Staycationers are seen as more loyal customers

Hotels in Singapore have been hit hard by the pandemic. With no tourists inbound for the foreseeable future, their main source of income—the selling of room nights—has been severed.

While some have pivoted to food delivery for supplementary income, especially during the circuit breaker period, there's only so much that can do. It isn't surprising then, that when the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced on Jul 3 that hotels can apply to reopen to the domestic market, many hoteliers took immediate action.

On the steps taken towards reopening, Teo Joo Leng, Group General Manager of SUTL Global, that manages the ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove, said: "We had to submit a declaration to STB documenting the fulfilment of required safe management procedures including setting up temperature taking stations, increasing the frequency of sanitizing high touch areas, installing safe distancing markers, implementing capacity limits and more. Upon application, STB will send officers to do a physical inspection of the hotel."

They were one of the first five properties in Singapore given the green light by the authorities to reopen.

The approvals then came hard and fast, with STB frequently announcing over the coming weeks that more and more hotels can now accept staycation guests. A total of 177 establishments have attained approval as of Aug 2.

Attractive packages, timing the sell

Reception for staycations, according to hotels interviewed, have been very positive.

"The results have been highly encouraging. We have been running at 80-90% occupancy ever since we received the approval to host staycations," revealed Teo.

ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove

Even away from the resort island of Sentosa, in Singapore's city centre, properties under The Fullerton Hotels have also recorded healthy uptake.

"During the recent school term break in July, we saw more than 200 bookings on a weekend at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore," said Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, General Manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts.

"We are very encouraged by the number of bookings from guests who come for staycations to celebrate get-togethers and special occasions with their loved ones. The demand is strong especially during long weekends and the school holiday season."

The upcoming National Day long weekend is seeing great demand too, and while hotels have surely benefited from the timing of the reopenings, it's the packages, with never-before-seen value for consumers, that sealed the deal.

Late checkouts (some essentially granting up to 36-hour stays for a one-night booking), complimentary room upgrades, generous dining credits at in-house restaurants as well as activity bundles, all wrapped in enticing packages with attractive price points, became par for the course.

For popular staycation spot W Singapore - Sentosa Cove, their Escape! Dining Package comes with complimentary breakfast and $50 dining credits that can be used at any of their F&B options. Their Escape For Two offer, aimed at couples, is inclusive of not just breakfast, but a bottle of champagne too, plus $50 hotel credits that can even be used at the spa.

The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore

Novel experiences also play a big part. At heritage property The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and its sister establishment The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, stays can be upgraded with a Fullerton Experiences add-on, that goes beyond stays and dining, to bring a greater sense of vacationing for guests.

Activities include access to a Fullerton Merlion cocktail workshop, watercolour painting by the Singapore River, sightseeing in a Fullerton vintage Rolls Royce or vintage vespa, a private tour at nearby Asian Civilisations Museum, among many others.

Staycationers can't replace tourists, but...

Still, despite the current uptick giving some hotels here the much-needed respite they need, the gains still don't make up for the loss from the overseas tourist market.

While staycationers have never really been the main consideration for hoteliers here, especially given the small population size in Singapore, they are now recognizing their value as a consistent customer base.

Read more: Singapore cinemas pull out all the stops to lure locals back to the big screen

"The staycation market does not match that of international arrivals but it certainly helps to supplement the hotel stays during this period. Also, staycationers are much more receptive to repeat stays, relative to tourists who are likely to visit different countries for their travel," Teo points out.

Giovanni agrees with the sentiment: "Naturally, local staycations will not be enough to replace the loss of tourism business that existed before Covid-19. However, the receptivity from local residents has been very encouraging and the staycation business will remain an important segment for our industry during this period."

STB had recently launched a $45 million tourism campaign called SingapoRediscovers, aimed specifically at the domestic tourist and to aid tourism businesses. This is their biggest ever budget aimed at driving the local market.

It is however noted by STB too, that this can't be expected to fill the $27.7 billion gap in tourism receipts gained in 2019.

Dining is in

But the selling of rooms is not the only business hotels are involved in. Their F&B offerings had always been a big part of their revenue mix, and given the new normal, has become more important than ever.

Other than better weaving in dining as part of their stay packages, luring both the dine-in customer and enlarging the food delivery segment has become paramount. And hotels have become largely successful with the changing product mix.

Read more: Local restaurants adopt new business strategies and approaches amidst a new normal

At W Singapore, a new item, Skirt’s Grandma’s Beef Rib, was created exclusively for their takeaway/delivery menu that they launched during the circuit breaker. And due to great demand, "we have started serving it for dine-in at our restaurant too," said Priscilla Teo, the hotel's Director of Sales and Marketing.

W Singapore - Sentosa Cove

When asked if food delivery will become a permanent feature for the hotel, she added: "It could be different for each individual, but we believe that availing our restaurants for delivery makes it more accessible for the local market to enjoy the W experience at any time of the day in the week at their convenience."

Fullerton Hotels too noted that although food delivery and takeaway was more active during the circuit breaker, the option is here to stay. "Food delivery and takeaway will certainly be a permanent part of our offerings," said Giovanni.

"There are groups of corporate guests who like to order gourmet bento sets for working lunch with their team over teleconferences. Some of our guests also prefer to order celebration and gift packages such as Jade’s Auspicious Celebration package, which is perfect for a traditional birthday party."

This is despite the shift they've noticed post-circuit breaker. "Guests have returned to dine-in at our restaurants during phase two. We believe this is because people long for social connection and a comfortable and elegant place to connect with their loved ones over their favourite afternoon tea or a dim sum lunch," he added.

Creative pivots

Other than food deliveries and attractive staycation deals, there have been more creative pivots too, with hotels like Furama RiverFront having undergone a recent revamp of its lobby to become more of a community showcase space.

In line with supporting local businesses and #savefnbsg, they're essentially offering space rent-free for homegrown businesses to set up physical showcases of their products, as well as to leverage their e-commerce channels for delivery orders.

Furama RiverFront

One such collaboration was Furama's partnership with The Old Man Singapore and 1925 Brewing Co. Together, they've launched a new Old Fashioned-inspired beer, poignantly named The Undefeated (given the tough times).

Other local collabs Furama has initiated include those done with bubble tea brand Woobbee, artisanal tea purveyors Matchaya, and patisserie Drips Bakery.

For ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove, they've got the advantage of being able to offer yachting escapades too. With cruising and overseas travel still in limbo, it might just be the closest thing one can get to an actual vacation.

Their yachts come included with a boat crew, and these private charters are great for those looking to go fishing, celebrating a special occasion away from the city, or just wanting to escape by going on a leisurely cruise out at sea.

If you're keen on becoming a domestic tourist, act fast, but also make sure to read the terms and conditions. Many of the favorable prices may be limited-time only or while-stocks-last.

Some are valid only through the end of 2020, for instance, while some offers are accepted only as a voucher for future use once the hotel is fully reopened. These caveats make sense, given the uncertainty over future changes in travel restrictions.

So whether you're enticed by the creative offerings (given today's travel climate), or are lured by the many irresistible deals out there, for now, this is the closest thing to a vacation we can get. And given the value proposition, there has never been a better time to be a staycationer.