Small in size but big in personality: A look into boutique hotels in Singapore
  • Places
  • 01 April 2020

Small in size but big in personality: A look into boutique hotels in Singapore

The Porcelain Hotel is housed in a row of adjoining conservation shophouses at 46 to 50 Mosque Street

Origin of boutique hotels in Singapore
The trend of boutique hotels started in Singapore around 10 years ago when heritage properties became more popular with homeowners, operators and guests in South East Asia. It was also during this period where adaptive reuse of historic buildings gained prominence that smaller hotels of individual characters began to flourish – now known as boutique hotels[1]. Boutique hotels have been sprouting up in recent years to fill a growing market niche where there is a trend among discerning travellers to experience something more local, authentic and experiential in a country.

Top boutique hotel locations in Singapore: Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Joo Chiat (in clockwise direction)

Footprint of boutique hotels
The earlier boutique hotels were mostly located in the historic district of Chinatown and the adjacent streets. However, in recent years, the locations of such boutique hotels have expanded into the Central District of Singapore, largely still situated in Chinatown. According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), out of 63,316 rooms from 264 gazetted hotels in Singapore (as at 2019), 178 gazetted hotels were of “small” and “medium” sizes[2] with a total of 19,347 rooms. Among these, boutique hotels were estimated to constitute less than 15 per cent of this total stock and less than 5 per cent of the islandwide gazetted hotel stock. According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), there are no new boutique hotels in the pipeline supply of hotels for the next three years.

Attributes of boutique hotels
In the case of Singapore, we define boutique hotels as hotels with less than 150 rooms, in line with the STB’s Singapore Hotel Guide in 2018. A large proportion of these boutique hotels are “rich” in culture with a strong sense of place and stay true to the heritage, being developed on conserved buildings (mostly shophouses) or located in local cultural enclaves which are also convenient to and from the city centre. The individuality of these hotels, unique in their own personalities (either from architecture, interior design or customised services), were hence able to break away from conventional hotels, attracting various groups of guests who favour such uniqueness ranging from millennials to baby boomers.

Additionally, while these hotels are usually small in size (less than 150 rooms), the room sizes are still relatively acceptable with a wide range of room sizes as small as below 100 sq ft to as large as close to 1,000 sq ft, catering to the different needs of guests. Nevertheless, the lead-in room size of boutique hotels remains small, generally at around 100 sq ft to 300 sq ft, while that of conventional hotels are larger in size – at 200 sq ft and above.

Classification of boutique hotels
Similar to the classification of hotels in general, we have largely segregated boutique hotels in Singapore into two tiers, based on the asking daily room rates of the boutique hotels[3], and peg to luxury/upscale and mid-tier/economy tiers, according to the Average Room Rate (ARR) of hotel tiers released by STB in 2019.

Luxury/upscale Mid-tier/economy
ARR S$270 – S$460 S$110 – S$170

Source: STB, EDMUND TIE Research

Luxury/upscale boutique hotels

Six Senses Maxwell, where heritage meets pizzazz in this gateway city. Photography: Six Senses Singapore

Six Senses Duxton, a 19th century heritage with a diverse mix of Chinese, Malay and European elements. Photography: Six Senses Singapore

Be inspired by the historical past of The Scarlet Singapore, a luxury boutique hotel located in Chinatown. Photography: The Scarlet Singapore

Separately, debuted in 2004, The Scarlet Singapore, deemed as Singapore’s first luxury boutique hotel and one of the oldest conservation buildings in Singapore, provides a stylish, luxurious and theatrical vibe through its décor, all 75 rooms and five suites themselves, while not losing its focus in bringing out the heritage of the historical past. As such, this luxury boutique hotel has attained the prestigious title of “Leading Boutique Hotel” by World Travel Awards for various years.

Mid-tier/economy boutique hotels
Chinatown’s latest addition, Hotel Mono, where the old meets new

For mid-tier/economy boutique hotels, apart from being located in conserved buildings (i.e. shophouses) in the heritage districts/city centre, certain themes are also evident at some of these hotels. However, the selling points of these hotels tend to be providing no-frills services/stays and accessibility to tourist destinations while keeping their room rates affordable, hence drawing travellers to stay. For example, Hotel Mono, located within six shophouses, is set in a black-and-white theme from the hotel’s exterior to its lobby and all 46 rooms, providing a minimalist and sleek touch to the hotel. With a large range of room types, from single rooms to even family and loft rooms, daily room rates are kept generally below $200 and is well-situated in the heritage district of Chinatown.

Away from the usual heritage districts of the likes of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India, Hotel Kai is centrally located in the Civic District at a restored conservation shophouse along Purvis Street, which was previously used to house Hainanese immigrants and travellers. Apart from the usual room types, there are also suites at this boutique hotel that provides high double-volume ceiling with timber slated windows, open sky terraces and even kitchenettes. While limited unique services are provided by the hotel, the ideal location of the hotel is the selling point, being well-situated at Bugis and near many tourist attractions and the city centre.

Recently, new boutique hotels have entered the Singapore market and these hotels have incorporated fresher concepts and services in keeping up with the current trends and meeting the needs of millennials. For instance, Hotel Soloha, newly opened in 2H 2019, has a concept on its look – an urban chic jungle, providing an exciting experience for guests as they are greeted by an Instagram-worthy wall at the entrance of the hotel. Similar to co-living spaces, social spaces are also incorporated at the bar-reception (a usual reception that extends to a bar at the other end), encouraging casual interactions between guests as they share their experiences and engage in friendly discussions with one another.


Investment sales of boutique hotels
In recent years, the tourism sector in Singapore have started to pick up, with visitor arrivals increasing consecutively from 2015 to 2019. The STB has been proactive in rolling out various marketing initiatives such as the Passion Made Possible campaign (reaching out to numerous overseas markets), collaborations with partners within and outside the travel industry as well as tourism offerings such as Design Orchard and Digital Light Canvas at Marina Bay Sands to draw visitors to Singapore, supporting the hospitality industry. The hotel sector also performed well in 2018 and 2019, with growth in average occupancy rate (AOR) and ARR. The confidence in the tourism and hotel sector gave rise to a fourfold surge in hospitality investment sales, reaching S$3.8bn in 2019, far exceeding the past 3-year and 5-year annual average investment sales. Such hotel properties are purchased by mainly private investors and property firms for capital preservation or appreciation.

Opportunity to create a boutique hotel concept in the heart of the city
With the proactive preservation of rich heritage and culture in Singapore, it can be observed that many unique and appealing boutique hotels have undergone adaptive reuse from restored and conserved buildings. In particular, shophouses, mainly in the Chinatown area, are ideal opportunities for adaptive reuse into boutique hotels, coupled with its location appeal among tourists and locals who desire a vibrant staycation experience. Such boutique hotels offer a nostalgic lifestyle and heritage experience for guests to explore in today’s urban modern society, allowing tourists to see Singapore in a different light of rich heritage.

[1] Hip heritage: The boutique hotel business in Singapore by Joan C Henderson, 2011
[2] According to STB, “small” hotels have 100 rooms and less while “medium” hotels have 101 – 299 rooms.
[3] Asking daily room rates are based on average daily room rates for three nights viewed on 13 March 2020.

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