Trade Talk: Saurabh Prakash of Millennium Hotels and Resorts

The company’s Group Senior Vice President, Commercial shares his insights on pandemic recovery, MHR’s virtual hotel in the metaverse, and upcoming openings.

All photos courtesy of Millennium Hotels and Resorts unless otherwise credited

Now that inbound tourism and business travel in Singapore are on the rebound, what’s the outlook in terms of room bookings and occupancy rates?

With easing of border restrictions, tourism has rebounded with occupancy rates increasing across the board, overtaking pre-pandemic levels. School holidays and long weekends have also fueled demand, particularly in the last two months, with occupancy rates exceeding 80 percent.

This presents an optimistic outlook for Singapore’s hospitality industry. Whether for business or leisure, Singapore is one of the top travel destinations in the region, offering a unique blend of cultures and lifestyles. In 2020, Singapore’s hawker culture was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Hawker culture epitomizes the multi-cultural aspect of the Singapore society that is so uniquely ours. Singapore is also emerging to be a vibrant place for nightlife and the arts. From the pulsating bars along the Singapore River to the charming murals painted across the city, there is excitement around every corner. As a “City in a Garden,” Singapore is one of the greenest cities in the world. The number of nature trails and parks have grown exponentially in recent times as people are becoming more inclined to connect with nature.

Beyond these, the pandemic has highlighted that safety is key. Given the different variants that have emerged, many travelers’ plans are contingent on how safe a country is. Singapore has stood above the pack in ensuring protocols are strictly adhered to so that spread of the virus is reduced. Singapore is held in high regard for safety, from not only the virus but also crime, with many tourists staying longer because the country is perceived as a safe destination for their first trip abroad since the pandemic. A recent report by the Singapore Tourism Board said that the average length of time for visitors more than doubled in the first half of the year, with visitors staying 7.1 days compared with 3.4 days in 2019.

 

And how is demand for stays at MHR properties in the rest of Asia?

While Singapore has shown the highest recovery followed by Kuala Lumpur, demand has yet to rebound in other markets like Jakarta and Manila. Generally, the outlook for stays at Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ properties across the rest of Asia shows a gradual business recovery ahead.

Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur is preparing to receive and welcome more tourists in the coming months. With Covid-19 under control, the daily cases are low. Travel has been eased with the removal of pre-trip testing requirements and the reopening of borders to Singapore. Located in the heart of Bukit Bintang, Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur is the perfect location for tourists visiting the world-famous Batu Caves and Petronas Twin Towers, or those in town to enjoy the good food and shopping in the Klang Valley.

Philippines’ hospitality sector is enjoying a strong boost in tourist numbers as well. We expect demand at The Heritage Hotel Manila, which is nestled in the heart of the capital, to bounce back very well as it is within minutes from the international and domestic airport terminals. The Heritage Hotel is also popular among MICE travelers for its close proximity to Manila Bay, PICC, and the World Trade Convention Center.

Jakarta is the transport hub and gateway city to popular Indonesia destinations such as Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. The Indonesian government has issued various policies to make it easier for tourists to visit Indonesia and this will help revive the tourism services sector, particularly hotels. As neighboring Asian countries have become the largest market of Indonesia tourism, Jakarta would benefit from a weak currency and the perception as a low-priced tourism destination. Domestically, Indonesians also have begun to take short trips to Jakarta as they try to shake off lockdown fatigue. In the same vein, the Millennium Hotel Sirih Jakarta is ready to welcome domestic travelers with flexible offers whilst maintaining the highest hygiene standards to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all guests.

Left to right: Poolside at Grand Millennium Kuala Lumpur; the lobby at Millennium Hotel Sirih Jakarta.

Are MICE events making a big comeback in Singapore or key gateway cities elsewhere in the world?

This segment has yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, but we expect more regional meetings to take place in the coming months. It is also encouraging to see events like the F1 Grand Prix drawing in tourists.

With the relaxation of border and quarantine measures, tourism and travel have increased significantly. Singapore has already begun to hold large-scale meetings and conferences such as the Shangri-La Dialogue and Food Fair Expo. Come September, interior design and furniture fair FIND – Design Fair Asia will make its debut and draw the design crowd regionally and internationally. It is further expected that Singapore will reach its pre-pandemic level of MICE travelers within two to three years. Worldwide, we are seeing business slowly returning to normal, and we are excited to welcome MICE travelers back.

