SINGAPORE - The global pandemic has created a pocket of downtime for hotels to refurbish and rebrand while occupancy is still low.
From new skybridges and plush bars, to recycled art displays and a mother-of-pearl ceiling that automatically dims, the recent enhancements are often stylish and green.
These hospitality trends reflect the rise of responsible tourism and the wish for wellness that the pandemic has accentuated.
At recently revamped hotels such as Capella Singapore and a trio of Pan Pacific Hotels Group properties, the new looks - alongside novel experiences planned by the hotels - entice staycationers.
And when international tourists return, hoteliers hope the redesigned properties will be a fresh encounter for them.
Significantly, more than 90 per cent of Singapore's hotel revenue is generated by international tourism, so the hotel sector keeps a long-term focus on travellers.
For now, the absence of tourists means this is an ideal time for redesign, according to Ms Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association.
It has 160 members, representing about 80 per cent of gazetted rooms here.
"Some of our members are taking advantage of the downtime to enhance their facilities, since the opportunity cost is low," she says.
"Without international tourism, there is less impact on operations and guest experiences since our hotels are operating at low occupancy."
While the pandemic has delayed the transformation timeline for some hotels, the upgrading works are also less disruptive.
That is the case at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. Its general manager Peter Mainguy observes: "The onset of the global pandemic, in a way, allowed us to push ahead with these plans without having to inconvenience our guests.
"In fact, we saw the timing as opportune, as we would be able to reopen with a new library reception to welcome guests, a brand new food and beverage concept centred on the decade of the 1960s and eight new meeting spaces."
These new facilities were launched in late April and he views them as leverage to attract guests to return and stay, dine and hold meetings, post-pandemic.
Power of green
Four Seasons Hotel Singapore debuted its Hypoallergenic Room Collection in January. Besides anti-allergy pillows and bedding, hardwood flooring and roller blinds also minimise dust and mould.
Taking a leaf from the nearby Singapore Botanic Gardens, the contemporary interiors of the two rooms are in cool greens and blues.
More rooms may be converted if global travel returns to near pre-pandemic levels, says Mr Peter Draminsky, regional vice-president and general manager of the hotel. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons Spa is being beautified this month.
Refurbishments are not only about painting rooms a new colour. Hotel spaces are also being reconfigured for safe distancing while movable furniture allows easier disinfection, for instance.
Also, hotels make sustainability sexy. This is happening at the Pan Pacific Hotels Group, where three properties have been rejuvenated.
The Parkroyal on Beach Road revealed a new lobby late last year, along with the refurbished Ginger restaurant and Club 5 bar, where menus are influenced by the Kampong Glam enclave. The hotel's 100 sustainable artworks include eco-designer Didier Ng's Teatime Teethtime Tradetime collection that upcycles a worn-out tingkat enveloped in old bus tickets.
Next, the Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay reopened in December after a $45 million transformation that highlights a fantastical four- level indoor forest and urban garden. New amenities have continued to be rolled out, including a fancy club lounge and spin-bike studio in the last couple of months.
The new look of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard - with sky gardens, spacious suites and aqua fitness equipment - was unveiled in April.
Ms Cinn Tan, the group's chief sales and marketing officer, says that next year, a fourth property, the Pan Pacific Orchard, will re-emerge as a zero-waste tropical skyrise.
It will be fitted with a rainwater harvesting system and a compactor that turns food waste into compost to fertilise its sky gardens.
She adds: "Looking to the long term, when international travellers return, we want to be ready to welcome the new generation of travellers with their modern lifestyles - which we foresee will include a greater appreciation of nature and a focus on sustainability."
Beyond physical changes, the hotels have reset many other facets, from planning new experiences for guests to embarking on business transformation.
New experiences added this year range from an indulgent pet "spa-cation" at Capella Singapore to the world's first augmented-reality hotel art tour at the Ritz-Carlton.
"Covid-19 called for a big reset to the hotel industry," Ms Heng says. For over a year, supported by grants, hotels have gone through job redesign, digital transformation and more.
Hotels have focused on at least three areas in their renewals, say hoteliers.
The first is hygiene and wellness, which guests are prioritising in a pandemic. Measures range from anti-viral walls to rooftop farms supplying herbs, fruit and edible flowers to the in-house restaurants, bars and spas, like at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay.
