Skift Take

Without the spread of the coronavirus being contained or widespread travel restrictions being lifted, any increase in hotel occupancy is little more than a short-term blip.

Malaysia’s coronavirus lockdown sent tens of thousands of its citizens, who commute daily to Singapore for work, into a frenzy to get home to retrieve their belongings and return to the neighboring city-state on Tuesday. That prompted a surge in Singapore hotel bookings from Singapore companies on a last-minute quest to house their affected employees for the next two weeks.

The nationwide movement control order, announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday night, was made to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Malaysia, currently showing the highest numbers among countries in Southeast Asia.

All Malaysians are barred from traveling in and out of the country during the two-week lockdown, starting Wednesday until March 31. This order also affects the estimated 300,000 workers who shuttle from Malaysia to neighboring Singapore daily for work or study.

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While hotels in Malaysia were no longer able to receive any new bookings as the country hunkers down, hotels in Singapore were conversely seeing a booking surge due to the lockdown.

HotelPlanner has received a 40 percent spike in bookings for Singapore hotels since Monday, executive vice president for Asia Pacific Christopher Lee told Skift. A majority of these bookings, according to the booking service that specializes in group deals and corporate events, came from logistics, engineering, IT, and service support firms.

Most booking requests were for stays averaging 14 nights, the duration that Malaysia’s lockdown would last, Lee added.

Singapore Ministry of Manpower has published a list of hotels in the city-state where companies can accommodate their Malaysian employees at such short notice.

Among them is Park Hotels Group, which is charging “bare minimal rates” to assist with urgent accommodation needs for Malaysians working in Singapore, said Executive Director Shin Hui Tan. The Singapore-based hospitality group has 2,000 rooms across six hotels in the city-state.

“We’re definitely putting more heads on beds in our hotels, with some of our properties seeing 50 percent occupancy,” she said. “All these took place within the last 24 hours.”

This was a marked reversal of plummeting occupancy trends that Singapore hotels have been experiencing in recent weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

But the sudden upswing also meant that the hotel group, which had been adjusting to the tourist slowdown in recent weeks by operating on a lean team, to quickly turn around rooms and cross-deploy staff to accommodate hundreds of guests arriving in less than 24 hours, said Tan.

The bookings rush arising from Malaysia’s closure also coincided with a “healthy pick-up” in staycations that Park Hotel Group has seen from the domestic market this week, due to the March school holidays in Singapore, said Tan.

But this hardly signifies that Singapore tourism and hospitality sectors seeing a return to business as usual, even if crowds are observed again in malls and restaurants are seeing more diners, Tan cautioned. “Right now you will probably see more people in supermarkets than hotels,” she remarked.

Without a steady flow of international leisure and corporate guests to sustain the flow of bookings amid the severe restrictions on global travel, any spike in demand is just a temporary reaction to the fast-changing coronavirus situation, warned Tan. “The green shoot of recovery will come when there is stabilization and containment of the virus in other markets.”

These blips that Singapore’s hotels are seeking are “due to someone else’s misfortunes and cannot be sustained,” she added. “In fact, it could probably be an indicator of worst, not better, days to come. We still have to plan for a protracted situation.”


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Tags: coronavirus, malaysia, shutdown, singapore

Photo credit: Staff of Singapore's Park Hotel Group preparing a hotel room for guests following a last-minute surge in bookings due to Malaysia's lockdown. Park Hotel Group

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