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When Datuk R.Ramalingam Pillai first bought the abandoned Lotus Desaru Beach Resort in Kota Tinggi, Johor for RM120mil at an auction five years ago, many people including friends and family were against the idea.

Now five years later, with additional funds of RM50mil to refurbish and spruce up the place, the resort with about 1,600 rooms, has been described as the crown jewel of the Lotus Group.

Ramalingam, who is the group’s managing director, is proud that after Genting Highlands, Lotus Desaru is the second largest resort in the country.

“Now with the opening of a highway directly to Desaru last year and the RM60bil petroleum hub in Penggerang, there is huge potential for this resort,” he said.

He added that since its opening two years ago, the resort has added a children’s water theme park, water sport activities, an ayurveda spa from Kerala, India, and a ballroom, which can accommodate up to 1,200 people.

“Currently our occupancy is about 50% with most of our guests from Singapore.

“This definitely one of my best investments,” Ramalingam said, adding that he also has several other hotels in Brickfields, Jalan Masjid India and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur.

Talking about his investment in Desaru, he said, previously construction on the property was done in 1996 by a Singaporean company but two years later it was abandoned

“At that time it was only half completed and several units were owned by individuals.

“When I heard about the property coming up for an auction, I decided to come see the property before I placed my bid.

“That was my first trip to Desaru and I felt that six hour journey from Kuala Lumpur took forever due to the old road from Kulai to Desaru.

“When we finally arrived, I immediately liked the place and knew the potential for this property located on 19.4ha site,” he said, adding that he purchased the property without much too much difficulty as he was the only bidder.

Ramalingam, 50, added that in the initial stages, a lot of people including his friends had advised that he might be in trouble if he continued developing the resort.

“But I knew that this place would pick up and soon after purchasing the I visited the property each weekend for at least a year to find out the progress of work done to it.

“I even had to bring my contractors from Kuala Lumpur together with those from Johor to complete the place and construction took another two-and-a-half years before we opened for business in 2010.

“We also have a private beach and there are also water activities for our guests,” he said, adding that the resort has about 400 staff including 30% from India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

“We even took in youngsters from the nearby Felda estates and trained them to work in our resort.

“However, we have a high turnover as once they are trained here, they are pinched for better salaries in Singapore,” he said jokingly.

Ramalingam, who is also the president of the Indian Restaurant Association, added that previously he even took in several blind people from Kuala Lumpur as telephone operators and also at the front desk.

“I love being involved in social work and that is why I want my resort to provide employment for the less fortunate such as single mothers here,” he added.

He said since the opening of the Senai-Desaru Highway, the travelling distance to the resort has been cut and this has also helped improve occupancy.

“With plans to develop a dolphin park by 2014 and other attractions here, Desaru will definitely boom,” he added.

Ramalingam added that they were now trying to cater for wedding couples from India to come and have their weddings at the resort.

“This is a huge market as nowadays people go have their weddings in Hawaii or even Dubai and some of these wedding packages can be about US$2mil (RM6mil) to US$3mil.

“This includes flying in their guests and relatives to their wedding spot,” he said, adding that they were also popular among honeymooning couples from Hong Kong, China and Korea.

The resort is currently having a promotion, with room rates of between RM288 nett to RM1,200 nett.

For details, call 07-884 2800 or visit

Source : TheStar