SINGAPORE - Stay-home globetrotters can relish staycations again in Singapore's world-class hotels, now that about 200 properties have re-emerged since July to host domestic tourists.
With safe distancing, the new staycation is a little less freewheeling. Guests book slots for breakfast and the pool, for instance, apart from living with new basics like masked-and-gloved service and constant temperature screening.
The sunny side is that stays are sweetened with dining credits, spa discounts, room upgrades, in-room dining, leisurely checkouts, teddy bears, bubbly, picnics, artisanal classes and more.
Singaporeans spent more than $34 billion on overseas travel in 2018.
"If a portion of this expenditure is channelled towards local staycations and dining experiences, it will be a great boost to our hotels' financial health," says Ms Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association, which is the collective voice of 160 hotel members representing 85 per cent of the gazetted room inventory here.
This largesse that hotels here seek may not be too elusive, as the staycation is a beloved ritual for many Singaporeans, who averaged 2.4 staycations in 2017.
This is just slightly less than the three personal overseas flights Singaporeans took in a year, according to the 2018 Singapore Staycation Study released by Brand Expedia.
Staycations pair well with the spirit of travel at home.
Ms Heng adds: "Beyond our world-class hotel facilities and hospitality excellence, there are many hidden gems in our cultural precincts and residential neighbourhoods that make for truly memorable moments."
In July, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a $45 million campaign to nudge residents of Singapore to rediscover the country.
In that light, any staycationer can still be a free spirit within bounds. Create your own playtime in and beyond the hotel - and pack a can-do spirit.
Still hesitant about pandemic staycays?
Check the protocols for a safe stay, which should be displayed transparently on the hotel's website.
Meanwhile, digital travel company Booking.com has introduced a new checklist on its site for hotels to highlight health and safety measures, such as physical distancing, sanitisation and food-and-drink safety.
Mr Vikas Bhola, regional director (South Apac) of Booking.com, points out that flexibility is also significant. "When guests make a booking, flexibility is key, with potential uncertainties that could impact their staycation plans," he says.
"Guests should take advantage of free cancellation availability and ensure they're clear on the policies set by properties."
Mr Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, believes in communicating staycation strictures to guests, beginning with pre-arrival documents that include suggested schedules for booking breakfast and amenities.
"The guests appreciate it," he says, and highlights the high ratio of repeat visitors.
For instance, Mrs Gertrude Mary Looi, 92, has stayed at The Fullerton Bay Hotel more than 40 times, including a mid-March pandemic stay. She considers it her "sanctuary" and likes the personal touches.
The Fullerton hotels have also created a video that outlines new moves, for instance, hospital-grade disinfection and a digital concierge for contactless service.
Mr Suraj Ramasubramaniam, 36, and his wife Aishwarya Mohan, 30, booked a staycation recently at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore as a "babymoon". Their first child is due in January.
Despite lots of safe distancing, they focus on pleasures like the bathtub, Bluetooth speaker for chill music, and hospitality. They also took a complimentary tour of the hotel, which was gazetted as the 71st national monument in 2015.
Though staycations are counter-intuitive for the travel lovers who journey four or five times annually to places like Bali and Japan, they discern "positives" in a stay-home holiday.
"You see a different side of the country," says Mr Ramasubramaniam, a senior commercial pricing manager at GE Renewable Energy. "Both of us are suckers for history and we get flashbacks of another time here."
They have popped into Boat Quay many times, but usually in the evenings, and associate it with music and bars.
"This is the first time we're experiencing it by day. We see skaters, joggers and cyclists," he says, now viewing the quay adjacent to the hotel with fresh eyes.
The first-time staycationers are curious about other stays.
Choices abound. Today, The Sunday Times launches a new staycation series with a selection of luxury hotels, rich in accolades, that have played starring roles in Singapore's reputation as a world-class destination.
In the weeks ahead, we will experience hipster hotels with Instagram appeal, wellness resorts secluded on Sentosa, properties dotted around Jewel Changi Airport, artsy stays, workations and daycations. Others are staycays for families, pet owners, foodies and more.
For staycation seekers, doors to hotels in every genre have reopened for a new season of the suite life.
Suite staycation: Private infinity jacuzzi, masks, Joseph Schooling and spirit of travel at Fullerton Bay Hotel
I admire the illuminated skyline from my waterfront jacuzzi, where I am taking a near-midnight dip after stepping out of a monogrammed bathrobe at The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore.
The en-suite jacuzzi on my deck is a little infinity pool under the sky, with the warm bubbly water seeming to overlap Marina Bay.
Alone with that illusion, I see Singapore in a new light and am travelling again. In my vacation-deprived mind, the hot tub evokes an outdoor onsen somewhere in Japan, while the skyline carries the mystique of other great global cities like Paris, Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro.
Suite staycation: Room for intrigue at The Warehouse Hotel
For urbanites looking for a sanctuary in the heart of the city, The Warehouse Hotel offers rooms on the river with a racy slice of history.
The three-year-old boutique hotel sits in one of the oldest independently standing warehouses in Singapore, nestled between Havelock Road and the Singapore River.
Built in 1895 to store goods of the Melaka spice trade, the warehouse has had many lives - some more sordid than others.
Suite staycation: True luxury at the five-star Capitol Kempinski lies in the details
Lately, life for me has been in extremes. I went from being holed up at home for months - deathly kiasi - straight to a luxury staycation at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore on a media stay.
The five-star property comprises two former landmarks - Capitol Building and Stamford House, melded seamlessly in a colonial-meets-Art Deco design. The late Indonesian designer Jaya Ibrahim led its interior design.
It was to open as a six-star hotel called The Patina, Capitol Singapore in 2015. Disputes between the owners scuppered the deal and the refurbished building was taken over by Perennial Real Estate Holdings, with European hotelier Kempinski appointed to run the hotel.
Suite staycation: Shangri-La Hotel is a lush garden retreat in the heart of town
I step into the cavernous lobby in Shangri-La Hotel with a heavy heart.
The once-bustling hotel seems like an enervated, hollowed-out shell.
If not for the chirpy welcoming committee of three hotel staff from the front desk, the silence is almost deafening.
Suite staycation: Soothing birdsong and pesky peacocks at Capella Singapore
Capella Singapore is so swanky you have to watch out for peacocks stealing food off your table instead of shooing away the odd mynah or pigeon.
I encountered one of several peacocks at the poolside, snatching thin-crust pizza off a low table and causing a minor ruckus.
According to hotel staff, Paul the peacock and his harem of three peahens, which recently gifted him with offspring, are also very fond of the nuts at Bob's Bar as well as chilli, which they nibble off plants outside the Chef's Table room.
• This is the first instalment of a weekly staycation series. The one-night staycations featured were hosted by the respective hotels.