Travel 4 minutes 30 July 2020

The Future Of Luxury Travel: How Hotels Balance Comfort And Safety In Re-opening

Excellent service alone may not be enough to lure guests back in light of COVID -19. Leaders from top hospitality chains tell us how they are adapting and getting back on track.

COVID-19 hotels Travel

Reliance on tourism, at approximately 14% of the country’s GDP, has undoubtedly led to the Thai economy’s slump during this pandemic. Even without international arrivals, some hotels have decided to resume their operations following an ease of lockdown measures. They hope to slowly get back on track or, at least, be able to pay their employees.

To encourage local visitors to fill the void of international travellers, they are offering much more than stellar deals and never-before-seen discounts. Luxury hotels are also making sure their unparalleled services are in parallel with their safety standards. Hoteliers from three renowned brands in Thailand share with us how they manage to put these two together and step forward.

A renovated guest room at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s River Wing. (© Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)
A renovated guest room at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s River Wing. (© Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)

Go above and beyond

Among those reopening is the legendary Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, which recently finished a 2,800-million-baht facelift of its River Wing in November 2019, only a few months before the hospitality industry was hit by the pandemic. With no revenue from foreign visitors, the hotel was still able to reap some benefit through support from loyal fans of its long-standing F&B outlets.

From hand sanitiser in crystal bottles to social distancing greater than recommended lengths, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok has shown us that leaders in luxury hospitality have to go above and beyond to ensure that guests feel confident to stay or dine with them.

“We were not only compliant with government regulations. We went above and beyond in property health and safety,” said Geoffrey Webb, Director of Commercial Strategy of the 144-year-old hotel. “Our intention is always to create a safe and welcoming environment for all guests while retaining an air of elegance,” he added while pointing to the small embroidered cushions with “mind the distance” as an example.

Geoffrey Webb, Director of Commercial Strategy, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. (© Mandarien Oriental Bangkok)
Geoffrey Webb, Director of Commercial Strategy, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. (© Mandarien Oriental Bangkok)

La Grande Dame does not forget to wow us again this time. Mandarin Oriental Bangkok has introduced a temporary service from their two MICHELIN-starred Le Normandie called “in-suite dining”. Guests experience the ultimate in luxury private dining as well as having the security of being completely removed from all other diners, at no extra charge (for now).

Meanwhile in the South of Thailand, we visited Phuket’s ultra-luxurious seaside resort, Amanpuri. The world’s first Aman reopened its doors on July 1 with the most affordable prices in its history.

Aman’s renowned exceptional services need no further description, and while hygiene is a top priority, implementing safety measures subtlety was just as tantamount. “Through thorough training, we are able to subtly and safely cater to every whim, allowing guests to relax in utmost comfort, safe in the knowledge that we have placed their health and well-being at the core of their experience – but not at the forefront of their eyesight,” said Nicolas Ilickovic, the resort’s general manager who has been with the brand for over a decade.

Two-MICHELIN Starred Le Normandie. (© Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)
Two-MICHELIN Starred Le Normandie. (© Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)

Teaming up with experts

If it helps ease a guest’s mind, why not? Because safety procedures itself may not completely assuage concerns among luxury spenders, Mandarin Oriental and Aman went the extra mile by embarking on campaigns partnered with trusted healthcare institutions.

Mandarin Oriental’s We Care programme is a core protocol each property must adapt and follow in accordance with local government guidelines. It has been verified by Lloyd’s Register, an internationally recognised assessor that audits health, safety, and security standards. You can read more about the programme here.

“We continue to operate our programme called ‘We Care’ that guarantees the highest levels of safety and cleanliness.” Geoffrey explained that the programme’s highlights include the opportunity for guests to discuss specific concerns prior to their arrival. “And we are more than happy to do so directly with them,” he added.

Likewise, Aman has adopted expert-approved health practices. Chief Operating Officer of this chain, Roland Fasel, stated in a COVID-19 update letter that Aman has teamed up with Diversey to implement all the appropriate practices across the brand's portfolio. Diversey is a trusted Chicago-based cleaning and hygiene products provider. They also operate a Hygiene Academy with a cloud-based e-learning training system that helps ensure the workforce maintains superior hygiene at every level.

Nicolas Ilickovic, General Manager, Amanpuri. (© Amanpuri)
Nicolas Ilickovic, General Manager, Amanpuri. (© Amanpuri)

Flexibility is key

Hygiene. Impeccable service. What more do we need from luxury hotels now? This simple question clearly indicates a significant shift in the way hoteliers are marketing. “Flexibility is another key. Travellers are willing to pay upfront for amazing experiences, even if intended travel dates are still unknown,” said Ollie Ansell, Director of Digital Marketing, upper Southeast Asia and the Maldives, Accor Hotels.

For marketing, gift vouchers have become the ideal answer to flexibility. “It has helped some of our luxury properties meet these key needs: offering amazing travel experiences, without requiring the traveller to select stay dates at time of purchase.”

Thanks to the chain’s wide portfolio, Accor is now elevating its gift voucher programme through partnerships between different hotels.

Stunning sunset at Pullman Arcadia Naithon Beach, one of many properties operated by Accor Hotels. (© Pullman Arcadia Naithon Beach)
Stunning sunset at Pullman Arcadia Naithon Beach, one of many properties operated by Accor Hotels. (© Pullman Arcadia Naithon Beach)

The rise of health-oriented tourism

Immunity helps us wrestle with the virus, as we all know. But beside your daily dose of Vitamin C and frequent trips to gym, you can let hotels facilitate your health and fitness. Hospitality brands see this as a future opportunity by promoting a growing market of guests who desire optimal health.

Keeping an eye on this opportunity is Amanpuri. The resort has already stepped forward as the brand’s first property to provide medical services with the launch of a Holistic Wellness Centre in February 2019. “It is extremely fortunate to already be recognised as a pioneer with our Holistic Wellness Centre, led by a certified medical team,” said the general manager. Nicolas explained that the certified medical team works alongside the resort’s alternative-therapy specialists to offer distinctive medical services and treatments.

Probably with perfect timing, early this year Amanpuri introduced a new five-night Integrated Medical Immune Support Immersion programme that incorporates therapies supported by medical literature to improve immune defence.

Ollie Ansell, Director of Digital Marketing (Upper Southeast Asia & The Maldives), Accor Hotels. (© Accor Hotels)
Ollie Ansell, Director of Digital Marketing (Upper Southeast Asia & The Maldives), Accor Hotels. (© Accor Hotels)

Learn and adapt for better benefits

In some territories, continuing effective measures have slowly pushed COVID-19 into a thing of the past. But across the world, there have been second, even third, waves of outbreaks, resulting in reinstated lockdown policies. So how well have these leaders in luxury prepared for such an uncertain future?

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok stays positive as the hotel claims a success on newly adapted services that commenced during the lockdown while the hotel was closed. Additionally, the hotel has also expanded the Mandarin Oriental Shops online ordering platform. “And we continue to see weekly growth in sales.”

Nicolas Ilickovic understands the possibility of another outbreak, and he trusts the internal training that has placed the resort in a stage of highest preparation. “Should we experience another pandemic in the future, we would not hesitate to close our doors again to ensure the health and well-being of our staff and guests,” he admitted. “Yet with our established all-out training, we feel we are prepared to respond swiftly and appropriately to any future crisis, such as this one.”

CONTINUE READING: 11 MICHELIN Guide Restaurants Worth A Road Trip From Bangkok

Hero photo: © Amanpuri 


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