Singapur was seen as a successful model for fighting pandemics – until a few weeks ago the numbers rose sharply. Tourists have been banned from entering the city-state since March 23, 2020. Klaus Gottschalk, manager of the “Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel”, is also affected by the influx of visitors.
Before Corona, his 576-room house accommodated around 200,000 guests annually. We asked him about the local situation, about the difficulties and hopes – and wanted to know what is currently going differently in Singapore than in Germany.
WORLD: Many know Singapore as a city full of tourists. What has been the situation in Singapore since the Corona outbreak?
Klaus Gottschalk: Singapore has definitely changed. The absence of foreign visitors, except in the empty hotels, is most noticeable in the typical tourist locations, for example at the airport, the promenade Orchard Road, in the amusement parks on Sentosa Island.
The Singapore Flyer, the famous Ferris wheel, has also been idle since April and the red hop-on-hop-off tourist double-deckers are completely missing from the cityscape. Taxis are now plentiful at any time of the day; before the crisis it was often difficult at certain times.
However, the absence of foreign tourists also has small advantages for the locals. Reservations in restaurants are no problem, even in popular restaurants that had long waiting lists before the crisis.
And you have the great view from the viewing platform high up on the roof of the “Marina Bay Sands” hotel almost to yourself these days. In the casinos there is also not the usual crowd, because the otherwise very numerous visitors from China and other Asian countries are missing.
WORLD: What protective measures apply in everyday life in Singapore?
Gottschalk: Masks are compulsory and are part of the general appearance everywhere, no matter where you are. In addition, you have to register everywhere, in every shop, restaurant, shopping center, at work, by mobile phone QR code when you go in and also when you leave the place again; the goal is seamless contact tracing.
The temperature of all visitors is measured at the same time. Buses and metro are accessible at all times, but there are strict controls with regard to mask requirements and distance. In the city you can meet so-called ambassadors, government employees who monitor compliance with the measures, around the clock!
WORLD: What about the acceptance of the protective measures? A certain amount of face mask fatigue and indiscipline can be observed in Germany.
Gottschalk: The acceptance here is very high; the population is fully behind the protective measures and follows the instructions almost 100 percent. I think that is partly to be understood culturally; In Asia, the common good of society is more important than that of the individual.
In addition, Singapore – after initially very good control of the virus – was nastily surprised by high infection rates by a second wave. This also contributed to the fact that the entire population now follows all requirements very precisely.
WORLD: How is the situation in your hotel?
Gottschalk: The corona pandemic has drastically reduced the occupancy rates for hotels in Singapore, as entry for foreigners to Singapore has been very restricted since March 2020. My hotel, the “Grand Mercure Roxy”, like many other hotels in Singapore, has been fully rented by the local government since April 2020 to accommodate guest workers.
WORLD: Is your hotel very dependent on guests from abroad?
Gottschalk: Before Corona, the rate of international guests in my hotel was up to 95 percent, as in most hotels in Singapore. Now the tourists, business travelers, conference visitors and airline crews are missing. The crisis has brought hotel occupancy to almost zero.
From a goods transfer point to an economic metropolis
WORLD: Does that also apply to the restaurants?
Gottschalk: Restaurants are doing better again. Eating out is one of the favorite pastimes here in Singapore. However, there are also very strict requirements in restaurants with regard to social distance or the number of guests per table. Larger events and celebrations are not yet allowed, with the exception of weddings and funeral services, here a maximum of 50 guests are possible.
WORLD: Have you been back to the airport since the lockdown? Before Corona, Singapore Changi was one of the busiest airports in Asia.
Gottschalk: Yes, I visited the airport. It is very eerie there now compared to the previous appearance. In July 2020, just 86,000 passengers were registered there. Do you know how many there were in the same month of 2019? 5.91 million!
WORLD: Is there any government aid for the tourism industry?
Gottschalk: The government has taken extensive financial and other measures to support this industry. In addition to renting entire hotels for several months, the government pays 75 percent of the salaries of all employees with Singaporean nationality until August 2020 and then 50 percent until March 2021. However, there is a maximum amount per capita and month.
WORLD: Singapore continues to keep the borders closed to international tourists. Have you heard of plans to let travelers into the country again in the foreseeable future? Various countries are already doing this under strict conditions, such as Turkey, Rwanda or the Bahamas.
Gottschalk: There are plans of this kind, for example the establishment of “Green Lanes” between Singapore and certain other countries where Corona is under control, even with strict conditions. But so far there have been no official announcements.
WORLD: And what about Singapore’s citizens? Are people demanding that it be opened as soon as possible, or are they perhaps even very happy that the borders are still tight and that no infections are brought in from abroad?
Gottschalk: At the moment, it seems that citizens are generally satisfied with the current conditions. However, this can also be related to the fact that the government provides very generous financial support for all companies. But once these relief efforts end, the mood in the country could change quickly.
WORLD: What is the worst thing about the pandemic for you personally?
Gottschalk: How surprisingly this pandemic emerged and how unprepared we were for it. In addition, the resulting worldwide negative effects – global economic crisis, travel restrictions, unemployment, fear of the future.
WORLD: Is there anything good you can get out of the crisis?
Gottschalk: It is difficult to get any good out of the virus. Perhaps the realization that even in the 21st century such a pandemic is still possible. We will therefore have to rethink our behavior in a previously globally oriented world and do many things differently and better in the future.
WORLD: And what exactly could you do better in your industry?
Gottschalk: Intensive efforts are already being made in the hotel industry and concepts are being developed for the time after Corona. For example, how the check-in process can be made contact-free or how hotel rooms can be cleaned and disinfected in the future. Guests receive a “Safety Welcome Pack” with hand disinfection and a face mask.
The government here has also introduced a new program: SG Clean. Hotels and restaurants only receive this certificate if they meet all the criteria. The certificate and logo can then play an important role in marketing.
About the person: the hotelier Klaus Gottschalk
Klaus Gottschalk has been in the hotel industry since 1976; For 35 years he held senior positions in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, China and Malaysia. He has been permanently in Singapore since 2014. The “Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel”, which he runs as General Manager, has 576 rooms; Before the corona pandemic, Gottschalk hosted around 200,000 guests annually.
The 66-year-old names the East Coast Park as his favorite place in Singapore. The park, which is almost completely wrested from the sea, is a green oasis in the city for swimming, biking and sizzling with a 15-kilometer-long sandy beach. Gottschalk recommends a Singapore Sling as a suitable cocktail for sunset; the cocktail was created around 1915 in the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel.