Millennium hotels offer reinvented staycations with yachting to lift COVID spirits

19, Nov. 2020

Veteran hotelier Lee Richards of Millennium Hotels and Resorts and his team have come up with creative ideas to boost local tourism revenues for hotels in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The vice president for hotel and resort operations in the region has rolled out staycations that combine plush rooms with sea activities such as sailing on a yacht to much success.
Veteran hotelier Lee Richards of Millennium Hotels and Resorts and his team have come up with creative ideas to boost local tourism revenues for hotels in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The vice president for hotel and resort operations in the region has rolled out staycations that combine plush rooms with sea activities such as sailing on a yacht to much success.

By Celine Chen

SINGAPORE, NNA - Many pandemic-stricken hotels, left high and dry in tourism-dependent countries, have to compete for local residents to fill rooms to stay afloat. Riding on the staycation trend, one hotel chain in Singapore came up with a hybrid package combining a yacht sailing experience and a luxurious stay.

NNA speaks to Lee Richards, Vice President of Millennium Hotels and Resorts for operations in Southeast Asia, on how he assuages travel-hungry residents with creative hotel stays. A hospitality veteran in Asia and the United Kingdom, Lee is also the General Manager of Orchard Hotel Singapore.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of a luxury staycation with yachting experience?

A: With Singaporeans still confined to holidaying locally, we wanted to offer our guests something different, something with a “wow-factor”. By combining a staycation with a sailing experience, an activity usually associated with the well-heeled, our guests will get a chance to do something out of the ordinary.

With the 'Yacht-cation Escape' package, guests can escape to open waters for an afternoon, exploring the Southern Islands of Singapore and enjoying water activities such as swimming, kayaking, floating on giant inflatables and fishing, and then return to shore on the mainland to stay overnight at their Millennium hotel of choice and be pampered further. Our aim is to help guests escape the doldrums by making them feel like royalty for a day.

Q:How do you make guests feel like a million bucks?

A: Yacht-cation guests check into a luxurious 1,130 square feet premier suite at Orchard Hotel, or a stylish premier loft room at M Social. They get to experience first-class treatment with gourmet meals. They are also chauffeured in a limousine to their private yacht for the four-hour luxury sailing on sea. Guests can revel in superstar treatment while sipping on sparkling wine and enjoying fine food.

Q: Did you have to hire new staff or train existing staff to serve onboard the yacht?

A: Our existing staff are multi-skilled and trained to provide first-class butler service. They take charge of our gourmet picnic lunch, for instance. Experienced yacht crew members are also trained to step up their service with personalized attention for the sailing, and to organize water activities.

Q: How much do the packages cost? What are the amenities on the yacht?

A: We offer two main packages. A two-day, one-night package which starts at SG$1,600 for two persons. And a three-day, two-night package priced from SG$2,160 for two. The yacht has cabins, a mini kitchen and a bathroom, as well as a karaoke machine.

Q: What was the response to the yacht-cation promotion?

A: We have received overwhelming enquiries and bookings from Singaporeans and permanent residents seeking a getaway. We have tied up with more yacht owners and will continue to introduce creative packages as we’re seeing an increasing demand for luxury packages. However, we have to reserve some rooms for Singaporeans using the SG$100 tourism vouchers which the government will be issuing in December as our hotels have been included in the scheme.

Q: What other creative ideas have your hotel group launched in Singapore and Southeast Asia?

A: Across the region, Millennium Hotels and Resorts (MHR) have welcomed back domestic tourists with a slew of new packages designed to be in line with our new campaign “Take Happiness Seriously”. It's an initiative that aims to encourage guests to prioritize happiness by taking part in curated activities.

In Singapore, our packages cater to varied guest preferences, from activity-centric to wine-and dine-staycations. For example, Orchard Hotel with its more spacious rooms and proximity to trendy Orchard Road will appeal to families and fashionistas.

On the other hand, millennials and young couples may prefer the fun, modern vibes of M Social where the interiors were designed by Philippe Starck. We have a strong take-up rate by couples for Orchard Hotel’s “Romantic Indulgence” package, which comes with breakfast in bed and a curated private dinner at a poolside cabana. M Social offers fun packages which allow guests the opportunity to create their own drinks under the guidance of a mixologist, or to blend aromatic essences and oils to create their own perfume.

Our sister hotels such as New World Millennium Hong Kong also offer curated activities for staycation guests such as making cocktails and latte art. The hotel also introduced special perks such as bonus room nights and ‘eat-cation’ promotions. Room value is converted into dining credits that can be used at the property’s dining outlets. Other sister hotels around the world have also launched special packages, from family staycations at Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur to pet staycations at Millennium Hilton Seoul.

Q: How are you making year-end and Christmas promotions exciting in order to help fill up rooms and restaurants?

A: This festive season, we’re launching an “Otter Family Christmas Adventure” staycation in the newly decorated family-themed rooms at Orchard Hotel. We have taken inspiration from Singaporeans' fascination with the much-loved otter families that have made news in recent years. This package, which includes plush otter toys and find-an-otter activity, will also be available at M Social, and subsequently at other MHR hotels when they open for staycations. The otter theme will be extended to Orchard Hotel's festive goodies house.

Q: You also launched co-working facilities at your hotels for the public. Will this continue when social distancing measures are no longer necessary?

A: The rising demand for co-working spaces indicates an increasing need for more harmonious work-life balance as more companies shift towards a hybrid work model. Those working remotely may prefer to operate from a more relaxed environment and in the comforts of a hotel as opposed to a corporate space. With more companies adopting flexible work hours, many people are seeking out co-working spaces.

Once the pandemic eases, we believe co-working spaces will still be in demand. The pandemic has digitalized many work functions so there will be companies who will continue remote-work arrangements. Having said that, we will continue to offer co-working spaces as long as there is demand.

Q: How has the pandemic changed the hospitality industry?

A: Leisure travel will take some time to pick up. So for now, the domestic market is the main focus. Hoteliers need to think up fresh and innovative ideas that can appeal to Singaporeans. Working in this new normal has given us an opportunity to relook the future of hospitality by adapting to technology and reinventing new revenue streams to engage with our guests.

Q: Are business travelers returning anytime soon?

A: Travelers with essential business are returning with longer stays, but their numbers are still insignificant. We have seen an increase in enquiries coming from Hong Kong after the announcement of the air travel bubble agreement. Once the first wave of Hong Kong travelers has arrived, we can anticipate an increase in bookings, given the pent-up demand for travel. This bubble arrangement by Singapore and Hong Kong will certainly have a positive impact on tourism.

Also, with the compelling news that a vaccine will be made available by next year, people are getting more confident of air travel. We expect a travel surge especially during the Chinese New Year period in February. Meanwhile, our hotels are working closely with the government and Singapore Tourism Board in campaigns and activities, as well as with our regional offices and overseas partners to roll out promotions to welcome back tourists.