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'An Evening of Stars' - complete text of speech by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh

   
Friday, August 23, 2002

"AN EVENING OF STARS"
Starhill Shopping Centre

Good Evening:

Welcome to "An Evening of Stars".

Tonight marks the celebration of a new beginning for Starhill Shopping Centre; a beginning that will set benchmark standards for shopping malls across Malaysia by introducing a brand new shopping experience for customers.

Since YTL acquired Starhill in early 1999, our objective has been simple – to enhance Malaysia's significance as a shopping hub, and to complement our nation's target of ultimately becoming an international shopping destination by the end of 2003.

In 1999 Starhill's occupancy rate was at an all time low, around 50% to 60%. This prime area of real estate was essentially dead. We found this puzzling, considering that our research showed that shopping centres in Hong Kong and Singapore were charging up to 20 times more compared to KL for prime retail areas.

Our first step was to re-energise the entire area, for both our shopping centres Starhill and Lot 10, with the creation of Bintang Walk, which is now internationally recognised as an icon for the city. It has brought life back into this historical street, and our new and innovative restaurants, Sentidos Tapas and Shook!, are extremely popular, further helping to generate traffic to Starhill. In fact, we have just added two new private rooms to Shook! to cope with demand.

Our research also showed that camera and watch shops were still doing reasonably well, as their products enjoyed duty-free status. However, other goods were still subject to taxes, which reduced our international competitiveness significantly.

For example, there used to be a 20-30 per cent import tax on branded leather goods including handbags, shoes, luggage and accessories, which made them more expensive in Malaysia than in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Realising that this would create a setback in our country's aim of becoming a shopping haven, we worked with the government to remove import duties on all leather goods. This exemption was later further extended to include apparel. Today, the same Louis Vuitton bag you see in Singapore is cheaper in KL and only at Starhill.

The products available in our stores today are no longer "hand-me-downs" from Hong Kong or Singapore. KL-ites now have immediate access to the latest lines direct from the fashion centres of Milan, Paris and New York.

I am proud to say that as a result, Starhill is now recognised as one of the pioneer shopping centres that offer luxury goods duty-free, increasing value for its customers.

Starhill - Expect Something Different
Having completed the first phase of our plans for Bintang Walk, and seeing the successful results, we were now confident to further invest in Starhill in a major way. We took a closer look at the Starhill shopping experience. It wasn't difficult to decide where to start.

Previously, the JW Marriott and Starhill were structured as physically distinct and separate from each other. Hotel guests were unaware that there was a shopping centre just next door, and shoppers didn't know that they could have a 5-star deluxe experience a quick step away. The connection was not transparent.

Yet synergies existed. We merely capitalised on these synergies by removing the barriers between the two, offering an integrated and seamless shopping experience for our local and international travellers and shoppers alike.

As you can see from the renovation work we have undertaken, Starhill is now more welcoming and immediately accessible from the hotel, not hidden behind a separate entrance.

This integration is neatly enhanced by the expansion of the Marriott Café. The café introduces the style and elegance associated with grand hotel afternoon teas in what was previously a shopping centre concourse. Nostalgia, sophistication and chic is further projected by a quartet playing the syncopated rhythms of Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, Gershwin and other masters of the time.

With its strategic location, directly between Starhill and the JW Marriott Hotel, the Marriott Café symbolises the integration that now exists between the two. This integration is carried through on each level of the shopping centre.

Bearing in mind that our hotel guests are primarily business people, we created the Starhill Conference Centre on the 4th Floor, adding another 30,000 square feet of meeting space, conveniently linked to the hotel's business centre.

A unique aspect of seminars and events held at the Starhill Conference Centre is that our guests now have a choice of venue for their coffee breaks and meals. Whether at Shook!, Sentidos Tapas or the Art Colony Cafe, this helps to provide participants with a refreshing break. In this way we have both increased traffic within Starhill, and met our hotel guests' needs for world-class business facilities just a step away.

And we completed the equation of fine food, great shopping, and luxury accommodation by creating the Art Colony on the 4th Floor. As you know, YTL plays a major role in promoting music and art. Now art aficionados can view and collect some of the best pieces Malaysian artists have created, while the artists themselves have a central and convenient location to display and sell their work.

