DirectoriesAdd Your Business
News Archive Search
The History Of Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa
The early 70s saw Penang – the Pearl of the Orient – stamping its mark on the international tourism scene. Tourist arrivals soared. Leading the island’s successful foray was the exquisite Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Malaysia’s first deluxe hotel and resort located along the sandy scenic Batu Ferringi beach. Now, after three decades, the resort has re-invented itself and is poised to spearhead the state’s efforts in luring more tourists to the island; a choice tourist destination in the world.
Its intricate Minangkabau roof has been internationally hailed as an architectural masterpiece that seamlessly integrates traditional and modern design elements that reflect an aspect of the character and charm of Malaysia. he dark brown treated timber roof stretches over the entire complex, creating a magnificent image of a traditional Malay palace rising from a tropical paradise.
Inside the breezy resort, giant wooden pillars complete with intricate carvings inspired by exotic plants native to the island abound. Colourful paintings of birds and swaying native betel nut palms adorn the walls as long flowing batik fabrics are playfully teased by the cool sea breeze designed to encapsulate the spirit of Penang, The betel nut (Pinang in Malay) palms that dot the surroundings tell of how the state got to be known as the “Betel Nut Isle”.
Like the multi-cultural beauty of the island, Rasa Sayang gained the reputation of a unique resort with multi-layer attractions ranging from its friendly service staff to its pristine blue sea and raintrees.
Officially opened by Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein in 1973, the resort was at that time the largest and most exclusive beach resort in the region. A landmark in Penang, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa is one of Shangri-La group’s 47 hotels and resorts worldwide.
With a unique name, Rasa Sayang, which means a “feeling of love” in Malay (by the way, it is also the name of a popular local folk song), it is little wonder why its tagline reads “a love for life and all its pleasures”.
The resort has played host to some of the world’s most recognisable names; from royalty and prime ministers to celebrities and the rich and famous. Through the years, guests have included Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach, romance novelist Barbara Cartland, Hollywood celebrity Stephanie Powers former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and former Presidents of China His Excellencies Jiang Zemin, Li Peng and Hu Jin Tao.
As much a part of Penang as the native betel nut palms, Rasa Sayang bears witness to the state’s transformation from a free port to an industrialised state, and her eventual transition as island getaway to a rich heritage city. Perhaps, Leach’s famous “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” toast can best sum up the resort’s promise of indulgences to its guests.
Constructed in less than two years, the intention was “to build the best hotel in Malaysia” in the 1970s. Within the first year of operations, the resort had returned profits on its investment. Since it first opened its doors more than three decades ago, Rasa Sayang has won accolades from international travel magazines such as the World’s Top 10 Beach Resorts 1992 (Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., UK), Superior First Class Hotel 1993 (Official Hotel Guide, USA) and One of the Greatest Resorts of the World 1994 (Stern’s Travel Guides, Ltd.) and 1st runner-up for Best Leisure/Resort Hotel Award 1994 (Executive Travel/Utell International, UK), voted the 8th top asian resort by US-based Conde Nast Traveller in 2001, 2003 Travel & Leisure (T&L) ‘Top 10 Hotels For Value Overall’ and 2003 Travel & Leisure (T&L) 500 The Best Hotels In The World
Despite winning almost every major award in the hospitality and tourism industry, the five-star resort took a bold leap forward last year, investing RM100 million to redevelop the entire resort over two years. Come October, the resort will roll out the red carpet to welcome back many of the resort’s regular guests from over 30 countries. Bookings have been received even before the resort reopens. Its much-anticipated re-opening is timely as Penang moves ahead into a new era of international tourism.
Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa General Manager Arbind K. Shrestha, who is also the chairman of the Penang chapter of the Malaysian Association of Hotels, believes the redevelopment of Malaysia’s pioneer resort complements the Penang Tourism Action Council’s efforts to make the Pearl of the Orient shine brighter than ever before. “Penang as a popular tropical tourist destination was ahead of Langkawi (Malaysia) and even Phuket (Thailand) back in the 1970s because back then we already had several direct air links to the island. Over the years, new destinations opened up all over the region, challenging Penang’s status as among the top tourism destinations. It was with this realisation that the Shangri-La Group decided to redevelop Rasa Sayang. We were operating very successfully, no doubt, but the resort had already reached a maturing point where new initiatives had to be taken if we are to remain on top,” he says, adding that Rasa Sayang will reopen as a luxurious, upscale resort.
