From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Four Seasons Bangkok

These days, life is all about catching up on all that we have missed during the past two years of the pandemic, especially when it comes to exploring and connecting. Getting to know new people and places, and bonding with loved ones over “bleisure travel” – business trips mixed with a leisure component – are definitely trending, chaotic airports and lost luggage notwithstanding.

According to Booking.com’s Travel Predictions 2022 report, 60 per cent of travellers are looking forward to meeting new people while on vacation. Hilton’s The 2022 Traveler: Emerging Trends and the Redefined Traveler study also notes that travellers are increasingly going on “workcations”. Seamless work and play, maximising connections, quick contactless functions – travellers want it fast, efficient and fun, more than ever before.

A slew of new openings are ensuring that we can do all that. On a recent stay at the newly opened Wink Hotel Saigon Centre, located 25 minutes from Tan Son Nhat International Airport, help was always just a few clicks away at any time of the day.

One of the city’s swankiest bars, the BKK Social Club at the Four Seasons Bangkok along Chao Phraya River offers bespoke cocktails, craft spirits and fine cigars.

Instead of scrolling through bewildering “top 10” lists or queuing up at the lobby to speak to a Wink Guide (aka cheerful and in-the-know concierges), I texted the team for whatever information I needed via Whatsapp. One night, wanting to hit the streets running early the next morning, I asked for recommendations for a good pho place to have breakfast. Within five minutes the reply came: Family-run Pho Hoa Pasteur, which serves steaming bowls of noodles with generous amounts of beef balls and beef slices, was a mere 10-minute Grab motorbike ride from the hotel.

For the next three days, I spammed the number for the best cocktail bars and restaurants, cool cafes and community-focused arts spaces and galleries. These were all also listed in the hotel’s online Dot Magazine, which included a treasure trove of interviews with the city’s creatives and change-makers that added to my appreciation for the heart and spirit of the destination.

My key card and the Wink Hotel app allowed me to do everything, from a quick contactless check-out to buying a bowl of noodles at the 24/7 instant noodle bar, and accessing the often-packed Toong co-working space in the hotel, where I worked shoulder to shoulder with locals.

Wink Hotels’ brand director David Kaye shared that the brand was designed for “the young and young at heart; the creatives, entrepreneurs, lovers and explorers”.

The Saigon property is the first in a list of over 20 planned throughout Vietnam, including two in Danang opening this year and in 2023.

“Whether it’s Danang, Hanoi, Can Tho or Hai Phong, we want our guests to be assured of the same fast check-in and -out process, quality sleep experience, hangout space and co-working area, and simple tier-less members programme at every Wink. Depending on the location, there will be additional bar and brew coffee shops, garden spaces, and rooftop pools and bars that all follow the same Wink DNA of providing the best local products in a streamlined way,” says David.

The rise of “high touch” accommodations

The 320sqm Katamama Suite at Bali’s Potato Head Suites comes equipped with activities and amenities that allow for meaningful interaction.

Other hotels using technology to help people personalise their stays include Hilton, which recently upgraded its Hilton Honors mobile app to allow the secure sharing of a guest’s digital key with selected family and friends, and to confirm interconnecting guest rooms. Its latest All-Inclusive Resort openings in Mexico, Hilton Cancun and Hilton Tulum, uses tech-smart wristbands as room keys and for making contactless payments at the offerings in the resorts.

Digital convenience and smart design are used to appeal to bleisure and extended-stay guests. The Hilton Garden Inn Albany in Western Australia and the Home2 Suites by Hilton in China have rooms equipped with features such as ergonomic chairs, versatile modular workstations, and customised kitchenettes, complemented by common areas conducive for meetings, and well-equipped 24-hour fitness centres. Some rooms in Home2 Suites properties are pet-friendly too.

Bali’s Potato Head Suites and Tribe Phnom Penh Post Office Square are designed for vacationers who want thoughtful connection. The comfort of each room is bolstered by inspiring coworking spaces with plugand- play features, as well as social lobbies that are buzzing with events that attract locals as much as international travellers and digital nomads.

The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon is a stylish haven for art and music buffs.

Guests at Potato Head Suites, which is part of the Desa Potato Head creative village, can get work done at Studio Eksotika – which carries a library of creative literature on topics such as architecture, cuisine and design. One can also explore the neighbourhood and exchange ideas with other people through a plethora of activities, from daily runs and regenerative farming projects to creating functional objects from waste, such as candles from used cooking oil.

Potato Head’s chief experience officer Simon Pestridge notes a shift towards more meaningful and purposeful travel. “People come with the intention of engaging with the local community, and truly immersing themselves in the culture. Travellers still want to take a break and regenerate, but wish to do so outside of the ways that their home countries are able to offer, especially given the past couple of years.”

Francois Leclerc, deputy chief operating officer of Ennismore, the lifestyle and hospitality group behind Tribe hotels, shares: “As a lifestyle hotel, travellers and locals can make Tribe whatever they want, whether it’s accommodation, collaborative workspace, decompression zone, social destination, or art gallery. Tribe Phnom Penh Post Office Square’s flexible co-working spaces invite locals, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads to get their work done remotely before exploring the capital, while the lobby floor is the hotel’s social hub for meetings with fashion designers, content creators, or young Khmer artists and interpreters discussing collaborations.”

Tribe Phnom Penh Post Office Square’s spacious coworking space brings locals, entrepreneurs and digital nomads together.

Art and music buffs will appreciate the programming and expert conversations that typify The Standard collection of hotels. Its latest opening, The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon has a music director to help guests pick out their favourite records from local vinyl shops. Afterwards, they can enjoy their finds through vinyl players placed in their rooms. Given enough time, you can also get a personalised Spotify playlist for the limousine ride from the airport.

Luxury hotels are also taking the “high tech” approach to enhance their signature “high touch” experience in a safe manner. Since it launched the chat feature on its mobile app in 2017, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has always ensured that it is manned by a real employee on the other end, and not a bot. It received more than six million messages in 2020 on its chat, a record annual number despite reduced occupancy during the global pandemic – a testament to the fact that travellers always welcome the ability to customise a vacation with digital convenience and a human touch.

Lubosh Barta, general manager of Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, which opened in December 2020, shares: “Guest expectations and demands have not changed; they still expect the highest possible level of personalised service and stay, whether it is arranging a tour of hidden gems in our neighbourhood or ordering a bespoke cocktail from our BKK Social Club bar. What we need now are touchpoints that provide hygienic safety and that are given to the guest without intruding into their space.”