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Singapore hotels are pulling out the stops to bring in customers, after two years of disruption to tourism because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

Singapore hotels pull out the stops with facelifts, rebrandings and staycation offers – including for pets – to survive two years of Covid restrictions

  • As the pandemic drags on, Singapore’s hotel scene is adapting to survive, with ever more imaginative staycation promotions and dining deals
  • The Mandarin Orchard is closing, the Hilton is moving, and among those to open or rebrand are the Dusit Thani Laguna, Clan Hotel and Oasia Resort Sentosa

The Mandarin Orchard is bowing out of Singapore’s hotel scene.

Many Singaporeans over 35 will be familiar with the 51-year-old hotel (which is unconnected to the Mandarin Oriental chain), as it was favoured for weddings and other family celebrations in the 1980s and ’90s. The Mandarin Orchard was also popular with Indonesian visitors, particularly medical tourists, because of its proximity to the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

The hotel, which will be rebranded as a Hilton, had lost some of its shine as an increasing number of international hospitality brands arrived in Singapore over the past three decades.

Even so, the timing of the announcement, in March 2021 – more than a year after the pandemic’s onset dealt a crushing blow to hotels used to being full of overseas tourists – has left many in the industry believing that the dearth of customers was one of the reasons for the Mandarin Orchard’s closure.

The Mandarin Orchard in Singapore is closing down. Photo: Shutterstock

The Hilton Singapore will start operations on March 1 at the premises on Orchard Road, less than 2km away from the building in which it had operated since 1970, which was itself taken over by another hotel, the voco Orchard, on January 1.

Despite the disruption to global tourism, Singapore has seen a number of hotels open or rebrand in the past two years, including the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, Dusit Thani Laguna, Clan Hotel and Oasia Resort Sentosa. Openings scheduled in 2022 include the Pullman Singapore, in a property previously occupied by the Grand Park Orchard hotel.

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Meanwhile, other hotels soldier on. According to the Singapore Hotel Association, the average occupancy rate at its 160 members (which account for less than half of the city’s approximately 400 hotels) in December 2021 was 71 per cent – an improvement over the 62 per cent in December 2020 but down on 2019, when average occupancy was 83 per cent.

That the industry hasn’t collapsed has a lot to do with the Singapore government’s support during the pandemic – many hotels were turned into quarantine facilities for inbound travellers and state-issued SingapoRediscovers vouchers encouraged Singaporeans to book staycations. Still, but hoteliers have been working hard to boost business.

Just as in Hong Kong, where pre-Covid demand for rooms came mostly from visiting guests, Singapore’s hotels have had to find ways of appealing to domestic customers even if staff are harder to come by. One means of survival has been to dangle carrots for room bookings and vouchers for food and drinks – each juicier than the last.

The InterContinental Singapore has launched some 50 promotions since the pandemic began. Photo: Shutterstock

“Before the pandemic, we would run a promotion for a few months but now we have to think of a new promotion every two weeks,” says Andreas Kraemer, general manager at the InterContinental Singapore, who says that his team has launched as many as 50 promotions in the past two years.

The most recent was a partnership with Italian perfume maker Acqua di Parma to offer high tea with savouries and sweets that evoked the ingredients used in the creation of scents. The hotel also launched a just concluded “culinary superstar hunt”, wherein the winner will land a chef de cuisine position and give their name to a new Italian dining concept.

Boutique hotels have also used brand partnerships to entice Singapore residents. The Vagabond Club offers a perfume customisation experience with home-grown label Maison 21G, while St Regis Singapore worked with fashion house Burberry to offer guests a Burberry-inspired high tea. Crab salad with St Regis Tea Jelly and mulled winter berries with red wine, confit orange and cinnamon cream were among the treats apparently dreamed up with help from the British fashion house.
The Vagabond Club offered a perfume customisation experience. Photo: Shutterstock

While olfactory treats and “pet-cations” are not unusual, the Four Seasons Singapore has upped the ante by offering chef-cooked meals for pets that check in with their owners. The Capella Singapore has partnered with a high-end pet spa to provide ayurvedic treatments for pets, which are also served hot breakfasts, as well as activities for children with an emphasis on art, cooking and culture.

