Historic city comes of age

Move over Iskandar Malaysia, Melaka is fast becoming the city of choice for sophisticated investors drawn by its rich heritage sites, vibrant tourism industry and affordable cost of healthcare.

Heritage town attracting significant interests from Singaporean investors. Photo: Khalil Adis.

Heritage town attracting significant interests from Singaporean investors. Photo: Khalil Adis.

By Khalil Adis

The historic city of Melaka was once a thriving port city serving as an important international spice trade route since the 14th century.

Founded by Parameswara, Melaka was then colonised by the Portugese in the 15th century.

That, however, marked the decline of Melaka as an important trading centre as it became a hostile city causing many ships to bypass the route.

It subsequently fell under the control of the Dutch and British Empires in the 16th and 18th century respectively but it never quite regained its dominance in the region.

As the winds of change blew across the Straits, Melaka soon became part of the Crown Colony alongside Penang and Singapore.

Today, what remains of the city is its many imposing historic architecture serving as a nostalgic reminder of its glorious past – from the iconic red Christ Church building to the ruins of St. Paul’s Church on top of St. Paul’s Hill.

View of Dataran Palawan, developed by Hatten Group. Photo: Khalil Adis.

View of Dataran Palawan, developed by Hatten Group. Photo: Khalil Adis.

Remaking Melaka

As we speak, however, Melaka is slowly waking up from its long slumber as it braces forward to the 21st century.

Enter the Hatten Group which is helping to restore the city to its former glory.

Like Parameswara, its chief executive officer, Datuk Wira Eric Tan, stumbled upon Melaka in 2004 by chance and saw an opportunity to develop the city.

“We saw an abandoned project there and Datuk saw opportunity in that piece of land. Unfortunately, the rest of the people in Melaka did not see it. This piece of land is like how Ngee Ann City in Singapore was like. If you recall, it used to be completely empty land next to Wisma Atria. That’s how Datuk saw the potential and he created this Dataran Palawan in Melaka,” said Cassandra Tio, head, marketing and sales property division of the Hatten Group.

Indeed, the developer’s many iconic developments such as Imperio, Elements and Silverscape have won four major titles at the South East Asia Property Awards 2014.

This major feat has not only helped to reshape the city’s architecture but also create a much needed buzz in Melaka.

As a result, Melaka is now back on the radar as an investment destination of choice among local and foreign investors.

Indeed, during the recent launch of its project called Harbour City in Pulau Melaka, Hatten Group, reported over 60 retail and hotel units being snapped up by Singaporeans at its two road shows in Singapore.

“When we introduced this, we are actually simulating what the other cities like in KL and Singapore have. We see that as a general demand for Melaka,” said Tio. “Integrated projects have been a growing demand. We are building the retail centre where above it will be the residences. This will attracts already a standard catchment of population for retail malls.”

Melaka is slowly waking up from its slumber and is now a buzzing city, driven by tourism. Photo: Khalil Adis.

Melaka is slowly waking up from its slumber and is now a buzzing city, driven by tourism. Photo: Khalil Adis.

Tourism boom

Since 2008, Melaka has witnessed a boom in tourist arrivals thanks to it being listed on the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Data from Tourism Melaka and NAPIC showed that tourist arrivals witnessed a 200 per cent increase from 2006 till 2012.

In 2013, for instance, there were 4.11 million and 2.92 million tourist arrivals from the overseas and domestic markets respectively.

Expecting a sleepy town, I witnessed first hand the buzz as I took the bus from Melaka Sentral to the city centre at Dataran Palawan.

“We came from Thailand for the long weekend to soak in the historic city of Melaka. We arrived by coach to Melaka Sentral Bus Terminal and decided to take a bus to the city centre. We just can’t believe how packed it is,” said Surasak Thonorwan from Bangkok.

From the top of Hatten Hotel where the Alto Sky Lounge is located at, you could see slow moving traffic as tourists from all over thronged the streets at Jonker and the mall at Hatten Square.

Hotel rooms, ranging from budget to five-stars, were reportedly all running at full occupancy.

“Tourism doesn’t just fall over the weekend. For the weekends it is mainly locals who come in. For the weekdays it will be the tour group from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan who come in with the tour group,” said Tio who noted that tourists from China have been coming in strongly on a weekday. “That explains why hotels from the budget to three-star and no frills are fully booked throughout the whole year.”

With the opening of the high speed rail project come 2022, tourist arrivals are set to rise even more once the station in Ayer Keroh is completed.

“Melaka will become like a checkpoint where tourists can do national conferences and exhibitions near to the Ayer Keroh area and yet enjoy the historic town and the facilities in Melaka,” said Tio.

This is part one of the story. Stay tuned for part two.

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