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Hi-Tech Vs. Heritage: How Are Hotels Keeping Up With What We Want

Service with a smile or service with a smart system? We ask hotel managers what they think is the ultimate formula for running a successful hospitality establishment in the heart of modern Singapore.

There is a robot waiting at my hotel room door. Apparently her name is Aura. And she’s on a mission — to deliver the bottled water I requested from reception five minutes ago. The canister-shaped auto-butler lifts her lid to reveal her contents and even does a cute left-right jiggle when I key in a five-star rating on her screen for her quick, commendable dispatch service.

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Hi-Tech Hotels Vs. Heritage Hotels

The roving robot, akin to a pink R2-D2, is also known to roam the lobby of M Social, often mingling with guests or guiding them to the hotel’s breakfast spot. But Aura isn’t the only front-line bot in the building. She is joined by her “younger brother” Ausca (sounds like Oscar), who is stationed at M Social’s much-raved-about Beast & Butterflies. Beyond the new nitro cold brew offering, which comes flavoured and speckled with selfie-generated coffee art, the hotel restaurant offers the world’s first meal-making robot-chef, working at a hotel. The Front-Of-House Autonomous Service Chef Robot prototype, or Automated Service Chef Associate (thus AUSCA for short), cracks an egg, all by himself, and prepares sunny-side ups and omelettes with up to three condiments, in just under three minutes. And the verdict? Absolutely cracking.

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The homegrown hotel brand, which calls billionaire Kwek Leng Beng as its founder and owner, chose to look towards robotics to enhance the guest experience and address the labour crunch. “With more hotels opening, manpower shortage will continue to be a challenge in the hospitality industry,” says Lee Richards, Vice President of Operations for South East Asia at Millennium Hotels and Resorts, the conglomerate that owns the M Social brand, which recently clinched ‘Best Business Innovation’ at this year’s Singapore Tourism Award.

Hi-Tech Hotels Vs. Heritage Hotels
Ausca and Aura with Lee Richards, Vice President of Operations Singapore, Millennium Hotels & Resorts

“With the deployment of Ausca, our chef is able to re-allocate approximately four man-hours daily towards other duties in the culinary area. Similarly, with the deployment of Aura, the rooms division has managed to save about eight man-hours daily and that has allowed team members to have more time to engage with the guests.”

Other new smart hotels in the city, such as Yotel Singapore, have even taken this whole tech thing further by offering total electronic service, from the moment you check in till the moment you check out. Yet, at the core of hospitality, Richards thinks man is still more important than machine. “Hospitality is all about people. Good hospitality applies to internal as well as external guests — taking care of our employees and treating our guests with care and making them feel at home.”

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So while all this drive for digital excellence is exciting, the case for heritage hotels and reliving the good ol’ days of a homely Singapore can be, ironically, a novelty too. Such is the idea behind the new Six Senses Singapore. The hotel chain’s induction into the city-centre sphere lands itself in two spunky Singapore neighbourhoods: Duxton Road and Maxwell Road. The first to open is Six Senses Duxton, a terrace of eight former shophouses owned by dot-com bigwig turned real estate developer Satinder Garcha. And while the traditional buildings were originally built in the early 1900s, distinctively local and Chinese Baroque in style, this row of low-slung colonial-era spaces is surrounded by skyscrapers and other more modern facades to reflect the city’s current booming business hub.

Hi-Tech Hotels Vs. Heritage Hotels
Six Senses Duxton

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For Murray Aitken, General Manager of Six Senses Singapore, this contrast in milieu isn’t an issue and should be viewed as something special. He says, “There is a need for both heritage and modernity. Thankfully, the Singapore government continues to protect some of the heritage in Singapore so a lot of it will stay. There are many countries that have unfortunately lost this because profit overrides the desire or need to protect heritage. Also, we must remember that keeping heritage is very much a part of environmental sustainability… you are essentially sustaining it for the benefit of future generations. So sustainable tourism isn’t just confined to going to the ice caps or planting corals in the ocean; it’s also going to Singapore, going to a heritage building and experiencing the history of a place.”

“Keeping heritage is very much a part of environmental sustainability… you are essentially sustaining it for the benefit of future generations.” — Murray Aitken, General Manager of Six Senses Singapore

This explains the localised wellness supplies one gets during turndown service at Six Senses Duxton — there’s nutmeg oil, Tiger Balm and heck, even Po Chai Pills. There are also walking tours to discover the culture-rich neighbourhood of Chinatown or getting educated about the important historical trees nearby. Traditional therapies are likewise available, such as TCM, which further connects guests to the surrounding culture and tradition of the street. Plus, the food at the hotel’s Yellow Pot oriental restaurant follows a strict social-eco-ethos, all in-line with the big idea of “sustaining heritage”.

Hi-Tech Hotels Vs. Heritage Hotels
The Warehouse Hotel

Another high-end hotel that follows this creed of legacy-leading conduct is The Warehouse Hotel. Though not as rigorous, and in a nice twist, its owner wanted to find a way to give something with so much history a future. The brainchild of The Lo & Behold Group’s Wee Teng Wen, the hotel revives Singapore’s built heritage by breathing new life to three 120-year-old godowns, the local term for “warehouses”, located along Singapore River. While the current space truly reflects the timeless place — apt industrial design elements of pulley lights given the space’s spice trade background; offering guests a menu of “vices” in homage to the neighbourhood’s once dark and illicit past; the use of traditional Chinese character as the hotel’s secondary branding to reference the old name of the warehouse found on its facade — it doesn’t feel overdone. To keep things fresh, designers added a subtle layer of modern touches, including warm leathers and designer furniture, for added comfort in thinking of innkeeping, thus earning them the prestigious ‘Design Of The Year’ at the recent President’s Design Award 2018.

Hi-Tech Hotels Vs. Heritage Hotels
The Warehouse Hotel

Asked if the hotel will ever see robots being used in the 19th century footprint, The Warehouse Hotel’s General Manager answers, “Tomorrow a robot may be able to lift a bed for a housekeeper to be able to tuck in the sheets. So I will never say no. It’s the future, so we have to embrace it at some point of time.”

Wee agrees and concludes by saying, “I think heritage and modernity are not mutually exclusive. They can co-exist and should co-exist.“

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