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How Singaporean hoteliers are creating a luxurious home-away-from-home experience on the global stage

High-profile openings are establishing the Singapore brand in a big way.

Cup noodles. Ask a Singaporean if he has an emergency stash of it in his suitcase when he travels and you’re likely to get a sheepish nod. But if he was planning to check into the Naumi Hotel Auckland Airport, he wouldn’t need to because it would have all his cravings catered for already.

The Singapore-based private hotel owner and operator opened its first overseas hotel in February 2018, with a 193-room property located in the airport precinct. In Singapore, it owns the Naumi Hotel Singapore at Seah Street.

Its Auckland hotel features the likes of laksa, mee goreng and Singapore Sling on its restaurant menu. And when Naumi Heritage Wellington and Naumi Suites Wellington open later in 2019, Singaporeans will get their comfort food favourites too.

“As a Singaporean brand, we want to share the best of Singapore and what it is known for – food and multiculturalism. This strengthens our identity overseas and provides our guests and staff a taste of home even when they’re in another country,” says Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala, chief executive of Naumi Hotels in Australia and New Zealand.

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Singaporean hospitality brands expanding overseas are nothing new, but activity has stepped up in recent years, with more openings to come.

Hong Leong Group’s venture into the hospitality industry started in 1971 with the development of King’s Hotel. In the 1980s, the Group continued to expand its hotel portfolio, acquiring hotels in Asia. It expanded beyond Asia in the 1990s, with the purchase of Gloucester Hotel in London and acquisition of a 13-hotel New Zealand chain in 1993, among others.

In 2019, the Group will focus on refurbishing some of the iconic hotels in its global portfolio.

Another Singapore brand which sought a global footprint early on is Banyan Tree, when it opened its flagship resort in Phuket in 1994. It recently announced that it signed 26 new hotel agreements for its four brands, Banyan Tree, Angsana, Cassia and Dhawa hotels and resorts. These projects are expected to become operational over the next three years, and are in Salzburg, Canary Island, Fiji, Hebei and Guiyang, to name a few. It currently has 48 hotels and resorts in 25 countries.

Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings says, “we keep a balance between choosing locations that are on the way to becoming destinations in their own right, and ones that are already travellers’ favourites.”

Increasingly, boutique brands are also seeking expansion overseas.

Besides its two new hotels in New Zealand, Naumi is also expanding into Australia with the introduction of Naumi Hotel Sydney in 2020.

“Australia and New Zealand fall within our top three guest demographics, and we want to take Naumi into markets that are already familiar with our brand,” says Mr Jhunjhnuwala. “Our expansion into Australasia is fuelled by high visitor demand and a shortage of rooms.” The brand is also looking to expand to Queenstown, Christchurch, Melbourne and Brisbane in the next two to three years. After which, it is eyeing Europe, as a good portion of Naumi’s loyal customers come from the continent.

CATERING TO DIFFERENT MARKETS

Homegrown property and hospitality group Roxy-Pacific Holdings Limited is going places with its Noku brand.  Noku opened its first hotel in Kyoto in 2015, followed by Osaka in 2017 and Maldives in 2018. Up next is Noku Phuket which will open in phases in 2019 and 2020.

Chris Teo, managing director of Roxy-Pacific Holdings Limited says, “these Asian destinations are rich in culture and thus offer unique travel experiences.”

But unlike at Naumi hotels, there aren’t any Singapore touches in the Noku hotels, as “we respect and connect with the local culture,” says Mr Teo. Instead, there are curated experiences and collaborations with the local community. For example, guests can go on a paid Noku Kyoto Neighbourhood Morning Tour, which takes them through the back streets adjacent to the Kyoto Imperial Palace to visit workshops and traditional stores that have served the palace for generations. Some of these workshops are not usually open to the public.

The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, which owns The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, is headed to Australia, where what is currently the Westin Sydney will be rebranded as The Fullerton Hotel Sydney.

“There is real synergy between The Fullerton Singapore and what will become its sister hotel, The Fullerton Sydney, which share a similar rich history and heritage as a General Post Office,” says Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Heritage.

As part of the rebranding exercise, the facade of the former Sydney GPO building, which was completed in 1891, will be repaired and cleaned. In addition, the Fullerton will also seek a National Heritage listing for the property.

SERVICED APARTMENTS

It is not just Singapore-owned hotels that are expanding fast overseas. Serviced residences are also making strides.

The Ascott Limited pioneered Asia Pacific’s first international-class serviced residence in 1984, and now has over 600 properties in 32 countries. In 2018 alone, it added more than 160 properties to its network.

