Banyan Tree Holdings to open its first resort in Singapore in Mandai

(From left) Mr Philip Yim, Mr Mike Barclay, Mr Ho Kwon Ping and Mr Dharmali Kusumadi. Mandai Park Holdings and Banyan Tree said the hotel will be designed in an eco-friendly way and feature green building elements. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

SINGAPORE - Those who enjoy spending their days or evenings at the Singapore Zoo, River Safari or Night Safari will soon be able to extend their experience past nightfall too.

A full-service hotel run by Banyan Tree Holdings, a Singapore-based hotel chain known for its luxe resorts around the world, will be built in the area. When completed, it will be Banyan Tree's first resort in Singapore.

The hotel is expected to welcome guests by 2023, which is also when two new wildlife parks - the relocated Bird Park from Jurong and a new Rainforest Park - join the existing trio of attractions in the leafy Mandai area.

Plans for the hotel were announced by Banyan Tree and Mandai Park Holdings at a media briefing on Wednesday (Oct 11).

Mandai Park Holdings is the developer spearheading plans to rejuvenate Mandai and turn it into a nature destination with five wildlife parks.

Although overnight camps have been conducted at the Singapore Zoo, the resort will, for the first time, provide guests with the experience of staying in a full-service hotel.

The hotel will be capped at four storeys or 21m high, under existing tree canopies, occupy 4.6ha of land - about the size of six football fields - and feature a variety of accommodation types.

Other than standard and family rooms, the resort will also offer guests the chance to stay in elevated cabins and treehouses. The variety of room types also caters to guests with different budgets, said Mr Mike Barclay, Mandai Park Holdings' group chief executive, during the briefing.

The hotel can have up to 400 rooms, the maximum number set out by an earlier environmental impact assessment which looked at how the development could be done in a way that would least impact the surrounding sensitive habitats and native wildlife in the neighbouring Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

In comparison, a plot of similar size in the city area can accommodate more than 1,000 rooms.

As with Banyan Tree resorts around the world, the upcoming hotel - which will later be jointly named by Mandai Park Holdings and Banyan Tree - will allow guests to take part in a variety of activities to "gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of biodiversity and the environment". Activities include talks on conservation, guided nature walks and native wildlife-spotting tours, recycling workshops and educational movie screenings.

"This stayover experience forms an integral part of our overall vision for the Mandai nature and wildlife precinct - to inspire guests to value and conserve biodiversity through memorable experiences," said Mr Barclay. "Banyan Tree has a strong track record in developing and managing resorts that are sensitively located and sustainably operated."

Banyan Tree was selected by Mandai Park Holdings as the hotel operator following a request for proposals, which saw submissions by eight companies. Construction is expected to start in 2020, after design and operation plans for the resort are finalised.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree, said the company is excited to partner Mandai Park Holdings to plant the hotel chain's first flag in Singapore.

"With Mandai Park Holdings' mission and expertise in wildlife conservation and education, this partnership is in line with Banyan Tree's ethos and experience in developing sustainable resorts that fit into the natural settings - to create an original and authentic accommodation experience like none other," he said.

Since plans for the rejuvenation of Mandai were announced in 2014, it has come under scrutiny by nature groups, as the area being developed sits right outside the biodiversity-rich Central Catchment Nature Reserve - Singapore's largest nature reserve.

Mandai Park Holdings has taken steps to address these concerns, for example, by commissioning an environmental study and engaging with scientific experts and nature enthusiasts.

On Wednesday, both Mandai Park Holdings and Banyan Tree said the upcoming hotel will also be designed in an eco-friendly way and feature green building elements, such as energy- and water-efficiency. A panel of nine academics and experts, including world leaders in green building design, has also been convened to provide input.

"To achieve harmony with the landscape, the development will be low-intensity and built sensitively around existing vegetation, respecting existing tree canopies and the natural topography of the area," said Mandai Park Holdings and Banyan Tree in a statement.

Flora of conservation value will be protected, and a 15m-wide vegetation buffer will be retained between the hotel and the adjacent Upper Seletar Reservoir.

Concerns have been raised about the upcoming hotel development, such as how noise from the hotel could affect the wildlife of the neighbouring forest, and how a constant stream of human traffic through Mandai Lake Road, which links two swathes of the nature reserve, could result in more roadkill.

In response, Mr Barclay said that when it comes to reducing the impact of noise, the design of the hotel is paramount.

"Two children in a swimming pool located at the edge of the resort could result in noise travelling to the reserve. But by placing the pool in the centre of the resort, and using buildings and other noise abatement strategies, this can be reduced," he said.

He added that the number of hours of active vehicular traffic along Mandai Lake Road is expected to be the same, even with a resort, and pointed to other measures to safeguard wildlife crossings that Mandai Park Holdings had earlier announced. This includes installing fences and building a wildlife bridge.

Nature guide Ivan Kwan said he hoped the resort will be designed and built in such a way that bird collisions can be reduced, considering the proximity of the hotel to the reserve, which thrives with forest birds.

"Another concern would be how the resort will deal with wildlife that the guests and staff will inevitably encounter," said Mr Kwan.

"The presence of food might also attract monkeys, birds and wild boars. It's possible that even if these animals don't raid the trash or steal food from visitors, other guests may deliberately feed them instead. The resort will need to have proper guidelines for human-wildlife interactions, and ensure that these are followed by the guests."

Still, the appointment of Banyan Tree is seen by some travel industry players as a sound move.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said Banyan Tree resorts around the world are known for being luxurious, and built on environmentally-sound principles.

"I am confident that Banyan Tree will be able to inject innovation, an amazing service experience, and a unique experience, for the new Mandai project," said Ms Seah.

Dr Guan Chong, head of the marketing programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences' business school, said the hotel, located so close to the wildlife parks, can differentiate it from other hotels in Singapore.

"Currently, there are hardly any internationally renowned hotels in this area and tourists who visit the parks have to travel back to the city centre after their visit," she said.

"Being the first to be there, Banyan Tree resort in Mandai can cater to the needs of park visitors and will face less competition as compared to hotels in downtown area."

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