Daryl Foong of The Aquawalk Group Is Making A Splash

The Aquawalk Group are more than just large aquarium managers, they’re also playing a major role in environmental conservation of marine life.
text by Daween Maan
Daryl Foong

Daryl Foong, Executive Director of Aquawalk Group (Photo by Robin Yong)

I first met Daryl Foong about eight years ago; he was affable, newly married, and didn’t have a big job with a fancy title. Fast forward to the present day: he’s still affable, has three kids and cracks a joke about his title.

“Look at anyone working for their family company and they’re either ‘Executive Director’ or ‘Business Development Director’,” laughs the Executive Director of Aquawalk Group. The self-awareness complements his genuine passion for the company’s world-changing work.

Most well-known to the public as the owners and operators of Aquaria KLCC, the Aquawalk Group are far more than just large aquarium managers. Founded by his father, the equally amiable Dato’ Simon Foong, the company plays a major role in environmental conservation, working with government agencies and relevant NGOs all throughout the region to maintain, preserve, and educate the public about marine life.

“My day-to-day is a lot of travel and meetings,” says Daryl about his job. “You have the operational side, which is meeting with partners, landlords, employees. Then there’s also the Department of Fisheries and the Ministry of Education, because we have a lot of programmes and environmental activities that need collaboration with all these different stakeholders to pull off.”

As a recent example of such activities, Daryl tells me about the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Fisheries declaring a stretch of beach in Penang as a turtle friendly beach. “That’s one step closer towards getting it gazetted as a protected beach because turtles have been landing there.”


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With aquariums in Phuket and Jakarta, Daryl’s role takes him across the region as they also explore potentially new markets in Vietnam, Korea, and India.

“Recovery post-pandemic has been very strong,” he states proudly. “In 2022 we actually recorded stronger revenue growth than in 2019, and we showed even stronger growth in 2023, so everything is on the up and up.”

As an attraction that offers equal amounts of awe and education, the aquariums attract a fair balance of locals, tourists, and schoolchildren. Taking heed of the opportunities, Daryl admits they’re not completely done with expansion locally and are exploring more opportunities for more aquariums in Malaysia.

But it’s the environmental work that really lights him up, as he goes into great detail about their many research, conservation and restoration projects.


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A post shared by Aquaria KLCC (@aquariaklcc)

“One of the things we’re doing now is a coral conservation project together with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. At the first stage, we conducted a research project to determine what corals would be able to survive in the changing climate that we have.”

“The second phase is coral planting, which we have been doing. We’re looking to plant about one thousand new coral stubs that hopefully will grow into a new reef. We’ve done this primarily around Pulau Bidong, an island which belongs to UMT for their research purposes. The reefs were badly damaged by a storm at some point, so we’ve been replanting them, and hopefully we’ll be able to see the fruits of our research.”

From shark release to turtle tracking and conservation, the company’s commitment to the preservation and continuation of marine life is at the heart of their raison d’etre, which also includes the sharing of this work with the public.

“With all that we do, it’s important to give the public an avenue to participate and feel some ownership over it, and to inform them of its importance for the next generation.”

“Whenever people think of environmental conservation, their minds immediately go to the image of forests, because it’s so visual, whereas the oceans are so vast and a large part of the abuse they’ve gone through is unseen. So, part of our efforts is to educate the public on the importance of our marine ecosystems; we want them to experience the wonder, awe, and joy to be had in it.”

Daryl Foong

Daryl Foong, Executive Director of Aquawalk Group (Outfit Giorgio Armani | Photo Robin Yong) 

He runs through the years mentally and says, “I think, eight,” when I ask how many years it’s been since he joined the family business. “It’s all a blur,” he laughs.

Encouraged by his parents, Daryl spent several years working outside the family company, gaining experience in PR, sales, and marketing at other places, including L’Oreal. He credits this time immensely for teaching him things he may not have learned had he started under his father. Even when the time came to join the family business, Daryl chose to take no shortcuts, starting as a marketing manager for one of the company’s subsidiaries, The Body Shop and working his way up.

 It’s been an amazing journey,” he reflects. “I’ll be honest, working in a family business is not easy. We have different styles, different opinions and march to different tunes in our heads, but ultimately, we all have the same goals. Of course there are contentious periods, because everyone is passionate about reaching those goals, but with family, there is a core trust and a place of love, so you know there’s no hard feelings.”

Daryl Foong

Daryl Foong, Executive Director of Aquawalk Group (Photo by Robin Yong)

“Disagreements are healthy,” he laughs.

Alongside his role with Aquawalk Group, Daryl is also the CEO of Blu Restaurant, a franchise holder of the restaurant Burger and Lobster, one of his father’s favourite restaurants in London. When the brand wanted to expand into Southeast Asia, they sought a trusted partner and the opportunity presented itself.

With two locations already in Malaysia, in KLCC and SkyAvenue Genting Highlands, and more planned on the horizon, Daryl is quick to dispel the idea that managing the restaurants is a big departure from their existing businesses. Pointing to their previous experience managing a franchise in The Body Shop, Daryl expresses that while the operational details may differ, the bigger picture is still the same.

“It’s about building a place that you want people to come to. Sure, the details are different, and as a franchise there are certain things we must follow, but it’s the same principles: quality and care.”

With old projects resuming after the pandemic and new opportunities constantly presenting themselves, Daryl sets his eyes on the future feeling hopeful and excited. While admitting that working with family makes it feel like the work is constant and harder to switch off, he expresses a sense of fulfilment.

“I don’t remember who said it, and I’m paraphrasing, but there are three things you need in life: something to do, something to look forward to, and something to love; and right now, right here, I have all three.”

This story was first published in The Peak Malaysia June 2024 Issue.

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