A heritage building in an offbeat neighbourhood turned luxe designer hotel? Sounds like a formula for practically every boutique hotel these days. This was hardly the case 11 years ago in Singapore when New Majestic Hotel opened, blazing a trail and collecting a bunch of accolades such as the President’s Design Award and being on Conde Nast Traveler Hot List along the way.
Just when the lifestyle and boutique hotel scene is getting even hotter in Singapore – with the likes of new players such as Lo and Behold setting up The Warehouse Hotel and Hyatt’s Andaz entering the market later this year – New Majestic Hotel announced earlier this year that it would be shuttering on June 1, and be transformed into Straits Clan, a private members’ club.
The man behind the property admitted it was a “difficult and surprising” move, but said manpower costs were high and the profit margins were not as attractive as before. Reveals hotelier Loh Lik Peng, who started his journey with Hotel 1929 at Keong Saik Road in 2003: “The hotel scene has moved on a lot from a decade or so ago. Technology has changed the game, there’s more personalisation and travellers are more discerning.”
Loh is hardly forsaking the hospitality business. Following the success of Old Clare in Sydney, which opened its doors in 2015, he is searching for more potential hotel sites in Australian cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Back home here, he’s announced a new F&B project with chef Ivan Brehm, formerly of the one-Michelin-star Kitchen at Bacchanalia, as well as hired chef John-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble to helm Bistro November, which has taken over the space of Restaurant Ember.
He’s also anticipating a bittersweet farewell to his flagship hotel this month.
“Running New Majestic Hotel taught me a lot about the business. In many ways, it was a huge jump from Hotel 1929. It set the bar high for my future hotels and really defined the Unlisted Collection,” he says, referring to how New Majestic was ahead of its time in the use of design and designers.
When asked if the redevelopment of the New Majestic Hotel implies boutique hotels have a limited shelf life for hoteliers, Loh pauses.
He says: “I don’t think so, as they have changed the industry and there is now constant traveller demand for them. But there is a duration for which each boutique hotel can remain relevant – you need to continuously innovate to stay fresh and ahead of evolving needs and trends.”
Loh recalls his experiences at the New Majestic: “There were some crazy party days in the beginning, but my favourite memory of New Majestic is celebrating my son’s first birthday at the hotel lobby and restaurant. The best memories of a hotel are always personal.”