Some hotels have tried to replicate an overseas travel experience through the cuisine they serve. The Andaz Singapore ran a “Lazy Kitchen” special during which guests could request breakfast specials available at the chain’s hotels in Bali, Indonesia, Munich, Germany, or Seoul, South Korea.

The Four Seasons Singapore came up with a galactic-themed package, which appealed to Star Wars-loving kids (and dads), while the Fullerton Hotel Singapore launched a kids’ club with experiences in art, heritage, sustainability, wellness and cuisine.
The Andaz Singapore hotel ran a “Lazy Kitchen” promotion. Photo: Shutterstock

To encourage spending, hotels have thrown in dining credits with room bookings.

The Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay – which has replaced the Marina Mandarin – ran a “100 per cent Dining Credits” promotion under which guests were returned 100 per cent of what they paid for their room in the form of dining credits to use during their stay. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore offers S$120 (US$89) of dining credits and complimentary room upgrades for selected room types and, under another package, a complimentary second night and 20 per cent off à la carte food orders.

To interest diners, some hotels revamped their restaurant offerings. The Capitol Kempinski Singapore recently unveiled new dishes at its flagship restaurant, 15 Stamford by Alvin Leung, Frieda, its German restaurant and La Scala Ristorante, its Italian brasserie. The Andaz recently opened a Cantonese restaurant, 5 on 25.
The Capella Hotel in Singapore will continue to look to the domestic market in the first half of this year. Photo: Shutterstock
With fewer guests, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to renovate. The 13-year-old Capella Singapore was designed by Pritzker Prize winner Norman Foster. In a year-long project completed last July, André Fu updated the late Jaya Ibrahim’s interiors by introducing softer silhouettes and colours such as mineral grey, sand and sage green. The idea was to bring the Sentosa Island rainforest that surrounds the property indoors.

Since the pandemic began, the need for city dwellers to be in touch with nature has been considered greater than ever. Although in the midst of the concrete jungle, the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay opened in December 2020 as a natural sanctuary complete with a four-storey indoor garden.

With strict hygiene standards expected of hotels in the “new normal”, the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore introduced a Hypoallergenic Room Collection featuring special bedding and even curtain blinds that inhibit dust and mould formation.

The Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay Hotel has a four-storey indoor garden. Photo: Shutterstock

The One Farrer Hotel has taken things a step further. As part of a S$2 million refurbishment, the property launched the “Mint Hotel”. What sets this room category apart is its stringent cleanliness standards: there are no carpets, a hotbed for germs and pathogens; and rooms are sanitised with ultraviolet-C lamps. The nearby Farrer Park Hospital, which is affiliated to the hotel, was consulted on the sanitation measures.

Thanks to these and other initiatives, domestic guests have helped Singapore’s hotels stay afloat and prevented many job losses (efforts by the government and the National Trades Union Congress to deploy staff to roles in other organisations in the early days of the pandemic helped in this respect, too).

In 2019, Singapore residents made up about 4 per cent of the Four Seasons Singapore’s guests but this percentage has grown to 52 per cent in the past 18 months.

As hard as they try to appeal to Singapore residents, though, hotels in the Lion City must face the fact that the island state is small – its population is just 5.7 million – and the return of international tourists is likely to be a slow process.

The Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore introduced a Hypoallergenic Room Collection. Photo: Shutterstock

Before the pandemic, the InterContinental Singapore would see 80 to 90 per cent occupancy in December, but had only half its rooms occupied in December 2021. For 2021, the Capella Singapore reports an average occupancy of around 70 per cent.

Yngvar Stray, general manager of the Capella Singapore, believes that Singapore hotels will remain focused on the domestic market for the first half of 2022 and that “many of us will continue to face an uphill struggle”.

Asked about her plans, Harpreet Bedi, chief executive of The Garcha Group, which owns The Vagabond Club, says: “We are looking at creating more interesting room and dining packages to attract both local and overseas guests.”

And so Singapore’s hoteliers continue to roll with the punches.