Hotels share virtual world of baby elephants, soccer stars and cookies to uplift the shut-in planet

Hotels worldwide are creating a digital world of home spa therapies, pastry masterclasses, cocktails, meditation, concerts, playlists, safaris, vistas from hotel windows. PHOTOS: ANANTARA, ACCOR, SINGITA, HILTON WORLDWIDE

SINGAPORE - Livestreams of rescued elephants enjoying bath time in Thailand's far north are shared twice daily by the Anantara luxury hotel group, amusing and soothing people homebound by the pandemic.

In Singapore, the Six Senses hotels in Duxton and Maxwell have uploaded videos of a hand sanitiser workshop and microgreen planting.

From France, the morning routines of the popular Paris Saint-Germain football players will be streamed by the Accor global hospitality company soon.

Hotels across the shut-in planet are now staying visible by sharing bite-sized digital content on the good life.

Mostly posted on Instagram and Facebook, the inspirational content is also in tune with the times, when people crave wellness and escapism, hotel executives and analysts tell The Sunday Times.

The new campaigns include At Home With Six Senses, Accor Live Limitless, #AnantaraEscapism, Club Med At Home, Belmond Invitations and Weekly Gems by Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts.

Collectively, hotels worldwide are creating a rich digital world of home spa therapies, pastry masterclasses, cocktails, meditation, concerts, playlists, safaris, vistas from hotel windows and far more, drawing from their in-house expertise or partners.

In sharing wellness experiences and wish-list destinations remotely, these hotels, and also the travel industry as a whole, are trying to build brand loyalty during downtime and address suppressed wanderlust, to position themselves for the burst in demand after the pandemic.

This works especially well for metropolitan places like Singapore, where "seeking new experiences" is ingrained in the lifestyle of city dwellers, says Ms Carolyn Corda, chief marketing officer of California-based Adara, a leading provider of travel intelligence.

"The desire to travel - to connect and to explore - is deep-seated in the human spirit.

"Brands that recognise and continue to engage consumers in the midst of growing restlessness will be better positioned to capitalise on the burst in demand when recovery sets in."

With many hotels temporarily closed, staying visible, it is hoped, will lead to room stays later.

Mr Mark Thomson, senior director of public relations and communications for Bangkok-based Minor Hotels, whose portfolio of 530 hotels includes Anantara, says: "By showcasing our best resources, not only our locations, but also our people, from our chefs, wellness gurus, fitness and yoga instructors, marine biologists, in fact all of our staff, we are very confident that staying top of mind during this period will keep us top of everyone's bucket list further down the track."

Crafting inspiring moments for online audiences is really an extension of the hospitality ethos, which prioritises the pampering of guests with pleasures like wellness, good food and inviting spaces.



The difference is that during the pandemic, the hotels are amplifying content for a bigger pool of virtual visitors.

Their guests - and the wider public - have more time now to dream and plan future journeys. People are also seeking to allay anxiety or boredom.

Ms Samantha Strawford, brand communications director of London-based Belmond, which operates hotels, train services and river cruises worldwide, says: "Our content builds on the brand's wellbeing philosophy - Good Living - which focuses on experiences that enrich mind, body and soul."

The company has just launched Belmond Invitations, a series of online performances by talents, such as British pianist Joe Stilgoe, who brought a touch of 1920s glamour to homes on March 27.

The series has so far included jazz, yoga, cookery, floristry and, most recently, poetry with British actress Gala Gordon and producer Isabella MacPherson from Platform Presents, a theatre company with a special interest in female voices.

"Poetry is a beautiful way to calm the mind and travel through stories,'' Ms Strawford observes.

Belmond uses IGTV, the live video option from Instagram, mindful that the platform has more than a billion active monthly users.



Response to these digital forays has been positive.

When the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort hit upon the idea of livestreaming its elephants in Chiang Rai to give people respite from Covid-19 news, it was reaching about 300 people a day.

After international media such as Fox News and Travel & Leisure magazine highlighted the elephants, the daily audience hit about 2,800. Also, its Anantara Nomads Blog has enjoyed a 30 per cent rise in views.

Mr Thomson of Minor Hotels, which includes the Anantara brand, says: "The feedback has been very positive and I believe that during these uncertain times, the ability to escape, even if it's virtually, is what people are looking for."

Accor began with surveys to discover the top three passions of its guests: food, entertainment and sport.

In this light, its Accor Live Limitless programme, billed as a daily lifestyle companion, includes pastry classes with award-winning French chef Quentin Lechat; playlists designed by the Montreux Jazz Festival; and fitness tie-ups with the Paris Saint-Germain footballers.

Accor signed an exclusive partnership with the professional soccer club, which counts 395 million fans on social media.

