Travel is cancelled. Contactless service is reiterated and emphasised. Safe distancing is the phrase on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Welcome to the “new normal”.

In 2017, international tourism accounted for 4.1 percent of Singapore’s national GDP, so it’s no exaggeration to say that travel restrictions and bans as a result of COVID-19 plunged the travel and hospitality industry into an abyss.

What followed was Singapore’s hotel industry scrambling to mitigate the situation: after all, the core of the business relies on guests physically being there to relax and make merry. The months have been trying to say the least, but establishments are still keeping their chins up.

“We are all social creatures that need to connect,” says Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, General Manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts. “The world remains a wonderful place with its incredible sights, fascinating cultures and unforgettable experiences. Despite the trying times, the spirit of travel and the joy of connecting with people and cultures all over the world are still alive.”

Employing new strategies

hotels in Singapore responding covid
Christian Westbeld, General Manager of Raffles Hotel Singapore (Image credit: Raffles Hotel)

The torrential rain of disheartening news poured in April, when it was declared that staycations were no longer allowed. Not only did this news cast a gloomy shadow over guests seeking a bit of an escape, it also meant that hotels had to employ new strategies to stay afloat.

Raffles Hotel, one of Singapore’s most celebrated heritage establishments, had just announced the official re-opening last year after a lengthy two-year restoration project.

This global pandemic has disrupted and greatly impacted the way people live. For the hospitality industry where dining in (restaurants), hotel stays and travel is no longer possible given worldwide restrictions, it means having to rethink business models and operations to enable our guests to continue enjoying our signature experiences where possible while remaining safe.
Christian Westbeld, General Manager of Raffles Hotel Singapore

To cope, Raffles Hotel Singapore swiftly launched Grab & Go, its very own food takeaway and delivery service.

“F&B has always been a key focus for Raffles Hotel Singapore,” said Westbeld. “The commencement of our takeaway and delivery service for F&B is a direct impact of the current situation. This option provides an opportunity for us to stay top of mind with our guests, allow colleagues to be engaged as well as provide a small contribution to revenue.” 

hotels in Singapore responding covid
Murgh Tandoori, Tiffin Dal Makhani & Prawn Balchao from the Tiffin Room (Image credit: Raffles Hotel)

The saturated hospitality industry in Singapore is difficult to navigate, and is even more challenging for those who are planning to enter during the unforeseen circumstances. Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore, under the luxury Thai brand, Dusit International, was scheduled to open in September 2020. 

hotels in Singapore responding covid
(Image credit: Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore)

Following delays to renovation and construction works caused by the circuit breaker and other restrictions, they are currently scheduled to open in the last quarter of 2020. Besides these issues, the pandemic affected the resort’s opening strategy as well. 

Since the pandemic hit, our immediate priority has been on assuring guests and residents (stay-in guests) that our luxury urban resort is a clean, safe and secure place to stay in when we open. Together with Laguna National Golf & Country Club, we have established a combined task force dedicated to overseeing the development and implementation of extensive hygiene, cleanliness and distancing protocols, from arrival to departure
Eric Piatti, General Manager of Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore

Piatti added, “Since travelling will be restricted for the foreseeable future, we have switched our strategy to focus on the domestic market. We will be rolling out a host of Discover Dusit staycation packages when we open, offering a handful of dining, golfing and spa promotions.” 

Improving the skillsets of employees and giving back to the community

While many hotels stressed the importance of providing services to guests across the island, others made it a point to hone and upgrade the skills of its employees.

hotels in Singapore responding covid
Rivero Delgado, Area Vice President, Singapore, Malaysia & Maldives, Marriott International (Image credit: Marriott International)

“As a company, we never stop searching for inventive ways to provide opportunities for our associates to better themselves and grow,” said Rivero Delgado, Area Vice President, Singapore, Malaysia & Maldives, Marriott International. “Hence hotels are investing in its people and this time as an opportunity to offer refresher and enhanced training sessions so our associates are geared and ready to handle the new normal.”

With many Marriott associates working from home, their teams have been encouraged to partake in online skill enhancing training made available on internal learning platforms. These training sessions focus on development opportunities as well as programs for mentoring, wellbeing and more.

The company has also stressed that all associates at Marriott hotels are being trained on the specific usage of new equipment and ways of interacting with guests under the “new normal” conditions, where guests are made to feel safe and at home with a sense of unwavering familiarity.

hotels in Singapore responding covid
Cleaning practices at Fullerton Hotel Singapore (Image credit: Fullerton Hotel Singapore)

Apart from allowing staff to undergo enhanced training to improve their skills, the team at Fullerton recognises the significance of contributing and giving back to the community, especially during times of crisis.

Caring for others is at the core of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts’ DNA. Hence, we are also supporting the frontline heroes who are bravely serving the communities, as well as migrant worker groups who need an extra helping hand.
Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, General Manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, Singapore

Viterale further elaborated that the culinary team has prepared over 10,000 daily packed meals for healthcare workers and migrant workers in Singapore, and “have donated essential supplies including masks and clothes to migrant workers.”

Stringent cleanliness protocols

Yet all this rings hollow if a hotel does not address the reality of virus transmission and how easily it can spread throughout the community. To alleviate fears, hotels have stepped up on measures to reassure guests when they eventually can come back.

hotels in Singapore responding covid
Electrostatic electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant will be used Marriott’s establishments (Image credit: Marriott International)

To that effect, Area Vice President Rivero Delgado shares that the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council has been established to tackle the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic at the hotel level. It is focused on developing the next level of global hospitality cleanliness standards, norms and behaviours that are designed to minimise risk and enhance safety for consumers and Marriott associates alike.

This includes electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant. The brand is also looking to explore the use of ultraviolet light technology for sanitizing keys for guests and devices shared by associates.

Changing the concept of hospitality

The concept of hospitality is difficult to imagine, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. After all, personalised service staff and human connections form the foundations to luxury living.

hotels in Singapore responding covid
(Image credit: IHG)

Over at InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay, the hotel has come up with a slew of technological initiatives to reinvent the guest experience. Apart from a new Digital Concierge platform, guest rooms will also feature QR Codes for the hotel’s distinct dining establishments for a contactless in-room dining experience.

Additionally, new technologies that focus on guest wellness will be introduced, allowing guests the chance to partake in Virtual Yoga sessions within the privacy of their room, or atop of the hotel at its outdoor rooftop, whereby virtual instructor-led classes will take place.

A new mobile application is also set to be released in the latter half of the year so that guests of Fullerton Hotels and Resorts can check-in and access their guest rooms with minimal contact made with front office personnel.

hotels in Singapore responding covid
(Image credit: Fullerton Hotel Singapore)

Yet, one cannot help but wonder if the absence of human interaction will result in creating distance between guests and the hotel staff, making it counterintuitive for guests to even partake in the experience. This lingering thought, however, was quickly dismissed.

“Despite the lack of physical touch, we are very focused on personalising each stay for our guests. We offer our intuitive service and anticipate guests’ needs in advance,” says Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, General Manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, Singapore.

“For example, we are adapting our menus to offer healthier food options that promotes wellness. We are also offering our classic afternoon tea experience for guests to enjoy within their guestrooms which overlooks the splendid Marina Bay. This option is ideal for guests who prefer exclusivity and enjoyment in a private space,” he added. 

It is clear that hotels in Singapore are going to great lengths to innovate and make use of technology to find creative solutions to reassure their guests when they eventually do return. Yet, guest confidence remains to be a principal key to how successful these measures will play out. One thing’s for sure, the  industry will never be the same again. 

Jocelyn Tan
Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer. She's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.