Fly into Singapore’s Changi airport and you may well see one of its people-free floor cleaners, a machine that charmingly has ‘eyes’ painted on its front, quietly and systematically going about its hovering-up business. You know you are looking at the future of luxury. Why? Well, for a start this city-state has a population of 5.6 million and a mere 2.2% unemployment, which is untenable from every point of view. In 2018 Singapore had over 18 million visitors; help, you might say. And yet, as I know, Singapore justifiably has a reputation for some of the world’s finest luxury hotels. So what happens? Well, Singapore’s largest hotel, the 2,561-key Marina Bay Sands, has over 130 different robotic processes, including napkin-folding and automatic floor cleaning. The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, however, shows no public sign of robots; its efficiency appears to be all back-of-house.
A lot of this is thanks to Peter Mainguy, GM of this stunning 608-key hotel. Mainguy used to have 850 employees and now he manages with about two-thirds of that number. And these are people you see (I suspect if you go behind the scenes the place is empty). Let me give some examples: instead of having masses of amenities in the room, a card invites you to list what you still need. This power becomes a positive: it is your choice.
You remember your welcome even more. In my case, I was greeted with champagne as I got out of the hotel’s car. Up in suite 2916, I was brought a silver tray bearing more champagne, marvellously chilled in a tall flute. The tray also had a gin and tonic with lime and a glass of water with lemon. Although I did momentarily wonder if they thought I was an alcoholic, I must say that this welcome showed maximum style.
But everything about this hotel is style. Before it opened in 1996 (struth, was it really that long ago?) people marvelled at its shape: a 32-floor block on stilts, as it were, with a large hole to let bad karma out, or rather through. Inside the lobby – drive up to the third floor to get there – you have Chihuly blown-glass art to the far left and far right. Overhead you have a three-ton chandelier artwork by Frank Stella, just one of 4,200 priceless modern sculptures and paintings around this hotel. Go down to the 24-hour gym and you skirt past a curtain of water, the outdoor pool on the other side. This is the pool, by the way, that can be covered over for special events to become an amazing venue for big weddings or even, as a few days ago, the opening party of ILTM Asia Pacific, when 850 people danced and networked on the transparent cover ‘on top of the pool’. The cover, which can be put on in four hours total, was designed and project-managed by the ever-creative Peter Mainguy.
Another of the multitude of memorable features of this luxury hotel is the top-floor Club lounge, managed by another ultra-hotelier, Sheila Benzon. During ILTM she and her team of 12 seemed to be there to help with whatever, whenever. My iPhone died and one of her team went to the Apple Store and, eventually, sorted it out. Nothing is too much trouble. Meanwhile, back at the lounge, people wined and dined and made full use of the separate and dedicated food area, with help-yourself buffets and a chef ready to cook whatever (for a late dinner, I simply helped myself to superb marinated salmon and salads and I was brought, as requested, a glass – Riedel, of course – of pinot noir from the help-yourself eight-bottle oenothèque machine). If I had wanted de-stressing, I could then have made use of the pads of paper and coloured pencils available and sketched something to my heart’s delight. Perhaps this unique view.