Swissôtel The Stamford’s Marcus Hanna: One step ahead

The iconic Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore finally reopened on April 11 after the Singapore government eased travel restrictions. This 1,252-key, 73-story tower is known for its luxury offerings and style, and now it has unexpected and invaluable lessons to apply to its operations after having served as a quarantine hotel during the pandemic, along with its sister property Fairmont Singapore.

“Looking back, I’m proud of what the team achieved during this time — hosting up to 1,600 guests at any one time and delivering three meals a day. You can only imagine the number of incoming packages the team processed and delivered – over 1,000 a day,” said Managing Director of Swissôtel The Stamford and Fairmont Singapore Marcus Hanna.

“The best piece of advice I received early in my career was always to be one step ahead of your boss; anticipate their needs and you will do well.” – Marcus Hanna

While doctors and nurses were mostly considered frontline workers, Hanna said his operations team members were serving in a similar capacity, which included reassuring quarantined guests during those uncertain times. “As much as the last two years have thrown us challenging curveballs, the pandemic has also reminded us to always be flexible and adaptable; not to take things for granted; to review old and possibly dated processes; and apply new ways to operating our businesses.”

Hanna recently spoke to HOTELS about his experiences of managing a hotel during the pandemic, measures to attract both new and existing guests, enhancing the hotel’s brand, creating new revenue channels and more.

HOTELS: As travel restrictions ease in Singapore and travel rebounds, what are you doing differently to attract new guests and bring back existing guests?

Marcus Hanna: In the post-pandemic world of hospitality, hygiene and cleanliness are expected norms to uphold. To prepare for the hotel’s reopening, we started deep cleaning the premises more than a month prior.

With technology and innovation having always been central to the hotel’s offering, we were thankfully well positioned when the pandemic hit. We implemented a range of contactless smart technology solutions in the adjacent sister hotel, Fairmont Singapore, to enhance the overall guest experience, which also played an integral role in ensuring safety and protecting well-being. This will similarly be introduced at Swissôtel The Stamford in the near future.

Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore

H: What were the main challenges you faced during the reopening phase?

MH: Many of our colleagues haven’t checked a guest in or out for the last two years. Our focus was on regular training and re-training to ensure every element of the guest experience is well taken care of.

We are also actively recruiting to fill several positions. Manpower shortage remains our greatest challenge. Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed many hospitality colleagues seeking alternative career opportunities across the sector.

When the pandemic hit, we did everything we could to secure secondary opportunities for our colleagues. For example, we had team members working temporarily in essential industries, sectors which required added manpower to cater to increased demand. By looking after our team then, we’re in a better place today as we reopen.

We’re also working to shore up the supply chain. The pandemic exposed major flaws in the global supply chain and we are making it a focus to ensure reliable supply chains and do as much as we can to grow our own produce locally. We also continue to push forth more initiatives on the sustainability front following our 2019 launch of the world’s first urban aquaponics farm within a hotel.

H: How did you keep the staff motivated during the pandemic?

MH: We had a huge amount to learn and this couldn’t be done over a webcam. We had to be there on the frontline and ensure operations were up to par. We all took turns at the Vaccination Centre, for example, ushering people to their stations and colleagues who were not seconded also did their part and assumed roles to support operations in wedding banquets, housekeeping during peak seasons.

We tried to secure secondary opportunities for our colleagues to protect livelihoods, and regularly checked in on our colleagues’ well-being.

And when we faced staff shortages during peak demand periods, like public and school holidays and wedding seasons, colleagues in the hotel who were not seconded, including the senior management, took on different lateral roles from banqueting, food & beverage and housekeeping to keep the business running.

H: What steps are you taking to create new revenue streams?

MH: It’s not a new revenue stream but it has been absent over the pandemic and that’s meetings, conferences and events. Our phones have been ringing off the hook since the restrictions eased in Singapore and we’re anticipating a huge revival in this space. We have one of the largest and ideally located convention centers in Singapore. So, large group sizes are integral to our success.

