risks of overbuilding and may lead to higher development costs and a longer development period.

Gohtong Jaya is set to transform into a large ­self-sustaining township where local residents can reside permanently (Photo by Low Yen Yeing/The Edge)

“The reopening of the remaining hotel room inventory in Resorts World Genting, the increase in [Genting] SkyWorlds’ ride capacity and extended operating hours will increase footfall by about 10% at the hilltop as there is good demand and more rooms being made available.

“The outlook for the rest of the year remains weak but [we are] optimistic of a recovery from improved footfall. It is expected that growth will continue to be supported by domestic demand. International travel demand is expected to remain positive, although its recovery could be constrained by macroeconomic uncertainties and inflationary pressures.

“The regional gaming market is expected to continue improving in tandem with the improved outlook on global travel. The near-term outlook of the leisure and hospitality industry in Genting Highlands remains cautiously optimistic,” Ooi adds.

Khong believes Genting Highlands will be able to realise its potential if development is aligned with the objective of creating a sustainable environment for all.

“There are a lot of developments coming to Genting Highlands and the developers must turn these offerings into demand, where actual purchasers come to reside in them or buy up units to be made their second home where they come in during the weekends.

“Creating more entertainment parks in the locality will encourage tourists-cum-visitors to extend their stay here, enhancing average occupancy throughout the week and not solely on the weekends.

“I believe the development potential of Genting Highlands is strong and the current development trend in the hill is encouraging. It basically ticks all the boxes for a good ‘live, work and stay’ concept and [has] the unique selling propositions of hilltop views, setting and short distance from KL,” he adds.

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