SINGAPORE - More than 80 hotels have been approved for staycations, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said on Tuesday (July 21).
Hotels contacted by The Straits Times said the approvals came in time for the ongoing week-long school holiday and the two upcoming long weekends - July 31 for Hari Raya Haji and Aug 9 for National Day - when demand is expected to be strong.
As foreign visitor arrivals in Singapore have all but dried up due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels, which are facing the worst occupancy rates in history, are turning to travel-starved locals to fill their rooms.
Since July 3, hotels that wished to provide accommodation to guests for the purposes of leisure could apply for approval. More than 100 hotels have done so, said STB on Tuesday.
To be approved, hotels must adhere to having stringent safe management practices in place to prevent the community spread of the coronavirus.
These include reducing capacity and intermingling, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regimens and screening guests before entry.
Guests are required to wear a mask within the premises, except when they are in selected areas such as their own room, or engaging in certain activities such as eating.
STB chief executive Keith Tan said he believed locals will "want to venture out and explore Singapore" and help support local businesses while doing so.
In 2018, Singaporeans spent $34.2 billion on overseas travel.
"While the local spending may not be enough to make up for the loss of tourism receipts, this will contribute towards business revenue, and help businesses tide through this challenging period," he said.
"Singapore may be a small country, compared to our regional neighbours, but our city is filled with hidden gems and great experiences in every precinct, waiting to be discovered."
All the four hotels contacted described the reopening for staycations as much-needed relief, although current occupancy rates remain far below pre-Covid-19 levels.
Hotel Soloha's founder Josh Hu, said its current occupancy rate was hovering around 50 per cent, below the typical 70 to 80 per cent in pre-Covid-19 days.
The boutique hotel, which opened last August in the Keong Saik area, was closed for over three months during the circuit breaker period and phase one of Singapore's reopening.
When the hotel launched its staycation promotions after getting approval from STB, Mr Hu said it received calls and e-mail inquiries "in excess of 20 for the first few days". It has taken steps to manage incoming bookings in a "measured manner".
He said: "We are taking stock of the current pandemic situation, and keeping our spirits and brand standards up."
Some hotels are hopeful that staycations will gain traction in the coming weeks in the light of the global travel restrictions.
The Fullerton Hotel and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore have received over 200 bookings for this weekend, and foresees a strong demand for rooms in the coming weeks.
"After months of isolation and with outbound travel bans still in place, local residents seek a safe environment to unwind and reconnect with their loved ones," said Mr Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts.
At Yotel Singapore Orchard Road, next-day bookings came in on the day it obtained STB's approval.
To ensure guests' safety, the hotel has implemented various contactless features such as robots that can send drinks from the hotel bar to rooms.
Its general manager Brendan Daly said that while staycations were an "important segment", they cannot replace pre-Covid business levels because of the size of Singapore's domestic market.
Mr Jean-Philippe Jacopin, general manager of Orchard Hotel Singapore, said it has received more than 20 bookings for the upcoming two long weekends so far.
He said: "Any additional business is good for the industry. As the trend seems to be last minute bookings, we expect more bookings nearer to the weekend."
Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the Singapore Hotel Association, said hotels offering staycations had reported "significant demand" and domestic tourism would provide "short term financial relief" and "meaningful guest engagements" as Singapore gradually reopens.
"Naturally, the revenue will not be comparable to the buoyant results before Covid-19," she said. "We hope that more Singaporeans will start to support staycations not just as an escape from home but also as an enriching way to learn about Singapore's cultural precincts, explore new neighbourhoods and local heritage."
For some locals, the add-ons offered by hotels to attract guests were the deal clincher.
Ms Regina Koh, 30, and a friend booked a one-night stay at The Warehouse Hotel on Monday. It came with complimentary cocktails, breakfast and late check-out.
Ms Koh, who works in the commodity sector, said: "Between an overseas holiday and staycation, I'll always choose holiday, but since it's out of the question, this is not bad too, especially when there're promotions with competitive pricing."