SINGAPORE: There is a new hotelier in town and Mr Satinder Garcha, who is ranked 48th on the Forbes' Singapore rich list, plans to shake up the luxury boutique hotel sector in Singapore.
Mr Garcha made his money in the new economy, in Silicon Valley, before moving on to develop luxury landed homes in Singapore such as The Green Collection in Sentosa Cove.
A 1950s Art Deco building on Syed Alwi Road once housed a clan association, but it is now a boutique hotel run by Mr Garcha. Hotel Vagabond charges upwards of S$300 for a night's stay.
Mr Garcha plans to launch two more boutique hotels in Singapore over the next two years. These are Blakes, on Duxton Road, slated to open in the first quarter of next year, and Murray House, off Maxwell Road, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2017.
"All of them are different in personality," said Mr Garcha. "Hotel Vagabond has its focus on the arts - we have an artist-in-residence programme and you'll see there is a big emphasis on it being an artistic ecosystem.
"We don't have a traditional check-in desk, it's a little rhino made of brass, but the point is that it's very open. The person checking you in actually comes and sits down with you on the sofa and talks about your travels and personally escorts you to the room."
While there is no hard and fast rule on what makes a boutique hotel, they tend to be small, with fewer than 100 rooms. They are usually located in historic or culturally significant buildings are not part of a large chain.
Mr Garcha, who has a net worth of US$440 million, is betting on luxury boutique hotels at a time of slowing tourist arrivals and rising hotel room supply in Singapore. An industry watcher has said that the high end is still showing resilience.
About 4,900 new hotel rooms will be added in this year and the first quarter of next year, but property firm Chestertons said 80 per cent of this comprises rooms in the economy class and mid-tier range with average room rates of S$180 and below.
"Some of the budget hotels, economy-class hotels, which command average room rates of under S$120 are already experiencing average room rates of below 80 per cent," said Mr Donald Han, managing director of Chesterton Singapore. "The only bright spot in the hotel market is really your luxury segment, which commands average room rates of above S$300. That seems to have performed extremely well, mainly because of the scarcity."
Currently, the bulk of Singapore's boutique hotels are in the mid-tier or three-star range, but Mr Garcha wants to persuade customers that boutique hotels can belong to the luxury-end and charge upmarket rates. He is banking on service and attention to detail - the very tenets of old-world hospitality.