Bringing luxury to senior living in Asia

Article by Serene Lim
eldery couples playing cards in apartment
Image credit: Shutterstock

In Songjiang New City on the outskirts of Shanghai lies a high rise residential development. It is set against a lush landscape filled with resort-style water features, with public restaurants, shops, sports facilities and entertainment spots all within easy reach.

Welcome to Shen Yuan Garden, a high-end retirement village, built by a subsidiary of Taikang Life Insurance Company and aimed at wealthy and middle-class elderly Chinese.

Luxury retirement villages hardly raise an eyebrow in some parts of Asia Pacific, namely Australia. Among the country’s many high end offerings, one of its latest The Brougham boasts rooftop dining and chauffeured services. Meanwhile, more than 5 percent of New Zealand’s population aged over 65 live in luxury retirement villages.

The rest of Asia is likely to see more of these upmarket retirement villages as affluent Asian baby boomers plan for active ageing, notes Noeleen Goh, JLL director in Capital Markets, specializing in senior living. She cites China as a developing market to watch as “parents and children live great distances apart and there is a growing upper to middle class which can afford these facilities.”

For their part, Chinese baby boomers are increasingly open to these retirement villages. According to a study done last year on Chinese high net worth individuals (HNWIs), 28 percent of them indicated medium- to high-end elderly care homes as their personal post-retirement plan, a jump of 87 percent compared from 2015.

New players such as Singapore’s luxury resort group Banyan Tree Holdings are now entering the market. Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with Chinese real estate firm Vanke to develop senior-living and active ageing projects, tapping on Banyan Tree’s expertise in luxury and wellness.

Tropical appeal

Thailand and Malaysia are also wooing Asian retirees, and are turning their attention to premium retirement villages. Take the forthcoming GreenAcres development in Ipoh, a Malaysian city known for its abundant nature, fresh air and good food. Greenacres is billed as the first retirement village development in Peninsular Malaysia with developers aiming to complete the first phase of the project – 26 villa units – this year.

In Thailand resort destinations such as Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai are offering a range of upmarket retirement homes and facilities, and developers are ramping up both the facilities and their marketing efforts as competition increases.

Thai property firm, Sunplay Bangsaray launched The Heights in Bangsaray last November, promoting it as first-of-its-kind upmarket active aging residence in the country. The development is close to golf courses, yacht club and medical facilities and there are facilities such as jogging and bike trails within the compound. Meanwhile Phuket’s luxurious MontAzure development along Kamala Beach prides its retirement and assisted-living village as being nestled amidst a beach club and nature reserves.

The Asian difference

The idea of checking into a retirement village, albeit an upmarket one, may be taking root among affluent Asians but many still prefer to stay at home with family members. While some older people might feel embarrassed about staying in a retirement village, others prefer to rely on domestic helpers in their old age given that labour costs still relatively affordable in Asia.

The lacklustre response to Tanner Hill, Hong Kong’s first premium housing for retirees, which was launched in December 2015 is a case in point. Despite being decked out with facilities such as a gymnasium, a mini theatre, day care and rehabilitation centres as well as Chinese and Western medical clinics, only 78 out of 588 apartments have been taken up.

There is also the longstanding stigma of retirement homes in some Asian countries. John Chong, Executive Director of Total Investment, the firm behind Green Acres, tells the New Straits Times that in Malaysia “many old folks’ homes or nursing homes are of very poor quality. This has resulted in a negative perception of such places and seniors do not wish to move into them”.

Goh explains that subtle adjustments can help to improve the appeal of a new generation of senior living developments. “For instance, Asian retirees might want a larger space for family members to be able to stay over when they visit,” she says.

In addition, facilities need to be able to cater for a wide range of medical or age related needs. “Seniors have changing needs,” says Goh. “They may be very healthy and active in their 60s but things could change rapidly when they hit their 70s and 80s. Retirement homes and villages need to be able to increase the level of care and extent of services whether it’s housekeeping, meals or nursing.”

Indeed in the developing market for senior living across in Asia, it’s the details that will make the difference – and these will change from country to country.

As Goh concludes: “Luxury retirement villages need to tailor their offering according to where demand is being driven from.”

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