 

Can you tell us about a few of the newest packages geared toward post-pandemic leisure travelers?

MHR recognizes the growth in popularity of staycations and has rolled out several themed staycation packages across our Singapore hotels. One example is  “Glamping under the Stars” for families at Grand Copthorne Waterfront, where children are awed by “stars in the room” in their very own Glam-Tent, complete with complimentary storybooks and picture slides, or a “Yacht-cation Escape” at Orchard Hotel and M Social, where guests enjoy a gourmet picnic out at sea.

With travel restrictions easing, the “Dream Triple” package will be attractive to travelers embarking on a Southeast Asian adventure. Guests who stay in Millennium hotels in any Southeast Asian country will enjoy an extra 12 percent off accommodation; triple points to redeem on an array of exciting rewards as a member; and a choice of two complimentary perks during their stay, such as breakfast and “Kids Stay & Eat Free.”

An Alcove Cosy Room with a private terrace at M Social Singapore.

MHR recently launched the Prestige Tier for the My Millennium loyalty program. What are the major benefits and key differences from the pre-existing membership status?

My Millennium Prestige is a form of appreciation to reward our loyal members. Members who stay for 10 nights will be automatically upgraded to My Millennium Prestige, which unlocks an array of enhanced benefits. These include but are not limited to: Priority check-in and check-out, welcome amenities, room upgrades to the next category, and kids aged six and below can eat free at participating restaurants!

 

How did the idea of creating M Social Decentraland in the Metaverse come about? And how else is MHR planning to innovate when it comes to customer engagement?

During the pandemic, the popularity of digital experiences skyrocketed with the concept of the metaverse leading the charge. In periods of quarantine or lockdown, people turned to the metaverse to travel to new worlds and interact with others around the globe. With growing interest and participation in the metaverse, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to own land and construct a hotel experience on the Decentraland platform. Buying into Decentraland and becoming the first hospitality group in the world to operate a hotel in the metaverse gave us first-mover advantage to create early connections with the customers of tomorrow.

The immersive experience at M Social Decentraland takes adventurous guests on a gamified journey of discovery through the hotel, with those reaching the top level standing a chance to win real-world hotel surprises. We hope to leverage the online connections made and convert them to real life guests with meaningful engagement. Future plans for M Social Decentraland include linking the M Social brand website to the hotel to enable virtual to real-world connections.

As the metaverse continues to mature and gain momentum, we see this venture in the digital world as a way to reach out to younger audiences and new, digital-savvy demographics. With the digital space being the next frontier for travel experiences, we are actively pursuing partnerships with organizations, institutions, artists, content creators, and collaborators to design metaverse activations that bridge online engagement and offline experiences to create one-of-a-kind memories.

Inside a La Sweetie room at M Social Hotel Paris Opera. (Photo © Nicolas Anetson)

Sustainability in the hospitality industry has become more important than ever before. What goals has MHR set itself in terms of reducing carbon emissions and becoming an eco-friendlier company?

We view sustainability as a progressive change. It is not so much an overnight change as it is recognizing the issues and implementing small steps that eventually result in an operational and lifestyle change for our staff and guests. Working closely with local compliance regulatory organizations while continuously looking for improvements in our environmental performance across our business, we seek to achieve greater green benchmarks without compromising the quality of our product and services to our guests. At the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore, food waste is being recycled and in the London Hotels, we have eliminated caged eggs from the supply chain.

 

In your opinion, what are the three hottest emerging markets anywhere in the world for MHR?

We see London, New York, and Singapore as our hottest markets for business recovery.

 

What hotel openings or major upgrades for existing properties do you have in the pipeline?

As the world starts to open up to more travel, we see the demand for more vibrant travel experiences. Hence, we recognize the opportunity to grow the footprint of the most creatively driven brand within our portfolio, M Social. Within Asia, we are opening a new M Social in Suzhou, China and redesigning our Phuket hotel to reopen as an M Social Hotel. Both are scheduled to open in 2023. This renewed sense of enthusiasm for exploration has also prompted us to expand our presence within the market for resort-style hotels. Outside of Asia, we are also taking this opportunity to upgrade the Millennium Hotel Knightsbridge London to M Social Knightsbridge in 2023.

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