During the pandemic, we explored new opportunities and achieved successes with alternate revenue channels through e-commerce, including Gifts Central, our online platform for purchase of hotel dining, staycation and spa experiences as e-vouchers; as well as Fairmont At Home, an e-shop for premium groceries, exclusive wines, gourmet meals from the hotels’ popular restaurants and more. By activating creative partnerships, we’re able to tap into new audience segments and passion points, allowing us to connect with new or emerging guest profiles.

Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore lobby

H: How effective have staycations been to revive revenue?

MH: We found staycations to have been incredibly effective at bringing in revenue. We weren’t sure it would be so successful given every one of our competitors was after the same audience, especially during the days when international borders remained closed. We knew that we had to think beyond a bed and breakfast offering and look at what we could do to cut through the noise and various staycation offers on the market.

One campaign we were particularly proud of is the ‘Mumcation.’ Mothers were the hardest hit during circuit breaker, having to balance childcare, full-time jobs, home-based learning. We teamed up with Uniqlo and Lush to offer mums the ultimate staycation. It was so successful that it exceeded our sales targets by 200%.

H: How is Swissôtel The Stamford ensuring sustainable tourism?

MH: Sustainability is integral to our daily activities, as well as continued growth and expansion, and not just another buzzword.

For example, in 2019, we invested in building an industry-first aquaponics farm. The 450 square-meter farm supplies produce that meets 30% of our vegetable and 10% of our fresh fish needs across the hotels every month. Aquaponics is a sustainable, pesticide-free solution to traditional methods with substantially higher yields.

Technology updates are also integral to sustainable development by maximizing energy efficiency. Guest rooms are fitted with motion sensors to conserve electricity when they are not in the room. In addition to a green mode setting, the air-conditioner also measures humidity and temperature to detect and automatically shuts off when balcony doors are left open.

In our kitchens, our culinary team has implemented AI technology to analyze food waste. From there, we can run reports and ensure we’re ordering produce responsibly.

H: What has been the biggest takeaway from COVID?

MH: Here are some key lessons I’ve learned from the pandemic.

It’s not all about the balance sheet: When the pandemic hit, many business leaders worked to sort the balance sheet, stem the losses and bring in money where possible. Although this is important, I feel many lost sight of what’s truly important — their people.

Don’t just plan for the present moment, plan for the future: At every stage of the pandemic, we always focused on the next step. It’s important to always have a succession plan in place in such an uncertain time.

Insights: The pandemic turned all of our lives upside down. By staying attuned to consumer likes and dislikes, we were able to tailor experiences to suit them.

H: What broader consumer trends are you applying? Any industry trends you like and dislike?

MH: Workcations: The ‘bleisure’ boom has created opportunities as consumers are increasingly seeking experiences that allow them to work remotely. We’ve created products and offers that cater to this segment – allowing guests to rent rooms by the day.

Luxury essentialism: We’re seeing a shift away from wasteful extras that traditionally have filled hotel rooms. We’re now offering less, but better – from artisan bottled cocktails in the minibar to in-room gourmet snacks from local suppliers and high-quality brands.

H: Who has been your mentor and what is the best piece of advice you have received?

MH: My parents have been my mentors throughout life. I have been fortunate to have their guidance and advice in both my personal and professional life, and I appreciate that.

Professionally, I have not really had a mentor. However, one leader that had a big impact on me was Clive Scott, general manager of Sofitel Melbourne on Collins. I worked with Clive as his executive assistant manager, and during that time I learned a lot from him.

The best piece of advice I received early in my career was always to be one step ahead of your boss; anticipate their needs and you will do well.

H: What’s your hotel pet peeve?

MH: Complacency, when seemingly simple daily tasks are taken for granted and just the bare basics are done with little care and attention to detail. In this business of happiness, we have to excite and delight our guests and give them reasons to return. When we do just the basics, we have failed not just our guests but ourselves because we’re not fulfilling our roles as hoteliers.