HotelsAs Singapore tourism comes of age, it’s time to carve out a hospitality experience that is distinctively its own – Far East Hospitality CEO Arthur Kiong shows the way.

One CEO's quest to build Singapore's unique brand of hospitality

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Far East Hospitality CEO Arthur Kiong
Far East Hospitality CEO Arthur Kiong

Think of Singapore and the city’s iconic attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands often come to mind. But what about the quintessential hotel experience that is distinctively and uniquely Singapore?

That is one question that hospitality stalwart Arthur Kiong has been trying to answer through his extensive hospitality career across different corners of the world. 

We provide comfort without excess. We provide the aesthetics without being ostentatious. We are personally attentive, but we are not pretentious.– Far East Hospitality CEO, Arthur Kiong

Since taking helm of Far East Hospitality as CEO in 2012, Kiong has made it his mission to build a Singapore-inspired hospitality product, one that is neither grandiose or superficial, but something that will touch people’s hearts and make them remember what Singapore is truly all about. 

‘Not me too or me better, but me only’

Yet, for too long, the Singapore hospitality sector has had an identity crisis, and perhaps even an inferiority complex, the hospitality chief states.

Singapore emulated the Western hotel chains during the 1970s and 1980s, copying ideas from successful tourism cities such as Tokyo, New York, Paris and Hong Kong. Orchard Road, for instance, was the product of this “me too” era, says Kiong. 

Then came the 1990s and 2000s – dubbed the “me better” generation by Kiong – during which Singapore sought to surpass its global counterparts by doing everything better. This era is characterised by mega projects like the Singapore Flyer and two integrated resorts. 

Yet, Singapore hasn’t quite transcended beyond these two phases, which are neither sustainable nor desirable in the long run for the hospitality sector. What the country now needs is to develop its own identity and brand in hospitality – in what Kiong terms the “me only” stage. 

Located on Cross Street, The Clan Hotel pays tribute to Singapore's Chinese clan heritage
Located on Cross Street, The Clan Hotel pays tribute to Singapore's Chinese clan heritage

“For me personally, we Singaporeans must create something that is ours. The hotel company must reflect us, so let's not be ashamed of who we are,” he adds. 

What then is the Singapore style of hospitality? Kiong says, “We provide comfort without excess. We provide the aesthetics without being ostentatious. We are personally attentive, but we are not pretentious.”  

Singapore’s own brand of hospitality should be celebrated. “It's time for us to go into the third cycle of tourism, where Singapore creates things that are not ‘me too, me better, but me only’.” 

There’s nothing average about being mid-tier

Kiong believes Far East Hospitality shows the way forward of a Singapore hospitality management company.

“We have a different way of running our hotels, but it is our model that makes it Singaporean-inspired hospitality. Our calling card is that we are in the mid-tier market because the Asian traveller is generally a mid-tier customer." 

Instead of segmenting the market into the usual categories of budget, economy, luxury and so on, the seasoned hotelier believes modern travellers should be defined by their psychographic profiles. “The mid-tier market is not homogenous, and there are different types of mid-tier customers.” 

For this reason, Far East Hospitality has created a portfolio of mid-tier hospitality brands to address the different lifestyle segments.  

For the wellness-conscious customer, the Oasia hotel is kitted out to provide a holistic wellness experience throughout their stay. For the nonconformists, Quincy offers flexibility and creativity in terms of its amenities and services; whereas the traditionalists will find a good fit with the Rendezvous hotel experience. The Village brand, on the other hand, is dedicated to value-sensitive customers, enabling them to “stretch their every dollar”. 

One CEO's quest to build Singapore's unique brand of hospitality

And nowhere exemplifies Far East Hospitality’s wide-ranging mid-tier business concept than its portfolio of properties on Sentosa, where the hospitality group has adopted its own approaches towards guest retention from other hotels. 

Existing hotels on Sentosa were all largely focused on attracting the five-star segment. But the arrival of Far East Hospitality's hotels on the island changed that, opening up a hitherto untapped mid-tier market.

“We’ve come to take a niche and create our own customers. We’ve got 800 rooms, but our hotels will not be all things to all people,” Kiong remarks. 

Village Hotel Sentosa, with 606 rooms priced in the S$200-$300 range, is targeted at value-sensitive families. Next door, the 193-room Outpost Hotel Sentosa is an upscale accommodation that caters to young couples with a taste for adventure, whereas the 40-key Barracks Hotel Sentosa appeals to an older, more established clientele above 50 years old. The 191-key Oasia Resort Sentosa, which opened in September 2021, is conceived for the wellness-conscious guest.

Instead of trying to keep guests within the hotel premises, Kiong says Far East Hospitality's properties encourage them to venture outside. “If everyone keeps their own customers in the hotel, the Sentosa ecosystem cannot survive. What we do is we find reasons to get customers out of our hotels, and hence the facilities within our hotels are very limited.  

“You can’t build a hotel and want to keep everything within your hotel, and yet do nothing for the precinct.” 

The importance of finding one’s clan

If the Sentosa hotels exemplify Far East Hospitality’s mid-tier hospitality concept, then it is in one of its newest properties, The Clan Hotel, that Kiong firmly believes provides the answers to what makes Singapore-inspired hospitality.

“A hotel must activate and bring value to a precinct,” says Kiong. When that happens, competition is no longer between hotels but between precincts, and the spectrum of activities becomes more diverse and innovative than would have been possible if it were just one hotel competing with another hotel. 

The Clan Hotel, by combining storytelling, theatre, and hospitality, conveys the tales of how Chinese Clans contributed a significant role in building world-class cities such as Singapore, says Kiong.
The Clan Hotel, by combining storytelling, theatre, and hospitality, conveys the tales of how Chinese Clans contributed a significant role in building world-class cities such as Singapore, says Kiong.

The Clan Hotel does precisely that, paying tribute to Singapore’s clan heritage that characterises its Telok Ayer neighbourhood. At this luxury downtown hotel, guests are immersed in the precinct experience through their stay at The Clan, whether it’s being greeted by a tea master who serves Nanyang tea and shares the story of the particular blend’s unique origins and flavours, or enjoying signature local eats from the neighbourhood – Outram Park char kway teow perhaps – in the comfort of their room. 

“The Clan is the quintessential Singapore story, because the experience conveys the tales of how Chinese clans contributed a significant role in building world-class cities such as Singapore,” says Kiong. “And this is where you get a Singapore-inspired hospitality experience that no other hotel in the world offers.”

Which brand then does Kiong identify with the most? 

That is a tough question, the hotel chief admits, akin to picking his favourite child as each brand resonates with him in a different way. But one brand, owing to its more challenging origins as a blank slate, stands out. 

“The Clan Hotel.” Of course, it has to be.

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