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Boutique hotels beating out the big boys in Singapore

SINGAPORE — Independent and boutique hotels in Singapore are stealing the march on international hotel chains, as their keen focus on customised services, unique architecture and vibrant decor draws millennial travellers seeking personalised attention and authentic local cultural experiences.

Boutique hotels beating out the big boys in Singapore

Amoy Hotel is the top-rated hotel in Singapore by TripAdvisor. Many travellers are putting more emphasis on others’ reviews. Photo: Far East Hospitality

SINGAPORE — Independent and boutique hotels in Singapore are stealing the march on international hotel chains, as their keen focus on customised services, unique architecture and vibrant decor draws millennial travellers seeking personalised attention and authentic local cultural experiences.

Besides being known for their focus on personalised attention, boutique and independent hotels also have more flexibility to respond quickly to changing market dynamics than chain properties. Also working in their favour, there is a growing shift away from corporate culture to a more intimate approach in everything from the designs of spaces to product offerings.

“Earlier, the bigger the hotel, the better it was. Today, the more boutique the hotel, the better it is. That’s one change. Earlier, the more I see a hotel is advertised, the better.

Today, the less I see a hotel advertised, it’s perhaps better. People want the bespoke and not the mass product. That’s another trend. Third, people believe more in reviews and in third-party opinions ... Today, we can’t advertise ourselves to prosperity,” Mr Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality, told TODAY.

Three of the top five hotels in Singapore rated by travel website TripAdvisor are local boutique or independent hotels, with two Far East Hospitality properties — Amoy and Quincy — in the first and third positions, respectively, while Naumi is fourth on the list. Raffles Hotel is ranked second with Capella rounding up the top five.

“This is a reflection of how we engage our employees to be able to reach this level ... Business success is not sustainable based on how you can lower your labour costs, which is what a lot of people think. It is about how you can increase HR, or human resourcefulness,” said Mr Kiong.

That view is shared by Mr Patrick Fiat, general manager of independent hotel Royal Plaza on Scotts, who said the hotel’s staff play a key role in connecting with guests.

“We place a lot of emphasis on developing our most important resource — our people,” he said. “And listening to what guests want and designing products accordingly is the recipe of our success ... The influx of younger travellers in the market contributes to the trend as products and services are tailored to fit their needs. They are changing the way hotels do business.”

With the preference towards unique experiences and product authenticity trumping standardisation, boutique hotels housed within heritage properties, such as The Scarlet Singapore, are gaining popularity as their timeless charm enlivens history and memories. The Scarlet Singapore, located off Ann Siang Road, is housed within renovated 1924 Art Deco-style shophouses built in 1868.

Mr Fong Kah Seng, CEO of Grace International that manages The Scarlet Singapore, said: “Developing and evolving consumer habits with a desire for more authenticity, adaptation and local cultural experience explains the growth of boutique hotels. Today’s consumers are more aware of design, expecting a higher level of service and are increasingly seeking an experience. The smaller size of a boutique hotel enables it to enhance the quality of service and take into consideration the preferences of each individual guest.”

Far East Hospitality’s Amoy Hotel is modelled around the lives of the early settlers of Singapore. The hotel entrance is through the Fuk Tak Chi Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore, built in 1824 by Cantonese and Hakka immigrants. The wall in the hotel lobby is decorated with surnames of the different Chinese clans that came to Singapore in those early years.

“The fabric of these stories are rich. People find this fascinating and find meaning. People want to buy meaning. That is a very palpable shift in the consumers’ mindset,” said Mr Kiong.

Amid the unprecedented surge in hotel room supply and stagnating tourist arrivals, boutique and independent hotels are also luring guests with add-on benefits and freebies, upping the ante on the international hotel chains, which are already bearing the brunt of corporate travel budget cuts.

Quincy, for instance, offers complimentary refreshments throughout the day, while Royal Plaza on Scotts has made its in-room mini-bar free. Meanwhile, The Scarlet has introduced its Handy phone service that acts as an e-concierge for guests who prefer to explore the city on their own.

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