Monday, June 16, 2008

Slice Of Singapore On Bintan?

Source : The Straits Times, June 14 2008

A new development of bungalows on Bintan is hoping to attract Singaporeans to set up a second home there

CHEAP and big bungalows located less than an hour by ferry from Singapore and resort-style living - this is the vision that Bintan Resort Cakrawala wants to sell to Singaporeans.

In 10 to 20 years, the master planner for the northern strip of the Indonesian island hopes to see between 50,000 and 75,000 residents, with the majority being Singaporeans, on a 200 sq km site which is 40 times the size of Sentosa.

SUN, SEA AND SAND: The existing Nirwana Resort Hotel was part of the first phase of development by Gallant Ventures on the northern coast of Bintan. -- PHOTO: GALLANT VENTURES

Mr Eugene Park, chief executive of Bintan Resort Cakrawala's parent company, the Singapore-listed Gallant Ventures, said the balmy isle could be a suburb for Singaporeans to retreat to.

It could be a beach resort such as Bali's Kuta Beach and Phuket's Patong Beach, but minus the commercial trappings and touts, he said.

After the first phase of development over the last decade, which saw the construction of 10 hotels with 1,350 rooms, four 18-hole golf courses and famous spas such as Banyan Tree Spa, the master planner is ready to launch phase two.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held for its latest project, the 1,300ha Lagoi Bay development, last month.

Where previous projects have mostly been for resorts and hotels, this time round, there are sites for homes. Land sales started in July last year and over 300,000 sq m have been sold for $45 million.

Bintan Resorts was first set up in 1990 by Gallant Ventures to develop the northern coast of the Riau island. Over $1 billion had been pumped in to build infrastructure, hotels and resorts.

Existing hotels range from the budget Bintan Lodge to the family-oriented Nirwana Resort Hotel to the five-star Banyan Tree.

Singaporeans form a third of the 350,000 visitors last year, drawn by white sandy beaches and clear waters. Other visitors hail from Europe, the United States, Japan, Korea, China and India.

The average visitor spent $642 per person last year, up from $488 in 2006.

Tourism fortunes are heavily dependent on Singapore as it is the main gateway for international arrivals. Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal is a mere 55-minute ride from Bintan.

Mr Park said the strategy all along has been to tap Singapore's strengths and tourism arrivals.

Bintan's target is to grow tourism arrivals to one million, to piggyback on Singapore's ambition to grow arrivals to 17 million by 2015.

To do that, Bintan Resorts has in the pipeline:

# a $100-million tourist airport;
# a marina;
# $150-million worth of infrastructure for the Lagoi Bay project;
# a $150-million power plant;
# a $5-million upgrade of the domestic and international ferry terminals; and
# $31 million invested in two new high-speed ferries which will shave travelling time by 10 minutes.

Investors, old and new, have also announced plans for the next five years. Indonesia hotel group Alila Resorts and Hotels bought a 20ha plot to build a five-star resort with 40 to 50 villas.

Malaysia's Landmarks is building Bintan Treasure Bay, a 343ha integrated resort seven times the size of Resorts World at Sentosa.

Even small-time investors such as Singaporean Crystal Sim are keen to cash in. Ms Sim, owner of an interior fabrication company in Singapore, bought a plot on the Lagoi waterfront to build a boutique hotel with 60 to 80 rooms.

Setting up second home

The master planner's goal is to increase hotel rooms to 5,000 in the next five years.

Private residences are also part of the plan. For now, 26 of 50 plots in the Samudra Villas cluster have been snapped up by individuals. These 800 to 1,200 sq m plots were launched at $300 per sq m.

Real estate agents interviewed love the idea of an integrated resort on Bintan, saying it will offer a more vibrant and exciting holiday option for Singaporeans.

However, they are more cautious when it comes to Singaporeans setting up a second home there. The upside is land price. At $150 to $260 per sq m of villa residential sites, and $120 to $250 for condo-type development sites, the land price is a steal.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said the prices are 10 to 15 times cheaper than land in areas such as Choa Chu Kang and Lim Chu Kang, and 30 to 40 times cheaper than in the central areas.

But potential buyers must consider factors such as the lease period, saleability and accessibility to Singapore. Johor Baru across the Causeway seems to be a better option as properties there are mostly freehold, demand is higher for them and it is easier to commute to and from Singapore by road, he said.

'It is not practical to commute every day to work or go to school in Singapore by ferry, which is subject to stormy weather.'

Mr Jack Chua, director of ERA Realty, said Bintan is not too bad a location for people who crave a resort-feel environment as it is close to Singapore. 'But,' he qualified, 'if you are looking at investment, ultimately you must consider whether you can rent it out and sell it again. You must also consider how prudent the law system is and the country's by-laws.'

The land lease of 30 years is renewable, said Mr Park. He assured investors that this is a commitment his company managed to secure from the Bintan government. Plus, he added that they are buying into a gated community, which gives added privacy.

The province is eager to make the development project work. Bintan regent Ansar Ahmad said the provincial government has made it easier for investors by setting up a one-stop service to handle permit application and land lease issues, among others.

Having its headquarters on Batam, a 15-minute ferry ride away, has shortened project approval time from three months to 33 days, he said. Three development projects have been approved and three are under way.

Mr Ansar looks forward to having a tourism school set up on Bintan as it will provide skills as well as employment opportunities for residents.

He added: 'It is good for us. With the new development, tourist attractions and small to medium businesses in the villages in all parts of Bintan will also thrive.'

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