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How Capella Singapore is reinventing itself in a Covid-19 world

Capella Singapore's GM Fernando Gibaja on how the hotel stayed afloat during lockdown and the steps it took to save everyone's jobs.

It was late at night on Monday, 13 July when Capella Singapore’s General Manager Fernando Gibaja received the official email that gave the hotel the go-ahead to reopen for business.

Gibaja immediately activated the staff and they spent the following day sprucing up the hotel to prepare for the hotel’s re-opening on 15 July. “On that first weekend, we were about 70 per cent occupied,” shares Gibaja with a laugh.

During the Circuit Breaker period, Capella Singapore did not carry out any retrenchment exercises. And while the management received pay cuts, the rank-and-file staff still enjoyed their full salaries. “It’s something I’m proud of,” says Gibaja, noting that the owners were hyper-focused on ensuring that the people under them did not suffer in spite of the pandemic.

Fernando Gibaja, general manager of Capella Singapore.

Fernando Gibaja, general manager of Capella Singapore.

During the closure, everyone in the team pitched in to help around the hotel – landscaping, pool cleaning, etc. According to Gibaja, it was a sobering experience, especially for the employees so used to the air-conditioned comforts of the office. “It made you appreciate the hard work of all your colleagues and staff and helped to bond us together as a team,” the jovial Spaniard says.

In the beginning, there were a few who were averse to the back-breaking work. However, when news of retrenchments and pay cuts from other hospitality groups began circulating, the staff started appreciating the hotel’s efforts to keep them gainfully employed in the midst of a crisis, says Gibaja.

Capella Singapore also used the opportunity to review service standards and send the staff for training so that it would be ready once it could re-open.

Those efforts have paid off handsomely. Even though the borders of the country are still closed to international tourists, Gibaja shares that occupancy rates have been quite healthy since the reopening. And with the slew of long weekends coming up, Gibaja and the team are bracing themselves for residents looking to book staycations.

To that end, Capella Singapore has been extremely diligent in its Covid-19 measures. Only four families are allowed in the lobby at any given time, touch points are sanitised almost every 30 minutes, staff have to take their temperatures twice daily, the swimming pools are deep cleaned every night, and guests have to wear masks around the resort, save for when they’re at the pool or having meals.

Gibaja also has the prerogative to eject guests who refuse to follow the social distancing and masking rules.

The hotel has also introduced a slew of activities for guests who come to spend a weekend away from home with the family. From nature walks around Sentosa to even bubble tea making workshops, the initiatives that Capella Singapore has launched are meant to engage domestic tourists.

The poolside of Capella Singapore's contemporary manor.

The poolside of Capella Singapore’s contemporary manor.

These measures have meant that business costs have increased, but Gibaja says that this is just the new normal now for operations during this period.

“A lesson I’ve learned during this period is that we have to state everything in black and white. Communication is essential, especially with guests. We have to share capacity limitations with them and explain when they can come in for meals at the restaurants, etc. Don’t get me wrong, we are overjoyed to have guests; the morale among the hotel staff is incredible. But we also need to be careful,” says Gibaja.

And during a period when most businesses are trying to cut costs, Gibaja shares that they are looking to hire, albeit on short-term contracts, just to cope with the increased workload.

“This pandemic has made me realise that you can always plan for a lot of scenarios, but there will always be something new that pops up and we have to think fast on our feet. That’s the only way to survive and thrive in this new normal.”