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Singapore hotels introduce unusual property upgrades in bid to stay relevant

Hotels in Singapore are introducing major revamps to stay ahead in the hospitality game.

The St. Regis Singapore: Caroline’s Mansion

There’s a new hotspot in town and everyone who is anyone wants to be there. But they need an invitation to get into Caroline’s  Mansion, and it’s not because it’s the private home of an elegant tai tai.

Instead, it’s a much sought-after luxury events space that sits adjacent to The St Regis Singapore, and is named after Caroline Astor, the founding matriarch of the St Regis.

The space, converted from the hotel’s indoor tennis courts, has a ballroom that can seat about 180 people, and can be split into three intimate spaces, a pre-event area and a foyer. Design firm Avalon Collective took its cue from the original home of Ms Astor, a consummate host well known for her lavish parties.

General Manager Xavi Gonzalez says, “Caroline’s Mansion was conceptualised because of an increased demand for luxury event spaces that are exclusive and intimate.” He adds, “meeting and event planners are constantly seeking out alternative venues that are different from the typical boardroom spaces.”

There are carved mahogany wood doors flanked by beveled glass arched portals, pendant lights crafted with mouth-blown bubbled glass crystals, and a grand staircase built with stone treads and risers, drawing attention to the double height volume of the space. Caroline’s Mansion has already been booked for launch events, private dinners and birthday parties.

Singapore’s top hotels have been on a revamp spree of late. For example, Orchard Hotel Singapore just completed an overhaul that included a new look for its rooms and restaurants, and a new snazzy ballroom. Byron Chong, its general manager says, “product improvement is necessary for the hotel to remain relevant and competitive.” Opened in 1980, its last revamp was in 2011.

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Caroline's Mansion entranceCaroline's Mansion interiorKeyaki Garden Pavilion at Pan Pacific SingaporeOrchard Hotel Singapore new deluxe roomPortable wifi at Royal Plaza on ScottsProject 210 Naumi Hotel SingaporeProject 210 Naumi Hotel SingaporeL65 bar Swissotel The Stamford

“Recognising the importance of the guest experience from arrival to checkout, the enhancements were carefully planned to include an elegant reception and lobby area, contemporary dining outlets, refreshed event spaces and modern guest rooms,” says Mr Chong. The deluxe rooms now have a more modern look in soothing colour themes, while the iconic The Orchard Cafe, now boasts a garden-like setting that is more attractive to the photo-taking social media crowd. Its revamp is also part of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels’ worldwide refurbishment programme to upgrade hotel facilities and enhance guest experience.

Keeping up with the competition

Global hotel data and benchmarking firm STR’s area director for Asia Pacific, Jesper Palmqvist, says refurbishments are particularly relevant in Singapore at the moment, since there has been a spate of new hotels, such as Sofitel Singapore City Centre and Andaz Singapore entering the market in the past four years.

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“This new supply challenges the older supply to compete for market share, with customers finding brand new and attractive hotels across the island,” he says. “This will often push older hotels to consider both upgrades to their facilities but also potential realignments, and not only to cater for trends and more recent customer demands, but also to optimise their space, productivity and ultimately their profitability.”

Reimagining spaces

The Keyaki Garden Pavilion at Pan Pacific Singapore is an example of how the hotel is making better use of its grounds. What was previously an alfresco shelter outside its Japanese restaurant, was subject to Singapore’s unpredictable weather. In its place now is a pavilion clad in Shoji-inspired screens that open into a koi pond.

The dining space can be customised for private dinners, cocktail receptions and intimate weddings. “The decision to build a fully air-conditioned space was practical and allowed for more versatility,” says hotel general manager Kurt O. Wehinger. ”Take-up for the pavilion has been positive since its unveil in July 2018 and we are hopeful that with growing awareness, there will be a steady increase in bookings.”

