SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) — Hotels may have experienced a boost during the December break thanks to the tourism vouchers and the school holidays, but they continue to face an uphill struggle this year without international travellers.

Yet they remain cautiously hopeful, with some looking to events and new concepts to draw locals in.

The Singapore Hotel Association noted that although official figures for December are not out yet, its member hotels have reported an increase in bookings due to the school holidays and redemption of SingapoRediscovers Vouchers.

The association has about 160 member hotels.

“Given the sustained international border closure, staycations have definitely helped to boost Singapore’s hotel occupancy,” its executive director Margaret Heng said.

Pan Pacific Hotels Group saw an average occupancy rate of 60 to 70 per cent across its properties in Singapore in December.

Group chief executive Choe Peng Sum said: “As regulations eased, we have seen strong pent-up demand from our local market, with staycations and workcations. In the first week after staycations were announced, one of our properties saw 800 nights’ worth of room bookings made.”

The Group has over 3,000 rooms across eight properties in Singapore, including Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay which opened in December.

Raffles Hotel was also fully booked during the festive season in December, general manager Christian Westbeld said.

It is not just the big hotel chains that saw an uptick in business. Boutique hotel chain Heritage Collection saw 75 per cent occupancy across its three properties at Chinatown, Clarke Quay and near City Hall in December.

While it used to focus on serviced apartments, it worked on getting the relevant hotel licences to convert some apartments into hotel rooms last year. This meant that the brand could offer hotel rooms but with serviced apartment amenities like fully equipped kitchenettes from $75 a night.

It hopes that its pivot to affordable studios and loft rooms and “enriching experience in a shophouse hotel within a cultural enclave” will entice Singaporeans.

But without international tourists and a small domestic market, some hotels are banking on their food and beverage offerings and events such as weddings to pull through the coming months.

The association’s Ms Heng said: “Hotel occupancy by locals is typically muted after the festive celebrations in February 2021. We also foresee lower demand when school resumes, as staycations tend to be more popular during school holiday periods.”

Average occupancy rates stood at 55.8 per cent in October and November last year, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

Mr Michael Roberts, Savills (Singapore) director of hotels in the Asia Pacific, said: “Until travel is allowed to resume, we don’t expect to see any recovery or significant change in seasonal occupancy rates. There may be some variation due to essential travel and small spikes as various Government measures are introduced. However, there is no natural domestic market and these local holidays account for a small percentage of the daily room nights available.”

STR area director for the Asia-Pacific Jesper Palmqvist said the vaccine roll-out and global travel solutions might help turn things around in the third quarter.

CBRE hotels Asia-Pacific associate director Zhang Jiahao agreed: “Singapore is known for its political and economic stability, and with the vaccine roll-out, things are looking brighter for the hospitality sector ahead.”

Ms Heng added: “It is important to grow domestic demand for hotels in other ways. For example, to increase the capacity for weddings and work-related events when it is safe to do so, along with events such as birthday celebrations.”

Pan Pacific’s Mr Choe said demand in this quarter has been softer, but that the hotels’ restaurants have been attracting guests, with weddings coming in as well.

“Besides our flexible ballrooms and function spaces which also allow for ‘hybrid style’ weddings, they are also seeking restaurant venues and private spaces,” he said.

Mr Eric Piatti, general manager of Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore, also expects things to improve in the months to come, with high profile events such as the World Economic Forum in August. In the meantime, the hotel is leveraging its location in a golf resort by offering unique experiences such giving guests access to a round of 18 holes on the Masters Course.

“The next 12 to 18 months will be exceptionally difficult,” said Mr Arthur Kiong, chief executive of Far East Hospitality, but small hotels that offer a different experience can also have an edge.

The group has properties such as Oasia Hotel Downtown, The Barracks Hotel, and Village Hotel Bugis. It will open the Clan Hotel at Telok Ayer this quarter.

“For The Clan Hotel, we will be adopting contactless technologies such as the self-check-in kiosk or mobile check-in, to empower staff members to spend time providing personalised guest service. These measures will ensure that we operate with greater efficiencies and remain competitive when we eventually emerge from the crisis.”

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