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Hotels, Resorts Find New Revenue Stream as Quarantine Centres
In the Maldives, travellers can relax in a resort of their choice - but they’re not allowed to leave.
With borders across Asia all but closed, and locals unlikely to splurge on high-end hotels, many resorts across the region are finding a new source of revenue: up-market quarantine facilities.
While tourists are largely prevented from travelling across borders, most countries allow carefully vetted business people, technical experts and returning residents to arrive, either on charter flights or via a restricted number of commercial air services.
All of these people are expected to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. While governments are funding some of those facilities, block-booking hotels at the lower end of the star scale, they are also permitting those who want - and can afford to self-fund - a more luxurious fortnight of confinement.
In Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, the high-profile, historic Sofitel Legend Metropole downtown hotel, has dedicated about 90 rooms since June for guests needing to self isolate.
Like those staying in other hotels across the country, they have their temperatures taken twice daily and at least two compulsory Covid-19 tests during the 14 days.
We can’t be sure of the room rates and many hotels leasing space to isolating guests are not too keen to publicise the fact in case of deterring non-isolating visitors, but a room at the Metropole is priced at US$170 a night on a popular online hotel booking site at the time of writing.
The 5-star FLC Grand Hotel in Halong Bay is another property to take up the opportunity. In May and June it accommodated about 500 Japanese visitors on a 14-day quarantine, charging about US$1900 each room for the stay.
Services during guests’ lockdowns were similar to a normal stay, with laundry, housekeeping every second day (with staff wearing PPE equipment), meals delivered to the room and bottled water. But they had to resist a trip to the bar, or a dip in the pool, remaining in their rooms at all times.
"Repurposing into quarantine hotels makes the most sense as it offers high margins," one hotel operator participating in the quarantine program told a Vietnamese journalist. "Securing our ordinary target customers - international travellers - is impossible at this time."
In more mainstream hotels, like a group in Ho Chi Minh City approved by the government, room rates range between US$52 and $216.
Across Vietnam, some 200 hotels have dedicated 18,000 rooms for self-isolation, housing business travellers from South Korea, Japan, France and other countries with local connections.
Pandemic Offers A “Reset”
In Thailand, the situation is similar, but there is an additional factor in play: the country is cautiously permitting limited inbound tourism from China and other markets, via private charters. They are typically high-end travellers allowed to seclude themselves in hotels or resorts under strict isolation conditions.
Faced with a decimated tourism industry since Covid-19 closed borders from March, the Thai government is hoping to attract long-stay, high-spending visitors or medical tourists on a special visa category who can help kick start some sort of recovery in the sector. The government’s hopes are shared by a raft of high-end hotels scheduled to open in Bangkok, including the Kempinski, Four Seasons and Capella, all under construction before the pandemic.
Deepak Ohri, CEO of Lebua Hotels & Resorts, believes the strategy may work.
"The pandemic has given Thailand the opportunity to hit reset on how the tourism industry will look after Covid-19," he said in an interview with Bloomberg. As many as 1000 tourists have already registered to travel to Thailand under the scheme. They are required to stay 90 days, including their initial 14-day quarantine.
"These groups of travellers have the highest potential of increasing money spent on lodging and dining, which can help boost the economy, especially during these difficult pandemic times," Yuthasak Supasorn, the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told Bloomberg.
Fiji At A Price
The trend towards resorts and high-end hotels offering quarantine facilities has also been adopted by Fiji, a South Pacific nation for which tourism is traditionally a mainstay of the economy.
Here, tourism operators have latched on to the marketing theme “if you are going to have to isolate on arrival, you might as well do it in paradise”.
Like other countries, the government has been strict - and it is working, because the nation with a population nudging 900,000 has reported just 34 cases and two deaths since the pandemic hit.
Yasawa Island Resort & Spa has created a quarantine comprising the entire 3000ha island it occupies.
"We are experts at helping our guests self-isolate... we've been doing it for over 25 years," the resort explains in promotional material. It describes the island as "perfect escape for those looking to socially distance themselves in paradise".
The catch: few will be able to afford the US$14,000 a night price tag, let alone the private air transfers to get there... And Fiji’s airport is closed to commercial flights until further notice.
Open Border in Maldives
In the Maldives, the government has taken a different approach: the border has been open to all since mid-July, with no mandatory quarantine, no need for negative corona tests and no new visa requirements.
But visitors have to book their entire stay at a single registered establishment. Government officials believe that by nature, each resort in the Indian Ocean island nation is effectively an isolation space because most of its developed islands are home to just a single resort. That makes contact tracing relatively easy with minimal possibility of community transmission.
Sonu Shivdasani, CEO and founder of Soneva, which operates two Maldives resorts - Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani - says prospective visitors are showing strong interest, the major obstacle being the likely need to self-isolate when they return to their home countries afterwards.
Soneva requires its guests to take a Covid-19 test upon arrival before agreeing to remain in their villa until negative test results are received. If positive, they are required to remain inside where they’ll be attended to by qualified nurses.
Rival Accor has five resorts in the Maldives and has been progressively reopening them since August in the lead up to the Christmas season. Response from guests has been very positive although cautious, explains John Bendtsen, Accor area GM for the Maldives.
"We are seeing a real appetite for travel more towards the end of the year with the Christmas and New Year period particularly positive as well as the first quarter of 2021," he told CNN Travel.
"Travellers who have already visited the Maldives previously are much more confident and we are seeing a lot of returning guests make bookings for the fourth quarter of 2020."
Operators looking to accommodate tourists must obtain a Safe Tourism Licence from the government proving they comply with requirements such as maintaining adequate supplies of PPE equipment, and having certified medical specialists on call.
For all the resorts involved, revenue from quarantine services may not come anywhere near matching that during normal tourism times, but even the small turnover can help mitigate some of the costs of maintaining services and keeping facilities maintained.