Putrajaya in Malaysia is rather an odd place. The city, once the brainchild of previous Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, was developed to become the new administration center of the government. The move was done to relieve Kuala Lumpur –located only 25 km away – from increasing congestion. After ten years of existence, Putrajaya is today the seat of most ministries. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is due to move next year, as well as the first embassies.
However, what could have been the equivalent of a Brasilia or a Canberra for southeast Asia – with some great architects showing the “Zeitgeist” of their time – has turned into a disappointing architectural adventure. Putrajaya lacks any creativity. Its contemporary buildings look rather characterless or second-rate, taking their inspiration from a pseudo Arabic style that is more fitting for the Gulf area than the Malay Peninsula. Even worse, the administrative capital of Malaysia does not at all reflect Malaysia’s multi-ethnicity. Visitors could, until recently, forget about any Malay, Chinese, Indian, or Borneo-style buildings.
This is where the Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside, one of the administrative capital’s four-star resorts, at least makes a striking difference. The property managed by Accor Asia Pacific opened its doors earlier this year, taking its inspiration from all the ethnicities and communities living in Malaysia. The hotel has four wings, each built and decorated in one of Malaysia’s community – arches and a wooden sculpture for the Malay wing, exquise frescos for the Indian one, lacquer and calligraphy for the Chinese one, and ethnic-sculpted motifs for the Borneo wing. Each of the 283 bedrooms in the hotel also offers a distinctive ethnic touch.
“Originally, the idea came from Dr. Mahathir to have a hotel and conference center in Putrajaya, which would act as a cultural and handicraft center with the presence of craftsmen and artists showing the best of Malaysia,” said Patrick Sibourg, GM of Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside. Creating a handicraft center in Putrajaya was not ideal as the city lacked a population basis, as well as as tourists, due to insufficient public transport infrastructure within Putrajaya.
But the hotel is now starting to emerge as a popular destination, thanks to its iconic status and its location across from a lake. “With more ministries and embassies due to move here over the next years, Putrajaya is certain to have a bright future as a destination, however, in the medium term,” said Sibourg. The Pullman GM would like to promote the hotel more as a lakeside destination. The hotel faces the only sand beach in the city and is next to a new sea activities and sailing center that is due to open in September. The city has already hosted a dragon boats competition and the Water-ski World Championship. “Ideally, we would also need a golf course to be a perfect integrated resort destination,” added Sibourg.
For the Accor Group, the success of Pullman Putrajaya is important, because it will help to strengthen the group’s reputation in Malaysia. Among all the countries in southeast Asia, Malaysia shows the smallest number of Accor hotels. The French group is currently present in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, and beginning in September, in Kuching. “We would like to expand our brand in cities such as Penang, Ipoh, or Malacca, as well as adding more hotels in Kuala Lumpur. We have, for now, only a Novotel property in KL, but it would be good to also be present with a three-star Ibis hotel, as well as an upper-segment property such as Pullman or Sofitel in the capital,” said Sibourg.
Accor seems to face difficulties to further establish its brands in Malaysia. “Many Malaysian still do not know us. But the current economic crisis could give us new opportunities, as independent hotels might look for a strong brand to withstand the economic storm,” said Sibourg. The Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside could then act as a convincing Accor “embassy” to local politicians and businessmen.