KENG TUNG, MYANMAR, 17 January 2017: Amazing Kengtong Resort, a landmark property built on the site of a demolished Shan royal palace in the early 1990s will undergo a major remake starting this May.
Amazing Holidays Hotels & Resorts took over the property in 2015 securing a 70-year lease from its owners, the country’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
Now the group’s chairman, Aung Myo Min Din, says he will close the hotel for four months this year to launch a three-phased remake of the property, a project that will extend for three years.
“It’s the only three-star hotel in the town so we will keep it open during peak season months, November to April, and close each year for renovations, May to August,” he told TTR Weekly during a Pacific Asia Travel Association Chiang Rai Chapter media trip to the Shan state city.
“It will involve an intensive renovation of the building to restore the character of the Shan Palace that once stood on this site,” said the group’s chairman.
“We will give the property a new identity, exterior and interior design reflecting Shan heritage…it will be very pleasing to the local community.”
Over three years, the venture will cost the group around USD8 to USD12 million to renovate and infuse elements of Shan culture and design in what is a drab-looking 1990s concrete structure.
“When completed in three years, Amazing Kengtong Resort will become the town’s first and only four-star hotel,” said Ko Aung.
“It will raise the hotel’s standard and quality to bring it in line with the other hotels in our group… it is difficult to attract tour operator business here at present, our priority is to upgrade it first.”
Restoring elements of Shan heritage to the historical site, should be welcomed by the town’s community that voiced opposition when the military demolished the palace in 1993.
Built in 1905 from huge teak logs, Keng Tung Palace was the home of the Shophas of Keng Tung, until they were driven out, exiled or arrested, during a military coup in 1962.
By 1993 military bulldozers rumbled across the site demolishing the palace, while the site owners, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, ordered the construction of a 108-room property that opened in 1996. It stands close to impressive temples and a picturesque lake, the largest property in a town that has slightly more than 500 rooms for 5,000 odd visitors who visit Keng Tung annually.
If the palace had survived the rash actions of military and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism it would have probably been restored and turned into a museum by now creating substantial tourism revenue for an impoverished state.
But that is hindsight. In the 1990s the financial contribution of heritage and tourism to national coffers was not so apparent to investors, or government officials in the region.
Instead, a concrete copycat of properties, that cluttered Asian cities in the 1980s, rose on the foundations of a crumbling palace. For their trouble, owners and the companies, that bothered to manage the hotel, were handed books that obstinately refused to balance for most of its 20-year career.
In 2016, the hotel’s average rate was a modest USD35 a night and its average occupancy 31.5%.
Most of its clients are from Thailand, while Europe supplies the second strongest market, mainly travellers interested in trekking and exploring the villages of ethnic minorities; Akka, Lahu, Eng and Wa.
Last year, 52.4% of all the hotel’s business came from Thailand, booked through travel agents in Yangon. Mainly Buddhist pilgrimage tours, the groups of 20 to 30 people stayed one to two nights to tour city sights and visit temples they were supporting with donations. They travelled overland from the Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint.
Amazing Holidays Hotels and Resorts is confident its heavy-duty remake will turn the hotel venture into the pride of Keng Tung ushering in four-star hospitality and generating a handsome return on investment. That would be a first for the 20-year old hotel.
But the group has an impressive track record expanding fast in Myanmar to back up its claims in Keng Tung.
It musters 13 hotels and boasts a pipeline of planned hotels that will target the leisure travel market in major tourist destinations across Myanmar.
Its pipeline includes the construction of a new five-star hotel in Yangon, due to open in four years. Construction of the 460-room hotel will begin at the end of this year.
“Yangon is a crowded market in the lower star categories, but there is still a shortage of hotel rooms in the five-star quality sector,” the group’s chairman said.
The group already has three hotels near Inle Lake and its fourth at the lake, a 64-room resort, will open this April.
On Ngapali beach, in the south, where the group has one resort, two more are in the pipeline.
A 86-room, four-star resort is already under construction, while a major beachside five-star project that will feature a 120-room hotel, 64 luxury residences, a convention centre and a 18-hole golf course.
Both the Yangon and Ngapali five-star properties are likely to be developed as joint ventures with overseas partners.
“The property in Yangon will have foreign investment,” Ko Aung explained. “It could be a Thailand partner that would offer management support in the long-run as we expand the group.”
“The business plan is to have hotels in every leisure destination in the country, concentrating on tourism not business travel.”
To grow the Amazing Holidays brand at a faster pace, he concedes he may have to enter into more joint ventures with foreign partners.
But along with other local hotel groups, he has called on the government to review banking rules to protect local investors.
“There needs to be an urgent change in government policy regards banking… In other countries the bank interest is around 2% to 6%, while in Myanmar it is as high as 13%.”
He argues that lower interest rates would encourage local companies to expand and would ensure Burmese companies will continue to maintain control of tourism assets.
“Otherwise, we are forced to enter into joint ventures to secure low interest loans through foreign partners and there is a price to pay… it reduces the role of local investors.”
Amazing Holidays Hotels and Resorts opened its first property, Hotel Amazing Kaytu, in 2000 and followed with resorts at Inle Lake and Ngapali beach in 2003 and 2004. Today it has 13 properties.
In addition to hotels, the group is involved in travel, construction, restaurants and golf courses.
The Keng Tung international media trip was fully hosted by Amazing Holidays Hotels & Resorts and organised by PATA Chiang Rai Chapter chairman, Jaffee Yee, to promote linked tourism between the northern Thai province and neighbouring Shan state in Myanmar.