Could this be the end of hostels in Singapore?

Hostel owners in Singapore say they are on the brink of collapse and the entire industry could be practically wiped out in a matter of months unless solutions are found.

If that happens, it would be sad in the long run. Singapore is in particular need of hostels because its expensive image is stickier than a stain of chewing gum, while the tourist board prides itself on having diverse types of accommodation to suit all budgets.

Additionally, over the span of 10 years, the hostel scene in the country, as in many other destinations around the world, has evolved to offer not only the humble bunk bed in the dorms, but also boutique hostels. , poshtels and luxury hostels for backpackers and on a budget. travelers.

Now is of course not a good time to be a hostel today, as living together and social interaction goes directly against social distancing and isolation. Singapore imposed strict measures on hostels in June, such as requiring them to alternate bunk beds, effectively limiting the occupancy rate to 50%.

The owners of family inns have been hit the hardest. With high commercial rents, 50% maximum capacity and 60% lower prices, it is “impossible” for hostels to keep business going, said Adler Poh, owner of Adler Youth Hostel, in operation since 2012.

In the absence of regional or international tourists – the main sources of hostels – these owners fought tooth and nail with hotels to accommodate travelers stranded in Singapore when Covid-19 struck. Another source is the return of Singapore residents and long-term passport holders, although hostels are not included in the 14-day quarantine facilities designated by the government. Corn this segment is drying up as restrictions have been relaxed since June 17.

As economies reopen across Southeast Asia, hostels in Singapore, unlike their counterparts in, say, Thailand or Vietnam with huge domestic markets, cannot hope to earn income from locals. who travel for work or leisure. They cannot rely on Singaporeans for stays, unlike hotels, which offer unique deals in an attempt to attract locals.

And although expressways have been put in place to facilitate essential business and official travel between Singapore and six Chinese cities (Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhejiang), hotels are roaring low rates to get them. ; furthermore, these travelers are unlikely to stay in hostels.

The hostels are currently relying on their latest source: Malaysian employees stranded or choosing to stay in Singapore when the borders between the two neighbors were closed. Thousands of Malaysians cross the border to Singapore daily to work or study.

But the owners expect that too to end. June 26, Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to establish a reciprocal green lane.

Ticking clock

“Time is running out,” said Jacquelyn Chan, a youth hostel pioneer who owns Backpack Auberge which, with over 150 beds, is one of Singapore’s largest hostels.

Another hostel pioneer, Seah Choon Siang, expects 70% of hostels to be destroyed within the next six months “or even entirely” if the trip does not return. Seah has three hostels, Chic Capsules, The Bohemian and Backpacker’s Hotel @ The Little Red Dot.

In desperation, 40 homeowners of moms and dads with a total of 3,000 to 4,000 beds formed the Singapore Backpacker’s Hostel Alliance in late April to voice their plight in government. One of their biggest calls is for the government to see hostels as a viable alternative for housing healthy construction workers as the country works to reduce overcrowding in cramped dormitories for migrant workers.

Given that there are around 1.2 million migrant workers in Singapore, 4,000 bunk beds are a very small pie – but one that can save enterprising local entrepreneurs, the alliance said.

“We recommend that the authorities treat each hostel as a group, where workers can stay together, transported together to work places and if there is an infection, the entire property can be locked down. “

Poh said the hostels have the infrastructure to host this business, with facilities such as bunk beds and laundry areas. “Each of us has between 40 and 100 beds. Obviously, we will provide security. We are tracked down by the competent agencies on safety distance, temperature controls, 24 hour reception, etc.

So far, the Building and Construction Authority has recently agreed to include these hostels in a notice to construction companies as alternative accommodation.

But it’s a small victory. “Couldn’t we get the kind of help that is given to the hotel industry, where entire hotels are booked and paid a fair amount to house these workers? said Poh.

“Let’s go through this period with six-month contracts with construction companies. Instead, we are left to the elements to fight on our own. We compete with hotels, some of which charge S $ 20 a room.

“The large hotel chains own land, are able to discuss with banks to restructure loans. Small players must now dip into their savings to pay the commercial rents set before Covid-19. They will bend. It’s very sad.”

We bit the dust. Mitraa hostel, after 15 years serving international tourists visiting Singapore, closed on June 30.

“Mitraa has served nearly a million clients at its three properties with the core value of friendly service standards,” its owners Mitraa Jack and Viji said in a note. “Our budget accommodation industry would be the last to rebound, even when things get back to normal. In this current critical period, it is difficult for us to maintain [the business] with declining revenues, unable to meet our [fixed] expenses. “

Asked about the vital importance of hostels to tourism in Singapore, Tan Yen Nee, Director of Hotel and Sector Workforce, Singapore Tourism Board, said, “Hostels contribute to the variety and diversity of our accommodation landscape.

Tan said the board offers a number of grant programs to help hotels and hostels improve their competitiveness and growth, including the Business Improvement Fund to encourage innovation and adoption of technology, and the tourism industry professional training program to enhance talent and train leaders.

“Covid-19 will have a disruptive and lasting impact on travel behavior. To survive, our tourism businesses must innovate, be flexible and explore new business models, ”said Tan.

But hostels are treading water and such funds would sound like a luxury for hostels right now. Chic Capsules’ Seah expects the budget market to be the last to recover in Singapore as the pandemic has caused massive job losses in the region, reducing available travel income – especially for one city like Singapore, where prices are high due to high rents and wages.

From a market initially comprising Westerners, the backpacker demographics have shifted to include many young and young at heart Asians whose urge to travel has been fueled by the rise of low cost carriers in the region. The number of hostels has therefore grown over the past decade, from 20 to around 100 today, according to Seah. Barriers to entry are low, as newcomers have changed the face of hostels to accommodate a new generation of travelers.

The myriad of different types of hostels add color and vibrancy to Singapore’s accommodation industry. The Poh’s Adler hotel, for example, has been recognized as the ‘One & Only’ of Singapore hostels, establishing the city’s first luxury hostel that offers feather pillows / duvets and toiletries. Italians. Chan’s Rucksack Inn stays close to “the spirit of the hike” where she and staff take regular outings with guests, whether it’s pub crawls or the New Years countdown.

“It’s the personal touch, the authenticity and spontaneity, that notable chains try to achieve but may find it difficult, due to their standard operating procedures,” she said. “You cannot teach personality and spontaneity.”

Chan wants to make a short one-minute video, with a simple question, “At this time of next year, can you imagine Singapore without hostels?”


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