It is also the only Singaporean hospitality company ranked in the top five global players by portfolio in the 2018 Global Services Apartments Industry Report, behind Marriott, Hilton and Extended Hotels USA and before Intercontinental. “We are also the fastest growing, with our portfolio expanding at an annual rate of over 20 per cent in the last few years,” says Kevin Goh, Ascott’s chief executive.

In 2019, it will open more than 70 properties in over 50 countries, including its first properties in Foshan and Changsha, China.

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SINGAPOREAN PEDIGREE

Singapore brand hotels are well-received wherever they open. Arthur Kiong, chief executive of Far East Hospitality, which expanded into Malaysia with Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur says, “Singaporean management expertise is well sought after. We are valued for our trustworthiness, transparency, planning ability, risk management, innovation and productivity.”

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Besides Singapore’s reputation, Banyan Tree Holding’s Mr Ho says, “Being grounded in Asian roots and culture while having a global mindset also enables us to form partnerships across many different cultures.”

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Tan Kian Seng, Interim CEO and group chief of staff of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, says, “Our Singapore roots give us a genuine sense of Asian hospitality, where guests are at the core of everything we do and create, in every single property from mid-scale to luxury. This consistency, together with our prime locations in key gateway cities,  give us the competitive edge.”

Frasers Hospitality’s chief executive Choe Peng Sum says, “When we first expanded overseas, and even now, we always state and highlight the fact that we are a Singapore brand. That carries with it the values that Singapore Inc is known for:  efficiency, trustworthiness, dependability. But that also means that as a brand, we continue to perpetuate the perceived values of our overseas partners.  We work hard at it and don’t ever take the Singapore brand as an automatic halo.” The firm celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018 and has more than 150 properties in over 80 cities.

SINGAPOREANS IN SINGAPORE HOTELS

Do Singaporeans gravitate to home-owned hotels overseas? Ascott’s Mr Goh believes so, as Singaporeans are amongst the top nationalities of guests staying at its properties. “Guests are assured of the familiar comforts of home, safety and privacy.”

Mr Ho says that “the fact that Banyan Tree is a Singaporean brand is a source of pride for many of our loyal repeat guests. There is a strong global movement to support independent and local brands, as customers are increasingly seeing their dollar spent as a vote cast, and therefore want to spend it with companies they identify with and relate to.”

Oakwood, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mapletree Investments manages two properties in Singapore – Oakwood Studios Singapore at Mount Elizabeth and Oakwood Premier at OUE Downtown. Its managing director for Asia Pacific, Dean Schreiber says, “Oakwood has always been a well-regarded brand for providing accommodation in serviced apartments. The continual success from its high profile properties in Singapore will only help to further establish that trust and brand recognition.”

Mr Choe says it has a fair proportion of Singaporeans staying at many of its properties.  “Many of them are repeat customers, and whilst being a Singapore brand could have been of vital importance, we also need to ensure that we meet their needs, either through our prime locations and/or the services and facilities they have come to expect and trust of Fraser.”

Mr Teo of Roxy-Pacific believes that it is more about a hotel’s offerings that matter rather than where the brand is from. “Like travellers of all nationalities, Singaporeans will choose their hotels based on curated experiences that can create timeless memories.”

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Similarly, Far East Hospitality’s Mr Kiong says, “There is no evidence that Singaporeans choose a brand for nationalistic reasons. It is more likely that people choose a brand based on its reputation and past experiences.”

Millennium & Copthorne Hotels’ Mr Tan adds, “Our hotels around the world do see a fair bit of Singaporeans checking in but it is likely the soft touches like Singaporean-inspired dining outlets, our good service and cosy ambience that have them choosing our brand over others.”


OPENING IN 2019

Planning your holiday for 2019? Here are some Singapore-brand hotels around the world that you will want to check into.

  • The Fullerton Hotel Sydney

    THE FULLERTON HOTEL SYDNEY

    Like its sister hotel in Singapore, The Fullerton Hotel Sydney, which will open on October 19 2019, was previously home to a General Post Office. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore was previously Singapore’s General Post Office and also housed several other important government departments.

    Similarly, The Fullerton Hotel Sydney will be located within the historic Sydney GPO Building, at 1 Martin Place which was completed in 1891. It is currently The Westin Sydney.

    Ongoing works to the building include the remediation and repair of the hotel’s facade, which will be carried out in line with all relevant Federal and New South Wales heritage laws and regulations.

(RELATED: 4 Singapore hoteliers making waves with boutique properties overseas)

This story was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: Banyan Tree Holdings, The Fullerton Hotel, Naumi Hotel, Oakwood Asia, Angsana, Lyf by Ascott & Ascott