Asian hotels turn to domestic market for Chinese New Year season

The staycation market for the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays continues to dominate the vision of hoteliers in South-east Asia, where international arrivals have been disrupted once more by Omicron.

Take up of festive staycation packages at Shangri-La Singapore, which feature a celebratory high tea experience, has been good, revealed general manager John Rice. The hotel expects to run on high occupancy during Chinese New Year, with locals forming the bulk of the hotel’s guest mix, most of them being couples and families.

Hotels across Asia like Shangri-La Singapore (above) continue to rely on patronage from local residents

Malaysian hoteliers who have seen advanced bookings for the Chinese New Year holidays said business would peak a few days prior to the season due to the last-minute booking nature of domestic travellers.

Caemen Phoon, director of sales and marketing, Zenith Putrajaya, is hopeful that festive bookings this year will outperform 2020, when it was newly opened and had a 27 per cent occupancy rate.

While hoteliers have described this year’s Chinese New Year performance as positive and encouraging, they acknowledged that bookings were nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

Christina Tan, spokesperson for G Hotel Gurney in Penang, Malaysia, said the hotel typically enjoyed full occupancy during the season, thanks to its central location. But even with the hotel’s popularity, Chinese New Year occupancy is only expected to hit 50 per cent this year – or 70 per cent at best.

However, should Singapore resume full capacity of her Vaccinated Travel Lane with Malaysia prior to the holidays, Tan said bookings would spike.

Shangri-La Singapore’s Rice, too, noted that international travel restrictions and capacity limits on hotel facilities have dampened Chinese New Year’s performance potential.

Magdalena Martorell, general manager of the new Meliá Phuket Mai Khao in Thailand, emphasised that against a Covid backdrop, the business potential of Chinese New Year is no longer the same.

“Covid-19 has disrupted travel patterns for most countries worldwide, particularly for Chinese travellers. Without the possibility of Chinese travellers comfortably exiting and re-entering their country for the foreseeable future, it’s much more difficult for hotels (worldwide) to look to the Chinese New Year as a period of higher demand like it used to be,” Martorell told TTG Asia.

She observed a “considerable reduction in demand” for the Chinese New Year period when compared against December 2021 and January 2022.

“The decrease is predominantly due to Thailand’s suspension of its Test & Go programme and the current increase of Covid-19 cases on the back of the Omicron variant,” she explained.

Despite international travel restrictions, the hotel will have a 9:1 ratio of overseas guests versus staycationers during Chinese New Year, with most coming from Europe.

For now, brisk takings from festive dine-ins and takeaways are helping to boost Chinese New Year earnings. At G Hotel Gurney, reunion dinner buffets are fully booked, while lunch and dinner buffet slots on the first day of LNY are almost sold out at press time. Takeaways are also doing well, said Tan, with many corporate clients buying festive goodies for clients and staff as tokens of appreciation.

To help Singapore residents navigate continued dine-in restrictions, Shangri-La Singapore boosted its F&B retail and takeaway selections this LNY – and the tills have been ringing, thanks to “encouraging” demand for take-home feasts and treats. – Additional reporting by S Puvaneswary

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