- Singapore’s wealthy elite are accustomed to frequent international travel.
- With travel at a standstill during the pandemic, their habits have shifted.
- They’ve traded parties for six-person yacht dinners and international vacations for staycations at 5-star hotels.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Singapore is a nation of jet-setters.
The city-state, which is smaller than New York City, is the ideal jumping off point for the region thanks to its six-hour flight radius from any Southeast Asian country. In 2015, Singapore residents were the world’s seventh-highest spenders on overseas travel, forking out a combined $22.5 billion, according to a 2016 Visa report.
“The lifestyle here – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a local or an expat – is very much about being on a plane and seeing the region and doing weekends away to Vietnam,” Andrea Savage, an interior designer who caters to Singapore’s high-net-worth crowd, told Insider. “It’s sort of equivalent to going to the Hamptons.”
That all changed in March 2020 with the COVID-19 outbreak. Singapore’s borders closed, and thirteen months into the pandemic, most who are allowed into the city-state must undergo a strict 14-day quarantine. While the city-state’s ongoing contact tracing mandates and group-size restrictions have proved effective at controlling the spread of the virus, they have also left its population of 5.7 million to keep themselves entertained in their own 280-square-mile city.
Singapore’s populace is a prosperous one. The city-state is home to 3,732 people who are worth at least $30 million, including 26 billionaires, according to the 2021 Knight Frank Wealth Report. While China and the US lead the world in their total numbers of billionaire residents, Singapore’s affluence is concentrated in a city-state that’s less than half the size of London.
Insider spoke to experts who cater to Singapore’s ultra-wealthy – from real-estate agents to event planners and interior designers – about the ways their lifestyles have changed during the pandemic.
“What clients are spending money on hasn’t changed during the pandemic, as much as where they’re spending it has changed,” Veron Shim, the CEO of Singapore-based Envysion Wealth Management, which manages the wealth of high-net-worth families, told Insider. “Since clients can’t travel, there’s been a surge in support for luxury goods and fine dining restaurants locally.”
Six-person yacht dinners
Before the pandemic, Arron Goh, founder of high-end events company the Inside Access, spent his days organizing parties on yachts, in restaurants, or in some of Singapore’s most exclusive private homes. And these events didn’t come cheap: Goh curated events that had a starting cost of 300 Singapore dollars ($223) per person.
When the pandemic struck, Goh made a pivot to virtual events, but once Singapore started allowing small in-person gatherings, his clients started requesting he organize intimate get-togethers.
“Events are still happening,” Goh said. “It’s really thinking outside the box. We can’t do our usual parties.”
For one client, he planned a dinner for six on board a yacht in late February. They sailed to Lazarus Island, an uninhabited island south of Singapore’s main island, where they had a meal of rustic French cuisine alongside a full open bar with cocktails, Champagne, wine, and beer.
“When we do a yacht party, you can have eight [people] now and me and my team are considered a part of [that] eight,” Goh said, referring to the maximum group size currently allowed in Singapore. “So we are very selective and very careful about how we do all this stuff.”
Another one of Goh’s clients is a managing partner at a Singapore professional services firm. Goh is organizing a 12th birthday party for her son. Despite the fact that the party will only include five boys in total, Goh is going all out with the plans: He’s booking out a DJ to teach a masterclass at the party, getting burgers catered by local restaurant Three Buns, and setting up a milkshake bar.
Hotel hopping at Singapore’s five-star properties
Once it became clear that there would be no actual travel in the near future, Singapore’s residents settled for booking staycations.
Virtually every five-star hotel in Singapore started offering staycation packages in the pandemic, from Raffles Hotel to the Fullerton Hotel. Society magazine Tatler has been publishing a staycation review series at hotels including the Marina Bay Sands and Capella Singapore Sentosa.
Goh, the event planner, said many of his clients have spent much of the pandemic hotel-hopping around Singapore.
“They basically go around Singapore trying all sorts of hotels. They’ve probably never stayed in hotels in Singapore all their life; they’re always flying,” he said.
Pan Pacific Hotels Group, which has eight hotels in Singapore including Pan Pacific Singapore and ParkRoyal Collection Marina Bay, has launched “an array of staycation experiences” for locals that start at around $235 per night at its five-star properties. With virtually no tourists entering Singapore, the domestic tourism market is still its main focus, Cinn Tann, the group’s chief sales and marketing officer, told Insider in late January.
