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Hotels and resorts eager to capture a larger slice of the domestic market are realising that the usual deals no longer appeal to an audience that is looking for fresh ways to satiate their wanderlust at a time when international travel is restricted.

To enhance guests experiences during their holidays at home, hotel and resorts are working with other organisations within and beyond the hospitality space to develop enriching programmes.

Penang Street Art. Photo by Jom Jalan

Far East Hospitality has a suite of experiential staycation packages that support local SMEs, such as homegrown aquaculture farm and floating restaurant, Smith Marine Kelong, and local photography studio StudioPlay.

These partnerships are needed as “staycationers value unique and highly enjoyable hotel experiences that they otherwise cannot get at home”, explained Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality. “In other words, they do not seek the standard room and breakfast.”

The new Capella Bangkok leverages its location on Bangkok’s oldest road to bring traditional experiences to its guests. Mindfulness sessions, for instance, are led by the head monk of Wat Yannawa, a two-hundred-year-old temple nearby while Muay Thai training is conducted by transgender boxing champion and movie star Parinya Kiatbusaba. The hotel also scoured the Charoenkrung area for Chinese herbal shops to bring traditional treatments to its Auriga Wellness Spa.

John Blanco, the hotel’s general manager, said these local experiences are appealing to domestic travellers, as they are “excited when presented with new ways to engage their heritage”.

Bangkok-headquartered Dusit International’s Local Experiences programme, launched in summer, also offers a chance for guests to appreciate local eats and souvenirs while supporting socially responsible enterprises.

Dusit hotels in Chiang Mai and Hua Hin are planning on similar local collaboration – by bringing wet markets into the properties on certain days of the month.

Over in Malaysia, Pullman Miri Waterfront went big with its guest experience upgrade. It hosted a three-day carnival, Trois Jois, which featured activities for all ages, with booth sales, fun games, live performances as well as cooking classes.

According to Joyce Surendra, cluster director of sales and distribution, representing both Pullman Miri Waterfront and Pullman Kuching, Trois Jois was well received by all who attended. There are plans to initiate a similar event in Pullman Kuching on November 21 and 22, and possibly turn Trois Jois into an annual event for Sarawak.

Trois Jois at Pullman Miri Waterfront

Local collaboration is also seen in Penang, where G Hotel Gurney works with top attractions, Tropical Spice Garden and Penang Batik Factory, as well as experienced local guides to introduce guests to the destination’s heritage and nature.

The partnerships with product owners brought guests cost savings and provided a hassle free experience as entrance tickets to tourist attractions are pre-booked. “In addition, the package includes perks at the hotel such as complimentary meals and bicycle rentals,” said Michael Hanratty, general manager of G Hotel Penang.

Hanratty sees such multi-player partnerships leading the future of hotel experiences, and intends to “continue or even expand on our partnerships” once Malaysia welcomes again international travellers. Should these packages be a hit, he hopes to take it beyond Penang through collaboration with domestic or international airlines, or to combine packages with those offered by tourism players in Langkawi to curate two-state packages.

Meanwhile, Kiroro Resort in Japan’s Hokkaido is already developing local and international collaborations to make its three hotels – Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort; The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel Hokkaido; and Yu Kiroro – more attractive to potential guests.

Kiroro taps its nearby, western-Hokkaido market, collaborating with other local businesses whose customers might appreciate what the area has to offer. Such activities includes luxury cruises in partnership with Otaru Port Marina, with F&B prepared and served by the resort’s team; exclusive wine-paired dinners for Yoichi Winery members; and a luxury driving experience to the resort for lunch in collaboration with a local car importer.

The company has even facilitated the creation of Akaigawa DMO. As part of DMO activities, Kiroro uses Akaigawa produce and is planning to offer a night village this winter as well as other entertainment. Hirofumi Watanabe, DMO leader and hotel general manager of Kiroro Resort, expects these activities to support local tourism long-term by making Akaigawa and other local towns more appealing as a year-round destination.

On Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, hotels, ryokans and guest houses have joined the Sado Tourism Association’s new visitor membership club, Sadomaru. Launched in September, Sadomaru is an app that visitors download and show on arrival to earn points that can be redeemed for discounts on stays, as well as in restaurants and shops.

The scheme provides insight on the combinations of accommodations, activities and cuisine that tourists enjoy, to help local operators provide more extensive options for tourists long-term.

Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort

Room for growth
For some hotels, dangling complimentary experiences as an additional perk to their staycation packages has significantly boosted occupancy rates. One such example is lyf Funan Singapore which has hooked up with two tour agencies to weave free tours into its staycation experience.

These travel agency tie-ups are part of lyf Funan Singapore’s signature #lyfgoeslocal programme, where guests get to experience the neighbourhood’s local and authentic elements, shared Ervin Yeo, managing director for Southeast Asia, The Ascott.

“Since the launch of the joint offerings on August 1, 2020, we have seen an increase in enquiries and reservations on our staycation promotions, especially during the recent long weekends. lyf Funan Singapore was operating at near 100 per cent occupancy across the Hari Raya Haji and National Day long weekends,” he added. In comparison, the hotel was running at 85 per cent average occupancy rate from April to June 2020.

Beneficial for all
Hoteliers believe that working with other sector players will motivate travel desire, unlock new revenue streams, spread business around and uplift the entire tourism industry.

Kiong said: “Survival is the priority for many SMEs today amid the economic fallout from Covid-19 and many businesses have stepped up to help them weather the pandemic. As we continue to wrestle with the pandemic, we must not only worry about our own business survival but those of our key partners as well.

“Hospitality is a part of the tourism ecosystem and we must do all possible to help each other preserve core capabilities. If there is one takeaway from this crisis, it is – we will survive only when we consider others.”

Blanco acknowledged that Capella Bangkok’s work to enrich guest experiences with local expertise enables it to provide support to external entities and benefit from “relationships which allow us to collaborate deeper and in more creative ways”.

Bringing local partners into the hotel experience – literally – also has safety advantages. Dusit’s plans to bring wet markets into its Chiang Mai and Hua Hin hotels “generates a safer experience overall for guests and vendors”, opined Boon Kwee Lim, COO of Dusit International, as they can interact in an environment with enforced international-standard health and safety protocols.

At Trois Jois, tour operators, wedding and events service providers, independent artisans and cottage traders, and more were among the 21 commercial participants, allowing the carnival to function as a platform for local businesses to sell their products and services, thereby reaching benefits beyond travel and tourism.