The second is responsible tourism, which can mean ceasing single-use plastic, using biodegradable carpets and saving energy.
For instance, the lighting of the Ritz-Carlton's mother-of-pearl ceiling is capable of auto-dimming when the sun is shining brightly.
Lastly, contactless service is also popular - for example, for check-in and payments. At boutique hotel KeSa House in Chinatown, food from the neighbouring Olivia Restaurant & Lounge can be ordered in-room with a QR code.
New travel stories
Hotels that recently completed renovations - or are now embarking on facelifts - include Goodwood Park Hotel, Crockfords Tower, Travelodge Harbourfront, Andaz, Amara Singapore and Oasia Resort Sentosa (the former Le Meridien Sentosa).
In February, the Goodwood Park Hotel finished its latest round of renovations, which cost $5 million. The decor is contemporary, with clean lines and white quartz.
The hotel collects feedback from guests such as Mr Jean Drouffe, the chief executive of AXA Insurance, who recently stayed in a refreshed Poolside Suite with his wife.
The new space is "spacious and bright", they wrote, adding: "We got a sense of being on holiday in a faraway place from home."
Apart from redesign, some hotels have new branding.
The Marina Mandarin was rebranded as the luxurious Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay.
Two Six Senses properties have been renamed The Maxwell Reserve and The Duxton Reserve, under Marriott's Autograph Collection range.
Also, boutique hotels KeSa House and Wanderlust – the latter is in Little India – both reopened in March under The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood, a new brand.
The hotels create experiences for guests in their hip heritage locales, such as a culinary quest in Chinatown or classes run by artisanal partners, such as leather crafting and kombucha making.
Mr Roy Liang, Oakwood's regional general manager for Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, says: "The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood is designed for the independent traveller who seeks to celebrate life through discovering new experiences, one who is always looking for new stories on each journey."
And so hotels in Singapore seek to power through the pandemic, rejuvenating spaces and crafting experiences, with an eye on the horizon when travellers reappear.
1. Capella Singapore: The new luxury
Hotel: Capella Singapore, Sentosa
What's new: Suites and villas' modern look for play and work
Capella Singapore entwines a pair of colonial bungalows with a new curvilinear annexe on Sentosa. The luxury resort was designed 12 years ago by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Norman Foster to reflect Singapore's journey from British outpost to world-class tropical city.
A year-long refurbishment of its suites and villas by Hong Kong interior designer Andre Fu, unveiled last month, respects that dialogue of old and new.
Instead of an overhaul, he has complemented the original interiors by the late Jaya Ibrahim, an Indonesian from the first generation of modern Asian designers, whose portfolio included Aman Resorts.
His predecessor's design was based on pared-down luxury and balanced symmetry, Mr Fu notes.
"I have tried to respect that original intent, while infusing an evolved level of luxury that the modern hotel guest has come to expect," he says.
The modern enhancements are seen in the softer silhouettes and a stylish palette of sand, sage and mineral grey.
Green is also prominent. The tranquil hues bring the outdoors in - the 112-room property is surrounded by rainforest.
Tropical accents are prevalent, though subtle, as a tour shows. At the entrance is an oversized screen of interlocking rattan and oak panels. Decorative teak bowls were hand-carved in Indonesia.
A curvaceous, low-slung sofa is made for lounging and laptop work, while a two-tiered lounge table performs double duty as an informal dining spot and desk. Each new space has a relaxed residential feel, but is also multifunctional enough for the new leisure traveller.
Mr Evan Kwee, vice-chairman of the Capella Hotel Group, who invited Mr Fu to refresh the resort, recognises that global nomads work and play at a destination.
"The pandemic has future-proofed this concept," he told The Straits Times recently.
Mr Fu, who designed The Fullerton Bay Hotel here and The Upper House in Hong Kong, says: "You feel the presence of the new in the rooms, but it's not overdone."
By layering modern elements in a legacy hotel, he has infused it with a new timelessness.
2. Ritz-Carlton: Inspired by sumptuous homes
Hotel: Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore in Raffles Avenue
New look: Revamped East Wing with bar, lounge and library-reception
The East Wing of the hotel now showcases a new Republic bar and lounge inspired by sumptuous homes. Alongside it, the new reception zone for guests has the look of a grand residential library with books for browsing.