However, offering competitive prices and varied merchandise alone does not suffice to sustain the growth of tourism. The need to provide outstanding services that reflect our true Malaysian hospitality at the same time is also crucial to ensure repeat tourist visits.

For years, we at YTL have been practising a philosophy that has been extremely successful -offering first-class products and services at third-world prices. A classic example is The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur, where room rates stand at only US$75 per night, as compared to similar luxury Five-Star hotels in the Europe or US that charge up to US$300 – US$400. And yet we keep on winning international awards for our "cheap" hotels!

It was only natural that we carried forth this philosophy to all of YTL's business operations to further develop the tourism industry in Malaysia. Malaysia is already famous for its hospitality. Drawing on the expertise acquired by operating our award- winning properties, Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Pangkor Laut Resort and Tanjong Jara Resort, we decided to bring the hotel culture into the shopping centres.

Our team of Duty Managers at the JW Marriott has been expanded and they now make their rounds as floor managers at Starhill as well. Overseeing this team is the Starhill Resident Manager, Rahim Flynn, whom we brought over from The Ritz-Carlton. This ensures that from the moment a customer steps onto the premises, they are attended to on a personal level and not treated as bar codes or credit cards.

This translates into yet another milestone set for Starhill as it becomes the only shopping centre in Malaysia that provides for its customers a unique and ultimate lifestyle destination that meets much more than just their shopping expectations. Our Duty Managers are here to provide every assistance, from where to have lunch to which boutiques feature new merchandise.

At Starhill's Customer Service Centre, we provide further value-added services for customers; including personal shopper's assistance, shopping concierge, garment care service and gift-wrapping and delivery services. And capitalising on the hotel culture enables the Starhill service staff to respond to customers at standards expected of international destinations.

We believe it is our obligation to our government, which is making an enormous effort to establish Malaysia as a major shopping destination, to follow up with the level of service we provide to visitors. As a company with a number of holdings that have a substantive impact on the visitor's perception of Malaysia, we take it as our company's noblesse oblige to make sure these service standards are achieved.

To further enhance our customers' experience at Starhill, we have also created a database programme, through the YTL Community, that enables us to capture not just their profiles, but also their preferences and dislikes as well. Each time we learn something new about our customers, the database is updated automatically, so that over time, we begin to know more about them. This database is accessible to all our managers to avoid creating customer specific managers.

Our customer services are also extended to support the retailers for example, if the sales representative at the Celine outlet would like to serve her customers coffee, all she has to do is contact the customer service manager who will make the necessary arrangements with JW Marriott Gourmet. Or if customers wish to have lunch at Shook!, similar arrangements can also be made.

The keystone enabling us to deliver this unique lifestyle experience to our customers is our steadfast commitment to maintaining close relationships with our retailers, even if sometimes we may disagree on methods. We like to identify the common elements that we share with our business partners that will permit our reaching a consensus in action to attain on one hand, fundamental business considerations, while fully achieving our objective of meeting, and sometimes exceeding, the expectations of our mutual customers.

Conclusion
Moving forward, future investments for YTL in this area include The Ritz-Carlton Residences, which will have another 50,000 square feet of retail space in the podium block. This will eventually be connected to Starhill Shopping Centre and is due to be completed in June 2003. In total, our commitment for all these enhancements comes to RM30 million.

This evening is just the beginning. We are kicking-off an on-going campaign to promote the different experiences that can be found at Starhill, including the 4th Annual Starhill Wine Festival, the Bintang Gourmet Experience, as well as the Art Colony's Showcase.

I am confident that each of these will help us meet our objective of delivering a truly unique Starhill shopping experience.

Before I end, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the dedicated efforts taken by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism to turn our country into an international shopping paradise, putting us on the tourism map of the world.

On this note, I would now like to invite YB Dato' Dr. Ng Yen Yen to say a few words. Thank you.

Tan Sri Dato' Francis Yeoh
Managing Director
YTL Corporation Berhad

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