To entice local residents, Pan Pacific has offered deals ranging from spa discounts to getting 100% back in dining credits when guests book a stay at one of the four participating hotels.
Mike Harlow, the general manager of global luxury travel operator Scott Dunn, which has an office in Singapore, said that while some Singapore clients have requested stays at hotels like Raffles and Capella, those in the upper echelon of wealth have shied away from staycations.
“The majority of them live in very nice landed properties on the edge of central Singapore and they don’t necessarily see the value in doing the staycations,” Harlow said.
Sprucing up their homes or buying new ones
The pandemic has shaken up real-estate markets around the world, and Singapore is no exception.
Despite its worst recession on record in 2020, the city-state’s property market has been on fire, with home prices at a two-year high as Singaporeans and foreign nationals snap up homes. Sunita Gill, CEO and founder of real-estate firm Singapore Luxury Homes, said she’s seen sales of landed luxury homes and penthouses “pick up a lot” during the pandemic as people who are now working from home seek larger spaces.
The city-state has seen renewed interest from foreign nationals who are opening family offices in Singapore, Shim of Envysion told Insider.
“With the influx of wealthy family offices from overseas into Singapore, these families have been buying up real estate as well,” Shim said. These foreign families are drawn by Singapore’s stability, safety, and multiculturalism, she said.
And while travel restrictions may have kept some foreign buyers away in 2020, the region’s ultra-wealthy recently ranked Singapore as the most attractive location in Asia to buy luxury homes, according to Knight Frank’s 2021 Wealth Report.
Others in Singapore have opted to spruce up their own home instead of buying a new one.
Andrea Savage, a partner at high-end interior design firm Design Intervention, said the firm saw a “huge increase” starting toward the end of 2020 of clients wanting to upgrade their primary homes in Singapore.
“It’s not about having people over or showing off their homes,” Savage said. “It’s actually more about creating a space of wellbeing for them that makes them feel really good and gives them stability and a grounding factor in this pandemic.”
Fine dining at Michelin-starred restaurants
Many affluent Singaporeans have put part of their travel budgets toward meals at some of Singapore’s 41 Michelin-starred restaurants. Over the December holidays, many high-end restaurants were fully booked weeks in advance.
Emmanuel Stroobant, a chef and owner of two Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore, told Insider that his eateries have been thriving during the pandemic. As Stroobant put it, fine dining “remains one of the few forms of entertainment that consumers can experience in the current climate.” Diners, he said, have also been willing to spend more; many have opted for the eight-course menu at his French restaurant, Saint Pierre, which costs 388 Singapore dollars ($288) per person.
His other restaurant, Shoukouwa, a sushi restaurant that has two Michelin stars, has also been faring well during the pandemic – especially because it can only accommodate up to eight guests at a time, Stroobant said.
“This exclusivity has fueled an even greater demand for diners to make their reservations months in advance,” he said.
Goh, the event planner, said that while wealthy Singaporeans can’t travel or throw parties, many have requested private dining packages at places like Odette and Les Amis, the only two Singapore restaurants with three Michelin stars.
Looking ahead to future travels
As vaccines roll out across the globe and more countries plan to open up to tourists, Singaporeans are increasingly eager to turn their staycations into real vacations, Harlow of Scott Dunn said. Their clients – who used to spend an average of 18,000 Singapore dollars ($13,400) on a vacation – are beginning to plan future travels.
“We’ve started to see more guests actually committing to trips now,” Harlow told Insider. “At the beginning of the year we were just talking about ideas. Now, we’re seeing confidence start to return, particularly at that ultra-high-net-worth end of the spectrum.”
In January, the luxury travel operator launched Scott Dunn Private, an invite-only membership service designed to cater to the private travel needs of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in light of the increasing complexities of travel.
Such clients are keen to book private islands and villas in destinations like the Maldives and Seychelles, and luxury lodges in Australia and New Zealand with hopes of travel bubbles with Singapore, according to Harlow.
“We’re definitely seeing guests wanting the extra space and controlled environments,” he said.
Harlow said that despite Singapore’s small size, there are certainly worse places to be stuck.
“It’s a great city. The food is fantastic and you’ve got a nice mix of beach and jungle and city,” he said. “You realize how small it is when you can’t go anywhere else.”
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