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Malaysia lockdown: Overnight boom for hostels as M'sians working in S’pore scramble for rooms

SINGAPORE — After weeks in the doldrums, business for hostels and low-cost hotels has boomed overnight, with hundreds of Malaysians holding Singapore work permits taking rooms ahead of Malaysia’s lockdown on Wednesday (March 18).

Dream Lodge in Jalan Besar is one of the budget accommodation places in Singapore that has seen an overnight boom in business after Malaysia went into lockdown.

Dream Lodge in Jalan Besar is one of the budget accommodation places in Singapore that has seen an overnight boom in business after Malaysia went into lockdown.

SINGAPORE — After weeks in the doldrums, business for hostels and low-cost hotels has boomed overnight, with hundreds of Malaysians holding Singapore work permits taking rooms ahead of Malaysia’s lockdown on Wednesday (March 18).

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Tuesday that temporary housing had been matched with about 10,000 Malaysian workers wishing to remain in Singapore for the two-week lockdown so that they can continue working with the border closed.

The overnight spike in demand for temporary accommodation is a welcome sharp turnaround for these establishments, which have struggled since the Covid-19 outbreak caused a standstill in tourist numbers. Business is so good that some places are turning potential guests away.

Out of the 20 hostels and budget hotels approached by TODAY, a majority of them said that they are full until the end of the month. Their phones have been buzzing with enquiries.

FULLY BOOKED OVERNIGHT

Ms Angeline Wong, 34, a manager at A Beary Good hostel that has properties in Chinatown and Bugis, said that the hostel phone has become a “hotline” fielding calls from Malaysians and their Singapore employers seeking rooms for them.

Mr Muhd Danial, 29, manager of Vintage Inn boutique hotel, said that the eve of the lockdown had been one of the busiest nights in months and that his company's two properties in Little India and Clarke Quay are fully booked until March 31.

"Yesterday, it was like pasar malam (night market). There were so many people around. When I went to work at 9am today, people were queuing outside the hostel to check in after their night shifts. It's crazy,” Mr Danial said.

At Jamillah Boutique Inn on Aliwal street, front desk receptionist Helen Yeo, 27, said that the company’s business has shot up by 70 per cent since Malaysia's lockdown. There are now more than 50 Malaysians staying at the hostel.

Given the surge in demand for bed space in the next two weeks, hostels now find themselves turning people away.

Mr David Peh, 46, manager of Pine Hostel on Tyrwhitt Road in Jalan Besar, said that all 100 beds at his hostel were taken on Tuesday until the end of the month. He had been turning away companies that are still seeking beds for their Malaysian workers.

He said: “We accepted a total of about 80 Malaysian employees yesterday from factories and cleaning companies who will be staying here until the end of March. As much as possible, I try to match their requests and budget.

“Today, we received more enquiries from a company with 130 workers as well as maid agencies looking for more places for their staff members who have been issued stay-home notices, but we had to turn all of them down as we are already full.”

People who are issued stay-home notices by the Singapore Government have to remain indoors at all times for 14 days as a precautionary measure. They include those who have travelled recently to countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) such as Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Mr Peh said that his housekeeping crew had to work extra hard to accommodate their new guests and to help them settle down quickly for the next two weeks. For instance, they have been trying to find parking spaces for the motorbikes used by many of the new guests.

He added that he sympathised with the Malaysian workers becayse they are unable to go home and be with their families for two weeks.

RELIEF AFTER FALLING OCCUPANCY RATES

For most hostels and budget hotels, the surge in occupants came as a relief after the steep decline in international guests during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Max Wong, 45, a receptionist at Singapore OSS Backpackers Hostel on Hamilton Road off Lavender Street, said that the decline in tourists entering Singapore due to travel restrictions imposed on visitors from several countries meant that the hostel had been just 40 per cent occupied before Malaysia's lockdown.

“Yesterday, we took in 50 to 60 factory workers and we are now fully booked for the next two weeks,” he said.

Ms Joey Lim, 30, owner of Dream Lodge on Tyrwhitt Road, said that the hostel took in about 20 Malaysians on Tuesday.

“The phone rang nonstop yesterday with enquiries from technology and food-and-beverage companies whose workers needed a place to stay,” she said. “We are now almost full as we have 30 beds here.

“Previously, due to the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, we were only at 40 per cent occupancy,” she said.

Mr Tommy Lek, 60, owner of Blanc Inn Boutique Hotel on Tyrwhitt Road, said that the sudden surge in the number of guests on Tuesday was a “relief” for the business. It has barely had any guests since the Covid-19 outbreak started early in the year.

“It's a good thing for the business but I’m also afraid, because there is a risk that they might be infected with the virus,” he said.

Mr Lek ensures that all guests have their temperature taken each day when they return and offers hand sanitisers at the front desk. The hostel has 15 rooms that can accommodate up to 30 people.

“Some companies booked the rooms only for seven days, not throughout the two weeks,” he said. “But we are mostly booked until the end of March.” 

‘EVERYTHING IS TAKEN CARE OF’

The Malaysians who suddenly find themselves staying two weeks in Singapore said that they miss their families, but some are enjoying what amounts to a working holiday.

Mr Chen Cheng Kwee, 57, who works for food-and-beverage company That Coffee Place as an outlet assistant, said that his company had found him several temporary accommodations to cover the next two weeks.

Mr Chen usually crosses the Causeway every workday from his rented apartment in Johor Baru.

“My boss has arranged all our accommodations since we went to work yesterday at 8am. Everything has been taken care of — the only inconvenience is that we may have to move a few times,” he said.

For warehouse assistant Rizuan Razi, 30, the seamless arrangements provided by his company have helped to reduce the stress from the lockdown. To get to his warehouse at Loyang Way, where he works the night shift, Mr Rizuan gets to take a private-hire car to work from his hostel on Lavender Street, which is fully paid for.

“This is a good place. It’s better to stay here than to go back. Of course, I miss my family but I must work,” Mr Rizuan said. He lives in Johor Baru and usually travels across the Causeway at 4pm every day.

Mr Chen also said that his boss had planned an itinerary for him and his colleagues for the next two weeks, which gives them a chance to explore the country which he otherwise would not do.

“It does feel like a holiday as we get to stay at a hotel for now and explore places. The only thing I have to pay for is dinner,” he said.

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