I attended the 2017 edition of the ILTM Conference in Cannes, where I had the occasion to discover exciting developments in the luxury hotel world.
One such exciting development is the long-awaited renovation of the legendary Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
Below you will find my interview on this subject with Christian Westbeld, General Manager of the hotel, who had many elements to share with us regarding the renovation. Christian has enjoyed an enviable background in hospitality. Christian learned the trade at the Peninsula in Manila, the Philippines, as well as some cruise lines. He then went on to work in Macau with MGM operating an existing property and launching a new property. Following this experience, he joined the Raffles Brand, spending 9 years with the brand in Dubai, Singapore, and Beijing.
What is your definition of an iconic hotel?
An iconic hotel stands out through its recognition and the stories it has created in the past, and it builds the foundation for its perception in the present time. An iconic hotel has always achieved something in the past that it can build on for the future. Whoever is managing an iconic property has the responsibility to take it further and ensure that it remains iconic in our very fast-paced and competitive times. An iconic status can have many, many different layers: it can be the architecture of the product, it can be the service, it can be one celebrity who has stayed in that destination. It can be like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, where 130 years of stories being told and experiences being created have come now to the 21st century, and there’s nothing like it. There’s no other property or hotel in Southeast Asia that has the same iconic feeling that Raffles Hotel as. The property is 130 years old, and the Republic of Singapore is just over 50 years old. The hotel has seen multiple world wars and financial crises, and it is still there. That makes up an iconic hotel in my eyes.
Can you tell us about the renovation?
The goal for this restoration is to first retain the colonial charm and heritage and all that has made us famous over the last 130 years and build on a very strong foundation. That puts us in a very comfortable position With our architects, Heritage Consultants ad Designers, we’ll maintain the white pristine color of the façade, the architecture that you feel and see, the sense of space, and the sense of romance and charm. What we’re really doing is going with time and upgrading our facilities, reinvigorating spaces, creating new traffic, and energizing spaces in a different form to adapt to changing travel and demographic patterns. For instance, millennials are starting to travel. Younger generations have different expectations from hotels. China is starting to travel and understand luxury in a different way. India is starting to travel. In Southeast Asia, travel patterns are changing. European and North American guests are looking for something different.
Our responsibility is now to ensure through our service levels that we touch on every single guest segment, culture group, and nationality, and find out through conversations with our butler team at each layer of the guests’ expectations. Some guests might come to Singapore and have a clear understanding of what they would like to achieve. At the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the butlers’ task is to find out how they can add and grow the experience for the guests without going overboard or spending a lot of money, but finding out the emotional service touches that would make a stay at Raffles Hotel even more special. Some guests will come to the Raffles in Singapore without really knowing what to expect. Having the emotional intelligence in a butler team to curate and manage a stay for a guest and show a guest what he is looking for will be part of curating our experiences. That’s the soft side that we’ll have to achieve because luxury means something different for everybody. The money spent on travel is perceived differently by everybody. Feeling that expectation out by service will crucial for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. We will have the product and the facilities, and it’s really about the human touch to make it special.
What is really changing for the restoration is that we are increasing our suite inventory from 103 to 115 suites. We are creating five residence suites on the top floor of the shopping arcade on North Bridge Road, as well as four 1-bedroom suites and three 2-bedroom suites. These will be very large spaces with oversized living rooms and kitchenettes, thereby opening up the hotel for a new kind of traveler who might not have considered us in the past; these could be families, travelers who enjoy cooking, people who are staying in longer in Singapore, who are on vacation, or who on transfer in to Singapore for a new job. The beauty of these suites is that guests can access them through private areas, without necessarily going in through the main hotel lobby. It adds a different element of privacy. We are always respecting the privacy and security of our guests, so all access to the areas is key-card controlled. In addition, we are creating in the new main building 6 new studio suites.
Raffles Hotels Singapore is an all-suite hotel. The leading categories in the past had a size of 800 square feet. With the conversion of the 2 Grand Hotel Suites and the Studio Suites, we are creating a new category of 500 square feet. This can be used in multiple areas, such as in the suites that are very close to our Presidential Suites. If a guest is traveling with a doctor, a secretary, a bodyguard, or a maid, they can stay very nearby in extreme proximity to the suites. If the suites will be available for other travelers, we might get someone interested to stay with Raffles who might not have previously considered us because smaller size might be offered at a different price point. That will help us energize the hotel lobby. In the past, it had a very special, serene, quiet, almost too quiet, feel about it. Some guests were a bit afraid to enter it, and these are barriers that we want to break. We want to open the property and have guests truly enjoy the social destination that Raffles Hotel Singapore should be. The Studio Suites will help.
In addition, we are introducing a Lobby Lounge in our main hotel building that is going to be transcendent through the hotel lobby and will be home for the Afternoon Tea for the Raffles Hotel Singapore, assisting us to become a social destination. Staying with the suite categories, in order to make up for the converted Grand Hotel Suites, we are converting two of our boardrooms to Promenade Suites. The main Promenade Suites reflect our heritage for being right on the waterfront before all the land reclamation occurred in Singapore. They will be referred to as Lady Mountbatten Suite and Lady Sophia Suite, paying tribute to female personalities in Singapore’s heritage. These suites are very spacious at1200 square feet, and they follow the tripartite configuration of parlor, bedroom, and bathroom. Of course, like all suites at the Raffles Hotel, they will have veranda seating overlooking our public spaces and gardens.
The refurbishment itself will ensure that we keep that special sense of space and place. If you look at renderings for our suites, the ceiling-height will remain, the color of the walls, the grand white colonial charm will be retained. We will also be upgrading the facilities through warmer colors and softer, more residential-style furniture, along with technological advances. However, we’re making sure that the technology will assist us to give more choices for the guests.
The floorboards are remaining antique and will be re-varnished and re-stained, and we’re using the existing flooring. Elements of sound-proofing, double glazing, and enhanced entrance door will all assist to improve the overall experience. A massive improvement and change has taken place in our bathrooms; we’re taking out a dividing wall and enhancing the space to be brighter, with white pristine colors, a free-standing bathtub, separated shower cubicle and basin, a double vanity counter and a beautifully designed Peranakan-styled marble flooring with a structure where you can really see the origin of the slab where it came from.
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Known for his international expertise on luxury hotels through his magazine, Laurent Delporte shares his vision and experiences in the world of hotels on his site DELPORTE Hospitality. He decodes the behind-the-scenes action in the sector: from food and beverage facilities, accommodations, architecture, to the quality of services. He offers interviews, advice, and articles as pragmatic resources that industry professionals and private individuals can refer to in their search for information.