Mr Henrik Berglind, vice- president for Loyalty & Guest Experience at Accor Asia Pacific, says the company can bring some joy to its 64 million loyalty members or others seeking immersive content.

"We can certainly bring some of their passions to them to brighten their days," he says.

"Even if their plans are now on hold, the passion and the desire for food, entertainment and sport remain."

Accor is Singapore's largest hotel operator with an inventory of 7,625 rooms, including Raffles Hotel and Swisshotel The Stamford. The company has 5,000 properties in 110 countries.



Meanwhile, other hotel groups, big and little, are rolling out getaways from home.

Club Med, true to its forte in active holidays and family fun, has family dance parties, besides Caribbean cocktail classes and virtual travel to the French Alps. These activities are hosted on its Club Med At Home site.

Red Carnation Hotels showcases views from its properties, such as the 800-year-old Ashford Castle, where windows open out to the green landscapes of the Irish West Coast.

Hilton has tips to make the home more hospitable for telecommuting workers. For instance, its Hilton At Home series has a post on "Five Steps to Keep Your Mind and Body Fit in Small Spaces".

Singita, which runs African safari lodges and camps, lets people enjoy game drives from their sofa. From globe-girdling groups like Aman to little Nihi Sumba in Indonesia, more and more hotels are creating micro-escapes.


All this virtual travel is feeding wanderlust.

"This may in turn deepen suppressed demand for travel and leisure activities, when the virtual world reaches its limit in offering in-person, immersive experiences," says Ms Corda from Adara.

Beyond hotels, swathes of the tourism sector have already pivoted online with virtual tours of the Great Wall of China and London Zoo, for instance.

Destinations from Dubai to Australia have started campaigns targeted at the pent-up wanderlust that is building, she also points out.

Finn Partners, a New York brand-building consultancy firm, says in its recent reports that travel brands strive to find the sweet spot between being inspirational and promotional.

It also notes: "Many travel brands and destinations are working on the premise that if the travel consumer can't come to us, we will come to the travel consumer."

And so the spirit of travel knows no bounds.




At Home With Six Senses supports the resilience of body and soul, by adapting in-hotel wellness experiences to online sessions.

So there are how-to video tutorials on creating immunity-boosting food and drinks, for instance, and a fun 10-week junior marine biology course from Laamu island in the Maldives.

Or get tips on creating a work space in a corner at home (right). The brand's six wellness pillars are covered: mindfulness, eat, sleep, move, live naturally and connect.

Look up various Six Senses social media channels on Facebook, Instagram for the hotel chain and Singapore branch, and visit its website.



Its Belmond Invitations is a new series of uplifting online performances that include jazz, poetry and floral design. This "virtual theatre" is anchored on the brand's ideal of Good Living.

It has also launched a Digital Care Package (above) for self-care. This includes a Good Morning calming meditation session by wellness experts and recipes for the perfect tipple for all personalities.

British broadcaster and musician Clemency Burton-Hill has also curated six classical playlists inspired by Belmond destinations.

Go to its Instagram account, Facebook and website.



Using the hashtag #AnantaraEscapism on social media, its hotels around the world share bite-sized video content and healthy living tips.

These include martial arts lessons from Vietnam, a gazpacho recipe from Malaga in Spain (left) and the popular livestreams of rescued elephants in northern Thailand. Bucket-list ideas abound too.

These escapes are inspired by the the Anantara philosophy, Life Is A Journey.

Go to the Anantara Nomads Blog or use the hashtag #AnantaraEscapism.



Accor Live Limitless revolves around the top three passions of its guests: sport, food and entertainment.

For pandemic-confined people, its online experiences include training routines with two-time Olympic judo champion Teddy Riner and an e-sport contest with the Paris Saint-Germain professional football club (above).

There are also cooking classes with top chefs, live DJ sets and other virtual encounters.

Go to Instagram and Facebook.



Its new Hilton at Home series offers tips on how to make homes more hospitable, now that much of humanity is staying home.

To reduce over-reliance on food delivery or instant food, Hilton chefs share signature recipes such as sweet and sour pork with fruits (above) from Tokyo.

For the first time after 50 years, the coveted recipe for the DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie has been shared by DoubleTree by Hilton, so home bakers can recreate the comforting treat in challenging times.

There are also fitness classes for small spaces at home, plus tips to bring productivity and inspiration to the workday.

Go to this page.



Singita, which runs African luxury safari lodges and reserves, lets you get up close with wildlife (far left) on its virtual game drives.

Accompanied by field guides, including Ross Couper, a respected wildlife photographer, the curious can journey into the African bush from home.

Go to this page.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.