From Hotel California to No Room at Hostel – Singapore Hotel’s Change of Fortune

THE last time I interviewed Marcus Hanna, General Manager of the Fairmont and Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore, we were both masked, his hotels were like ghost towns, the latter being a quarantine hotel (where he stayed for three years) and he talked to me about what it was like to deal with a “Hotel California” type situation where guests couldn’t leave their rooms.

Almost 18 months later, we’ve sat across from each other in the busy Mikuni restaurant at the Fairmont and Hanna looks decidedly happier and lighter, having consciously lost at least 10kg. “I feel better, the hotels are better,” he smiles.

Business has picked up in Singapore, driven by the conferences and meetings sector. With Hong Kong still out of action, events that once took place in the territory have moved to Singapore. For example, Jewelery & Gem World, known as “the mother of all fairs”, a Hong Kong staple, will be held at Expo Singapore from September 27-30.

Bringing the hotels back has been a team sport as the lighter and fitter Marcus Hanna shows his strength in the team sport which was part of a staff appreciation day.

And there are a host of events planned for Singapore, including the 2022 Singapore Airlines Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix from September 30 to October 2, after a two-year hiatus, as well as the Milken Institute Asia Summit, Forbes Global CEO Conference and several crypto events in September, followed by gamescom asia in October, not to mention two Northstar Travel Group events – WiT Singapore (October 3-5) as well as the HICAP Hotel Investment Conference (October 19-21), the latter being held at the Fairmont & Swissotel The Stamford.

According to the latest data from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), hotel rooms in Singapore are now the most expensive in almost a decade. At 259 Singapore dollars ($184) a night, the average hotel room rate in July rose nearly 70% year-on-year to its highest level since September 2012.

The STB data also shows visitor arrivals rose for the sixth consecutive month in July to 726,601 from 543,733 in June. Around four to six million visitors are expected in 2022. Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Australia and the Philippines were the top five visitor markets, accounting for 56% of total visitor arrivals to Singapore in the first semester.

The Raffles City Convention Center, which Hanna also manages, is buzzing with back-to-back conferences and incentives from sectors such as consulting, finance, technology and pharmaceuticals making a comeback.

“If you had asked me six months ago if we would see this kind of recovery, I would have said no. Business has picked up faster than expected, especially conferences. Businesses are getting back together, we are seeing incentives, corporate business is back but not at the same level but they are staying longer, 1.2-1.5 days longer, vacationers are also staying longer and no longer making multiple stops as before.

Its three largest markets are Indonesia, Australia and India. “The United States and Europe are also recovering well, as well as Malaysia.”

The fact that occupancy rates are now in the 70s-80s with “significantly higher” rates, even without China and Japan, is a positive sign, Hanna said. “China accounted for 19% of arrivals in Singapore and we thought it would be difficult to compensate for that, but at our convention center our September revenue is higher than pre-Covid.

“It’s a great feeling for the team. That’s why we joined the industry: to make people happy, to create experiences. And the prospects until the end of the year are very solid.

Retrain staff and introduce technology where possible

With the rise of business, of course, there are labor challenges. “Swisotel was a quarantine hotel for three years. It took several months to recover it. There were times when no one was staying at the hotel, and we had good maintenance, cleaning and sanitizing extremely well.

“We had to retrain the team – they hadn’t registered customers properly for over two years – to restore their confidence in dealing with customers and not having to wear PPE equipment. We had to strengthen the team – we are now at 75% of the pre-Covid squad.

While it struggled to retain all staff during the pandemic, it had to make redundancies in October 2020. “We are grateful to the team members who have stayed with us throughout Covid. When you join hospitality, you have not signed up to wear PPE equipment. They showed great resilience and I’m proud of them,” Hanna said.

He introduced technology wherever possible to alleviate labor issues – online check-in and check-out, a robot in the restaurant reservation system to manage third-party reservations, so that a reservation of the Chope catering application, for example, enters the system directly without manual input; table tops; and in-room orders through the guest’s own device.

Regarding contactless orders and payments in restaurants, Hanna said, “We are looking into the matter. I feel like people are tired of scanning menus and we’ve gone back to physical menus.

A farm for all seasons and suites for gamers

The aquaponic farm serving its purpose during and after the pandemic

Its aquaponic farm, which has won the hotel several sustainability awards, has proven useful throughout the pandemic – it has been able to serve as an online supermarket, sell fresh produce and provide food to stressed guests. quarantine. “And now, with prices rising around the world, the truss makes even more sense in terms of price, durability and product quality,” Hanna said.

The farm now supplies up to 70% of the greens for hotels and its best-selling item at the Stamford Brasserie is a dish that combines fish and farm leaves. “It’s a great story, people find it fascinating that both are grown locally,” he said.

It also helps corporate customers whose first question is now: “what else are you doing for sustainability beyond phasing out plastic bottles?”

During the pandemic, Hanna also set up a hybrid studio for events but that has since been dismantled “although we can bring it back at any time if a client requests it”.

However, he said, there is more push towards 100% physical events. Holding physical events also required relearning on both sides. “From the client’s perspective, the expectations are higher and there’s a lot more support because they haven’t hosted events in quite a while. Let’s just say that the communications are quite intensive ahead of the event these days. But during the events, people are just happy to get together.

The “themes” have also been a success at the property. Her CoComelon at Clove Restaurant is a hit with the kids and is constantly sold out, and her Hello Kitty High Tea is sold out. “I didn’t know how big Hello Kitty was until now,” Hanna laughed.

Luxury suites for gamers in partnership with Razer

To “own the gaming space” in the conference circuit, it has partnered with Razer, the global lifestyle brand for gamers, to create what it claims are the world’s first luxury gaming suites. world at Fairmont. It has transformed three suites into gamer-centric accommodations, complete with Razer gaming peripherals.

“After hosting ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major last year, we thought about what else we could do to own this space – this niche and diverse gaming communities at a time when the game has permeated the mainstream. .”

As for all the national packages he’s created during the pandemic – Mancation, Mumcation, Hello Kitty Staycation, you name it – Hanna admitted: ‘Since the market opened up, they haven’t been as relevant . But we will keep them for the school holidays. With the way airline tickets are priced today, I think we’ll still see some decent staycation activity.

For now, the company has returned to 90% international business instead of 100% domestic – as it should be and just the way Hanna and her team love it.

Nicholas E. Crittendon