New York-based designer Tony Chi evokes the intimacy and elegance of a private residence in reimagining the East Wing.
Mr Chi, founder of the avant-garde tonychi studio, says he defined "both the expected and the unexpected" for the landmark hotel that embodies modern Singapore and the global lifestyle.
The East Wing was relaunched in late April after a nine-month renovation, together with the refreshed Commonwealth cluster of eight meeting spaces.
Beyond physical changes, the Republic dining concept conveys stories of Singapore and the experiences of the 1960s. In contrast to Colony in the adjacent West Wing, which serves heritage cuisines and alludes to Singapore's colonial past, Republic represents the next milestone, when Singapore became a nation in 1965.
In that light, the Republic's global cocktail menu includes a Singapore section of drinks inspired by the Singapore Girl, Merlion and home-grown band The Quests. Also within the bar are six standalone "Home Bars", detailed with handcrafted red Venetian glass, where bartenders play host. This mirrors the opulent home parties of the 1960s.
The Republic bar and lounge also pay homage to the style icons, rock music and global jet-setting of the era - a photo wall, for example, includes The Beatles.
The hotel celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, so the renewal and revelry are well timed.
3. Goodwood Park Hotel: Modern classic
Hotel: Goodwood Park Hotel, Scotts Road
What's new: Contemporary rooms with vintage elements
The heritage hotel is constantly upgraded to stay ageless.
About a third of its 233 rooms and suites were refurbished in the latest round which wrapped up in February, after being delayed by the pandemic.
Built in 1900 as the Teutonia Club for expatriate Germans, the tower of the hotel was gazetted as a national monument in 1989.
Keeping in mind this storied past, architect Ernesto Bedmar has preserved the hotel's timeless appeal while delivering a fresh, contemporary aesthetic in the rooms.
His Singapore-based firm was also behind the hotel's past renovations and upgrading projects.
The decor focuses on clean lines and a light, earthy colour palette for a soothing ambience, as a visit shows.
The white quartz and white leather in the furnishings are stylish. Natural wood and fabrics, including handwoven jute rugs, soften the look of each room.
Herringbone parquet floors are a classic match for the high ceilings. Nostalgic black and white photographs of local scenes from yesteryear - the works of Singapore-based French multidisciplinary artist Gilles Massot - adorn the walls.
Guests have the option of using ceiling fans for natural ventilation. These are existing fans with a classic look, though many were touched up during the redesign.
To go greener still, the rooms of the sanctuary fringing Orchard Road are now lit by energy-saving LED options.
And so the rooms have been revitalised for modern travellers who can also savour the history of the hotel, set on a 6ha hillock for 121 years.
4. KeSa House: Hip heritage
Hotel: KeSa House, Keong Saik Road
What's new: Stylishly rebranded hotel
KeSa House, formed from 10 restored shophouses painted a vivid turquoise, reopened in March after a hiatus. The Chinatown hotel - along with Wanderlust in Little India - is now under a new brand, The Unlimited Collection by Oakwood.
The pandemic is turning out to be an opportune moment for renewal.
"On the cusp of a new era for post-pandemic travel, this is an opportune time for Oakwood to showcase our new concept of residential lifestyle with heritage appeal," says Mr Roy Liang, Oakwood's regional general manager for Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Ahead of the reopening of borders, Oakwood focused on branding to differentiate the hotels and carried out some refurbishments, he adds.
On a visit to KeSa House, the brand's green values are evident. The hotel key card is encased in a see-eat-do area guide that is artfully folded like a tiny map that doubles as a card case.
Guests use a QR code to access services in the hotel - the typical chunky compendium is nowhere to be found.
Refillable bottles are in every room. Guests go to a shared kitchenette where Nordaq filters dispense still or sparkling water.
Designed by the iThink Consulting Group, the 60 contemporary rooms have a calming colour palette of white oak, emerald hues and anthracite grey. But each space has a unique layout, some with skylights.
Besides a recent repainting job, the rooms now have acoustic windows for soundproofing, as Keong Saik is a place of merriment.
Known as Mistress Avenue in the 1950s, it is now gentrified, but still lively with swanky eateries and hangouts.