Rise of Sabah’s boutique hotels
Published on: Sunday, December 04, 2022
By: David Thien
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Stanton Hotel – one of the newer boutique hotels in the city.
WHILE building big hotels may be beyond many of Sabah’s entrepreneurs, the rise of boutique hotels like the Jesselton Hotel, the oldest boutique hotel in the state capital, is more affordable to exploit the booming tourism trend.

Jesselton Hotel even expanded an annex by renting next block premises, is testament to a growing business from appreciative niche market segment for the unique classical experience, warmth and charm of a bygone era. 

Nevertheless, the location matters for customers’ tour priority.

As an example, the Malaysia Timber Council staff and entourage of foreign journalists and representatives of buyers checked into Jesselton Hotel on the last day of their study tour recently to take advantage of the hotel’s location along Gaya Street to visit the Sunday fair before leaving for the airport late morning for the flight home.

Trying to pass of boutique hotels as “old is gold” aura by putting up old photographs of Jesselton is widespread even in renovated coffee shops and cafes. Jesselton Hotel even has its housekeeping staff dressed in maid attires and the doorman in colonial attire.

Noticeably, there are ownership transfers from sale of some of these establishments and some under went renovations to remake their image or rebrand their facilities or offerings.

Old but gold: The Jesselton Hotel. (Pic: Sticky Rice Travel) 

Warehouse 32 – one of the eateries near the hotel. 

 Those with food and beverage outlets attached or inhouse can make more income depending on their menus.

There is one boutique hotel newly completed that projects itself as a classical English hotel with a red London telephone booth at its entrance, certainly lends a presence of being in the colonial capital. 

What more the hotel adopted the coat-of-arms of the North Borneo British Chartered Company.

It is located in a light industrial warehouses area in Karamunsing next to where Daily Express had a newsprint store. It was originally an international insurance firm’s office, was left vacant for a long time before being renovated extensively to be a hotel.

Unique: Stanton Hotel logo.

On the hotel’s logo like that of the North Borneo Chartered Company’s with few differences that has raised questions from members of the public, particularly the history buffs on whether it is proper and with the knowledge of the Sabah Museum authority, well, the museum may not be the authority on near copyright infringement if any on defunct colonial trading firm that once ruled over North Borneo.

“Do you know what does ‘Pergo Et Perago’ mean? It was the motto of the North Borneo British Company. It means ‘I undertake and I achieve’. It’s not very apt for a hotel business. But in politics today, few politicians achieve what they have undertaken to do as promised,” said Johan Linggap, one of the Borneo history buffs.

Meanwhile, although Sabah’s high-end hospitality real estate development depends much on foreign investors, Sabah’s originated listed company – Hap Seng is building the Hyatt Centric with 220 rooms.

Notably, when international brands or hotel chains are involved, like France-Headquartered Club Med SAS which has entered into collaboration with Sabah-based Golden Sands Beach Resort City Sdn Bhd to invest building a 400-room resort into Sabah’s Kuala Penyu Beach as their first new sustainable Club Med Borneo Kota Kinabalu planned for an exotic Borneo opening in 2022.

The brand which is now owned by China’s Fosun International Group seeks to establish Sabah as a premier bucket list tourism destination for unique resort living experience, after its West Malaysian resort at Cherating Beach, Pahang.

A shopping mall in Inanam – Inanam Mall is to have a hotel on top of it as more are being built or renovated after the opening of the Ibis Hotel there. 

With the mall, Inanam finally not left out without one, but the timing of opening in 2020 is not favourable as many malls are struggling to fill vacant shoplots with a desirable tenant mix that can draw in the shopping crowd without much promotions.

Other hotels include the Sheraton behind the KKCCCI building on a former carpark with 345 rooms, Holiday Inn Express opposite Kota Kinabalu Hilton, Pullman next to the SICC, Grand Liberty Hotel, Crown Plaza Hotel, another Hilton at Likas Boulevard and many other smaller hotels under renovation and planning notably the former Wisma Yakim in front of the Hyatt Regency.

The growth of the tourism industry fuels the development trend of 5-star hotels, conversion of buildings into business and lower class hotels, and the mushrooming of many Airbnb dedicated commercial property – behind Bank Negara and at the Jesselton Quay areas, after the success of Sutera Avenue from the controversy over The Loft, above Imago Mall, and the neighbouring Gleneagles development.

The TAED project may attract potential investors like Avani Group to look at Sabah. The Thai Air Asia company stopped its service to Kota Kinabalu in 2019 third quarter and it is important that more Thai investors, hotels and tourists can help to sustain what AirAsia Malaysia’s intention to continue the Kota Kinabalu-Bangkok route other than Royal Brunei via BSB, greatly needed to attract European and Middle Eastern tourists for the eco-tourism sector from Bangkok aviation hub.

Woes on strata property management remains unsolved pending proper legislation, including on Airbnb regulations.

The Central Planning Board was phased out and replaced with a State Planning Council and delegating authority to the local governments, which is hoped by many to bring about much needed improvement beyond 2020. 


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