Facelift for Beach Road's Grand Old Dame

The hotel will be restored in three phases. After the revamp, it will feature the latest technology, including in entertainment, and be in line with the demands of the traveller of today and the future, said general manager Simon Hirst.
The hotel will be restored in three phases. After the revamp, it will feature the latest technology, including in entertainment, and be in line with the demands of the traveller of today and the future, said general manager Simon Hirst.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Iconic Raffles Hotel to undergo restoration and upgrading works from Jan to update its offerings

The Grand Old Dame in Beach Road will get a facelift next year, its first in about 25 years.

Amid a slowdown in the growth of visitor arrivals and greater competition from an increasing number of hotels, the 128-year-old Raffles Hotel will get a makeover to ensure that it remains attractive.

The hotel, known for its famous guests like pop legend Michael Jackson as much as for its luxury and heritage, will be restored in three phases starting January next year.

Works are expected in the interior of the hotel, including the restoration of paintwork and the marble flooring. Meeting facilities will be modernised and new restaurants can be expected.

Said Mr Simon Hirst, general manager of Raffles Hotel Singapore, yesterday at a press conference: "We are restoring some of the beauty, some of the heritage, to take it forward for today's traveller, to keep what is best about the property, and to restore some of the parts that have perhaps gone past their sell-by date."

  • Hotel opened in 1887 with 10 rooms

  • The history of Raffles Hotel goes back to the 1830s, when it was known as Beach House, a private home on Beach Road.

    The Armenian Sarkies brothers, established hoteliers, later leased the building from Arab merchant Syed Mohamed Alsagoff and turned it into a hotel.

    On Dec 1, 1887, Raffles Hotel opened with 10 rooms.

    Its main building opened with great fanfare in 1899, followed by other additions in later years.

    The hotel had state-of-the- art facilities and was a draw for visitors such as writer Somerset Maugham.

    After the Japanese Occupation, the hotel became a temporary transit camp for prisoners of war waiting to be repatriated. It regained some of its former shine as a colonial landmark in the post-war years.

    In 1987, it was designated as a National Monument.

The revamped hotel will feature the latest technology, including in entertainment, and be in line with the demands of the traveller of today and the future, he said.

Mr Hirst did not give the cost of the facelift and said only that it is a "significant investment". The last time the hotel was restored, from 1989 to 1991, it cost $160 million.

The previous 21/2-year restoration process involved adding the Raffles Hotel Arcade, replacing the 1920s ballroom with the original cast-iron portico and repairing decorative plasterwork.

The Arcade, an area open to the public, will be the first to be upgraded. It houses 40 shops, indoor and outdoor function areas, and restaurants and bars, including Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling, a gin-based cocktail widely regarded as a national drink. Previous complaints about The Arcade included peeling paint, unpolished marble stairs, and umbrellas and ledges streaked with bird droppings.

The main hotel building, which has 103 suites framed by polished teak verandahs and white marble colonnades, is expected to be restored in the middle of next year. The lobby will be restored too.

The hotel will close for six months in its final phase of restoration near the end of next year, before a grand reopening in the second quarter of 2018. It will have to be closed for the upgrading of plants and chillers, Mr Hirst said.

Aedas Singapore, a global architecture and design firm, will lead the makeover of the iconic hotel, now owned by Katara Hospitality, an affiliate of the Qatar Investment Authority.

Ms Diana Banks, vice-president, Raffles Brand, Raffles Hotels and Resorts, said the changes made will keep the heritage "feel" of the building. She emphasised that its walls and structure will not change.

What will change is room rates. Mr Hirst said the charges will go up, in line with prevailing rates. A check yesterday showed that nightly rates ranged from $760 for a Raffles Inc state room with a king bed, and a separate bedroom with a bigger working desk, to $5,800 for a presidential suite with airport transfers, champagne, and featuring "exquisite" works of art and antiques.

Architect Chang Yong Ter, who has worked on re-adapting conserved shophouses, said the restoration is timely. "For a heritage building like Raffles Hotel to stay relevant, it needs to have a facelift."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Facelift for Beach Road's Grand Old Dame'. Print Edition | Subscribe