Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality Group, Looks to Expand After the Pandemic
- Category: ITCM interviews
- Published: Thursday, 01 April 2021 06:59
We spoke with Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality, about how he sees opportunity in the face of the effects of the global pandemic.
1. What plans do you have for the future within the Far East Hospitality Group?
At Far East Hospitality, we are always looking at opportunities for growth. In the second quarter of 2021, we will be opening our fourth property on Sentosa Island – Oasia Resort Sentosa. This also marks our first foray into the resort and spa category.
We are also looking at expansion beyond Singapore’s shores in key markets such as Australia, Japan, and Vietnam. In the next couple of months, we will be opening our second Village property in Japan – Far East Village Hotel Yokohama, and our first Quincy brand in Australia – Quincy Hotel Melbourne. Opening now gives the operations team the opportunity to fine-tune all areas and be ready when international travel returns fully.
2. How has Far East Hospitality Group had to adapt since the pandemic began?
Covid-19 is quite different from previous crisis in terms of magnitude.
At the start, it appeared to be only a few isolated cases in a distant province of China. Today, it has turned into a worldwide pandemic that threatens not only human life and well-being, but also the tourism industry and global economies.
But, we have always stood by the belief that “one should never waste a crisis”.
Since the pandemic began, we formed a business transformation team which took charge of reviewing processes, identifying hardware in need of upgrade, and providing training for staff members. These prepare us for changes to be implemented post-crisis. For instance, we relooked and revised our business development plans, and carried on with planned renovations as well as upgrading works. Another example includes offering cross-training between departments and using the approach of train-the-trainer to continue building up staff capabilities so that we are prepared for when the market picks up. These will ensure that business operations continue, and become more competitive when we emerge from the crisis.
3. How do you see the pandemic affecting the industry in the future?
In the short term, travel will be restricted to those of an essential nature. This means lots of supply competing for too little demand. Meantime, elevated levels of hygiene and safety requirements will raise the cost of operations. For many hotels, this is not sustainable.
Some will close; others will have to affiliate themselves with larger players and out-source auxiliary functions to lower costs. Essentially, rather than trying to be all things to everyone, hotels will have to innovate to stay relevant to the market segment they serve.
Hence, there will be contraction and consolidation.
In the long term, the industry will inevitably transform. The crisis will revolutionise the travel and tourism industry.
Jobs such as reservations, registration, housekeeping, and security will be more automated. The definition of good service will evolve from “compliance of expectations” to “experience creation”. There will be greater emphasis on soft skills and performance to deliver unique and enjoyable guest experiences. For example, chefs must not only be able to cook, but communicate their craft and techniques with finesse, and in a coherent manner.
There will be a new normal where greater emphasis on public and personal hygiene are expected in areas such as public transportations, attractions, large gatherings, conferences, and hotels. Singapore’s reputation as “Clean and Green” was previously thought to be a boring attribute but may now be an attractive proposition that might encourage visitors to come here.
In the new normal, travellers will appreciate operators of airlines, hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants that ensure a strict enforcement of rules and regulations. Given that Singapore is a very rule-based society, what was previously seen as drastic and repressive may now actually be welcomed and deemed as good governance of protocols to keep everyone safe.
4. What opportunities are there for you and your clients due to the pandemic?
For hoteliers, the pandemic has urged us to reconsider our purpose: from mere commodities providing shelter, to contributors of a destination’s attractiveness.
Hotels will need to compete as part of a larger concept, in terms of precinct or proposition, rather than a standalone building comprising of rooms. An example is The Clan Hotel Singapore which opened on 1 March 2021. Positioned as a modern luxury hotel with a nostalgic story to tell, it brings to the fore the history of clans around the Amoy Street area. The retail offerings of Far East Square, the quirky cafes and restaurants lining Club Street district, its connectivity to Chinatown on one side and Central Business District on the other – The Clan Hotel is a destination itself as it incorporates and leverages the strength of the whole precinct to deliver a differentiated experience.
Gone are the traditional styled hotels and what we may expect in its place will be more innovative hospitality concepts that will better activate the area as well as be a draw for quality tourism.
Hotels should also consider marketing under themed groupings - heritage, arts and culture, urban resorts, adventure, fitness and wellness - in a coherent fashion to use marketing resources effectively.
For the meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) sector, business travellers will definitely give the tourism and hospitality industry a boost. MICE tourism is not only business-related but also contributes largely to leisure travel as well.
However, we also note that business travellers are more cautious about travelling now. According to a new study by SAP Concur – a travel and expense management, 91% of business travellers in Asia Pacific are concerned about travel resumption. Their worries vary from getting sick during the trip or infecting their family upon return. With varying regulations, swab test, and quarantine measures, the sheer inconvenience may deter these travellers, too.