Check in to a new normal

Private gyms and revamped buffets are among the safety measures hotels will enforce when they reopen for staycations

Chef Ryan Tham at a buffet station during lunchtime at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore’s One-Ninety. The acrylic screens let guests view dishes while preventing contamination.
Chef Ryan Tham at a buffet station during lunchtime at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore’s One-Ninety. The acrylic screens let guests view dishes while preventing contamination. PHOTOS: FAR EAST HOSPITALITY, GIN TAY
The Barracks Hotel in Sentosa has set up a screen at the reception.
The Barracks Hotel in Sentosa has set up a screen at the reception. PHOTOS: FAR EAST HOSPITALITY, GIN TAY

Leisure travel will not be making a comeback anytime soon, but hotels will soon be able to offer the next best thing, with staycations set to resume in the weeks ahead.

Hotels, previously allowed to host only certain groups - such as those serving stay-home notice, front-line staff and migrant workers - can apply to reopen for staycations. The approval process will take up to 14 days.

With safe management measures in place, staycations will look quite different from pre-coronavirus days.

Some will lament the inconveniences of masking up and having to plan workouts ahead of time. Buffets as people know them will be a thing of the past.

The silver lining: exclusive, safely distanced experiences such as private dining, saunas and gyms. The Sunday Times looks at five ways staycations are set to change.


1 THE NEW FACE OF BUFFETS

Gone are the days of meandering down a breakfast buffet line, once the highlight of many a staycation.

Hotels say these will be replaced by a la carte service or pre-packaged bento boxes, with QR code menus increasingly becoming the norm.

Properties that spoke to The Sunday Times say a la carte offerings will be just as extensive. Some, like Fairmont Singapore in City Hall, have introduced new items such as bagels with smoked salmon and a vegan bratwurst made from Beyond Meat and paired with potato rosti.

With tables spaced at least a metre apart, most will appreciate the extra privacy. But, if demand spikes, the languid breakfast may become a thing of the past.

Fairmont Singapore's general manager Marcus Hanna says the hotel may introduce breakfast time slots if it anticipates high demand, with each guest given about 45 minutes.

But buffet spreads will not disappear completely. At the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore in Orchard, a lunch semi-buffet that includes items such as salads, roast meats, cheeses and desserts will be displayed behind acrylic screens and served by chefs, who will also introduce each dish.

"People eat with their eyes. They want to see what they are getting," says regional vice-president and general manager Peter C. Draminsky, who adds that the interaction has been well received since the hotel launched the set-up last month.

2 IN-ROOM DINING WILL LEVEL UP

Don't want to schlep downstairs? Order breakfast in bed instead.

At the InterContinental Hotel in Bugis, guests can either have an a la carte breakfast at in-house restaurant Ash & Elm or have it delivered to their rooms at no extra cost.

The Fullerton Hotel and The Fullerton Bay Hotel, both located in the central business district, have introduced four-course in-room dining menus from in-house eateries such as Cantonese restaurant Jade. Guests can enjoy their meals in their room or on their balcony.

Mr Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, describes in-room dining as a unique and private experience. "This further reduces the footfall in restaurants, which could see a higher number of bookings for certain peak periods."

3 NO MORE SPONTANEOUS WORKOUTS

With limits on the number of guests in one area, fitting in a swim or workout now takes some planning.

Hotels tell The Sunday Times they can accommodate between two and 10 guests at the gym, and between six and 30 guests at the pool, depending on size.

Some, such as Fairmont Singapore, will require guests to book slots of 21/2 hours for the gym, which can accommodate a maximum of 10 people at the same time.

Others, such as Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, will let staff manage guest traffic at its gym and pools, and implement time limits only if there is a queue. It will allow a maximum of nine guests at the main gym and six guests at each of its two pools, one of which is adults-only.

These limits may sound like a pain, but properties are doing what they can to make things easier.

Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, for instance, has converted a yoga studio and guest room into private gyms, which guests can book for hour-long slots. These are kitted out with basic equipment such as a treadmill and stationary bicycle, and guests can request additional items such as suspension trainers.

Selected properties at Singapore hotelier Far East Hospitality (FEH), which has 23 hotels and serviced apartments here, will loan guests exercise equipment to use in their rooms. These will comprise portable items such as dumbbells and yoga mats, which will be sanitised after each use.

Meanwhile, booking a sauna or steam room at The Fullerton Hotel allows a guest solo use of it for two hours.

4 BREEZE IN AND OUT

Hotels, already on a path towards automation and efficiency, have ramped up efforts to reduce check-in time and crowds at the lobby.

Over the past few months, Fairmont Singapore has developed a contactless check-in system where guests can check in via an e-mail link a day before their stay. They will still need to collect their keys, but Mr Hanna says the hotel aims to launch virtual room keys by early next year.

The Barracks Hotel, a FEH property in Sentosa, will also be implementing online or contactless check-in services, as well as virtual key cards. A protective screen has also been set up at the reception for an additional safety barrier. FEH is looking to roll out similar technologies at its other properties here.

5 EMPTY MINIBARS

Do not be surprised to find the minibar empty. Some hotels, such as FEH properties, will now serve the items on request instead.

Those keeping the minibar display, such as Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, will sanitise drink and snack packaging between guests.

And The Fullerton Hotels will go a step further, adding items such as hand sanitiser and face masks to the minibar selection.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2020, with the headline Check in to a new normal. Subscribe