“We are going back to the basics and strengthening the very essence of our success. The Shangri-La name is synonymous with the international hospitality industry and with this massive re-development, it will prove to be another feather in the group’s cap. The new Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa will be the region’s first true premier deluxe resort. We already have the advantage of being located in Penang, a truly unique tourist destination. Here you get to relax in a tropical beach paradise by day and explore the thriving city life at night. Many tourists fall in love with the state’s charm and often return for long stay. Where else can one find exciting shopping haunts in an enclave of rich heritage buildings? We are confident of raising the level of total customer experience in the industry. The minute you step foot on our shores, you will understand what it means to ‘come home’,” he says.
The new Rasa Sayang will be more exclusive with the number of rooms being reduced from 512 to 304 – a step aimed at creating larger size guest rooms and ultimately, a luxurious resort where each guest will be showered with individual, personal attention at all hours. The resort will liaise closely with tour agents to ascertain the likes, dislikes and preferences of each guest even before they arrive so that the necessary arrangements can be made prior to registration at the resort, Shrestha explains. “Instead of having guests call several different numbers for housekeeping and dining services or enquiries, they only need to call one number and a specially trained butler will handle all requests,” he says.
Above and beyond the privacy that comes with a more intimate setting, the new Rasa Sayang boasts of a 30-acre sprawling landscaped garden with a holistic Chi Spa Village that has 11 private villas, individual treatment rooms, a yoga and meditation studio and personal bathing, hair treatment and relaxation areas. Built around century-old tropical trees, the Chi Spa Village will also have a 26-metre spa pool surrounded by lush greenery. Exclusive to the Shangri-La group of hotels and resorts, the Chi Spa concept introduces age-old healing practices and philosophies from China and the Himalayas. These relaxing treatments are based on holistic practices that restore balance and harmony to the mind and body.
The Chi Spa Village is the only one of its kind in Malaysia although it has been a paradise long celebrated in Bangkok, Cebu and Shanghai. So popular is the concept that plans are already underway to have more Chi Spas in Oman, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Qatar, the United States, China, Thailand and United Kingdom.
Through the years, Rasa Sayang has garnered rave reviews for its food and beverage outlets. The award-winning Feringgi Grill has been voted the “Best Restaurant” by the Malaysia Tourism Board in recent years. In the expansion plan, diners at the Feringgi Grill will be overlooking lush green surroundings and the deep blue sea.
Shrestha explains that even the whole dining experience will be different come October. “We will have a team of international chefs specialising in different cuisines like Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya and international cuisines. Instead of having separate outlets on the ground, we will have several distinct open kitchens all conveniently located at a specially designed food and beverage area,” he says.
Also expect an exclusive Club Lounge, a new challenge with the redesigned Par 3 executive golf course and a state-of-the-art gymnasium complete with individual heart monitoring systems.
Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon says the resort was the first in the state to embark on such a massive redevelopment exercise. “Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa was a pioneer in the hospitality industry some 30 years ago and today, it again pioneers the state’s efforts in providing the best service and facilities to tourists,” he says.
From dining at the exotic Spice Market Café located within the resort grounds itself to sipping champagne while basking in the sun, the new Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa promises an exclusive experience unlikely to be rivaled any time soon.
Perhaps long-time guests Dr. Ernest and Mary Wilde from Cheshire, United Kingdom, best sum up the Rasa Sayang experience, “There are many places in the world where you can find hotels which are equally opulent and locations which enjoy equally good weather, but what you cannot find are hotels where your return visit is akin to returning home.”
Indeed, many regular guests are already waiting to pack their bags and come back to a place they call “home”.
Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Asia Pacific’s leading luxury hotel group, currently manages 47 hotels under the five-star Shangri-La and four-star Traders brands, with a room inventory of over 23,000. The group has over 40 projects under development in Canada, mainland China, India, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Seychelles, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. For more information and reservations, please contact a travel professional or access the website at www.shangri-la.com .
Visit our sponsors