GEORGE TOWN, March 8 ― International hotelier Chris Ong, an experienced hand at turning old heritage houses into enchanting boutique hotels, has now set his sights on promoting George Town's multi-cultural charms through his new set-up, George Town Heritage Hotels Sdn Bhd.
The former investment banker, a born and bred Penangite, said there was so much that George Town has to offer that its dwellers should be proud of.
“Even now, we have started celebrating Peranakan festivals at Seven Terraces, starting with the ‘tang yuen’ festival end of last year and recently, we celebrated ‘pai thni kong’ and ‘chap goh meh’,” he said, referring to one of his boutique hotels.
During the “tang yuen” festival, also known as the Winter Solstice Festival, the hotel served its own version of the “tang yuen” to guests in Nyonya crockery along with a card explaining the meaning of the festival.
For “pai thni kong” or the Jade Emperor's Birthday, which falls on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year, the hotel set up a table of offerings complete with sugar cane stalks, joss sticks, pink sugar pagoda and traditional food offerings for the Jade Emperor.
“We set it up so that guests can experience and learn more about this culture,” Ong said.
Similarly, for “chap goh meh”, the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year, Seven Terraces offered its own take of the bubur cha cha to its guests. Bubur cha cha is a coconut milk and sweet potatoes concoction usually served during the festival.
“I want to get people to be proud of our own culture, so I will be launching George Town Heritage and Hotels in May this year that will ultimately be an information hub about Penang,” he said.
The 55-year-old said George Town Heritage and Hotels (GTHH) will also group all his boutique hotels, namely Muntri Mews, Muntri Residences, Muntri Grove, Seven Terraces and the latest addition, Jawi Peranakan Mansion, under one brand name.
GTHH, with the website address georgetownheritage.com, will be introducing annual competitions to promote George Town such as a photography competition on the city’s heritage features.
“It will be held annually so that when they go around taking photographs of places all around George Town, the whole world can see it from different perspectives,” he said, adding that the photographs will be judged by an international panel of experts.
GTHH will also be expanding the Seven Terraces Living Heritage Treasures Awards to introduce a RM20,000 annual welfare fund for Penang’s remaining eight “living treasures”.
“Some of them are old and poor so they may need help with medical fees so any of these living treasures can apply for the fund,” Ong said.
A total 12 people, including talents like batik artist the late Datuk Chuah Thean Teng and Thai Menora dancer Noo Wan@Wan Dee Aroonratana, have been named as the living heritage treasures of Penang between 2004 and 2015. Since then, however, four including Chuah have passed away.
Ong said he also plans to start a competition for architectural students for ideas on reusing heritage buildings.
“It will also be an annual competition for students, at least for the next five years,” he said.
The website for the new company is already up and Ong hopes to officially launch the new brand name and introduce its various programmes by May this year.