Sometimes, it is the small details that result in big changes. At Royal Plaza on Scotts, instead of offering free WIFI within the hotel (an expected feature nowadays), the hotel is the first in Singapore to provide unlimited mobile data outside of the hotel with free use of its pocket WIFI devices. “This meaningful benefit has helped in stirring interest and bringing in new contracts for the hotel. It is a paradox that modern travellers are subjected to high costs when finding the best value travel data package in the market. Having pocket WIFI devices with unlimited data at guests’ fingertips takes off some stress from travelling, “says its general manager, Patrick Fiat.

The hotel’s revamped rooms also come with thoughtful touches such as USB ports near the bed stands, saving guests the need to lug along a travel adaptor.

Management consultant Mark Chua spends at least 65 nights a year staying in hotels, and says that revamps are “absolutely necessary for a property to stay current and competitive in an ever-changing landscape.”

Refreshed rooms are important to him, since this is what he is largely paying for. “If the hotel attracts plenty of business guests and well-heeled travellers, the executive lounge is also incredibly important since this can be a differentiating factor for various high spenders,” he adds.

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Elevating the executive lounge

Should he stay at Swissotel The Stamford, he is likely to appreciate the hotel’s new executive lounge.

Guests staying in rooms on the executive floors have access to Level 65, named after its locale within the building. Its expansive interior is made up of distinct functional spaces catered to the needs of the modern traveller throughout the day, whether they’re working, dining, exercising or just chilling out.

Swissotel The Stamford also refreshed its rooms and redesigned its lobby to offer both a homely setting and automated check in counters. New dining and entertainment concepts were also introduced such as SKAI Restaurant and Bar on the 70th floor.

Marcus Hanna, general manager of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford says “a lot of research; analysis and social listening to guest and colleague feedback; consumer trends; staying true to the application of the Swissotel brand DNA; have helped drive the whole transformation journey.”

Instagram-worthy rooms

Not all transformations involve bringing in the professionals. Naumi Hotel recently launched Project #210, named after one of its hotel rooms. The boutique hotel held a competition inviting interior design students to redesign the room. The design of room 210 will change every quarter.

“The brief was to create an Instagram-worthy room to attract the next generation of travellers as we noticed a shift in needs to have a space that would be picturesque for a social media feed,” says Peter Wong, its vice president.

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The first team to win the coveted opportunity are final year students from Temasek Polytechnic School of Design, who were inspired by Tyler The Creator, a creative personality in music, TV and fashion. The youthful, bold design uses colour-blocking, lighting and designer furnishing from Muuto.

Mr Wong says, “as we look to expand our brand, and keep our existing hotels current, we know the vital role design plays in order to offer a positive guest experience. We recently refurbished our rooftop and lobby, and Project 210 is another new experience that we want to share with our guests, so they keep coming back.”

Mr Palmqvist says there is no hard and fast rule as to how often a hotel should revamp, as it depends on factors including overall market demand and supply, size and variety of the property offerings, how well kept it is from an operational standpoint, and hotel class.

Profitability, he says is a way to judge how successful a revamp has been. “Many other values will of course follow – customer satisfaction in reviews, media attention, staff motivation, happier guests etc. But the ability to use space differently and be more optimised, and perhaps raise prices to enable better yield and profitability to the owner –that is what matters most,” says Mr Palmqvist.

A spokesman for Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore says that the hotel has seen an increase in the number of family travellers after the launch of its family accommodation and Buds by Shangri-La, its interactive play space for children, catering to both hotel and non-hotel guests. The hotel now has a dedicated family floor with five themed family suites and 19 family rooms.

But while the hardware can get a revamp, it is still the soft touch that matters. Mr Chua notes that the hotel’s service culture is something that is revealed fairly quickly from the moment a guest checks in. “Employees that are empowered to recognise and impress their most loyal guests get the highest marks from me,” he says. He doesn’t expect grand gestures but instead says, “the slightest recognition makes the biggest difference. There is nothing more insulting for a loyal guest being asked whether or not it is his or her first stay at the property.”

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This article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: BT/SPH, Pan Pacific Singapore, Naumi Hotel Singapore, Swissotel The Stamford, Orchard Hotel Singapore & Royal Plaza on Scotts