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5 min read

The five-star hotel is looking to increase its appeal to guests in wheelchairs in an ambitious move that highlights its culture of ground-up innovation.


From AI-powered concierges to facial recognition software, hotels around the globe have embraced contactless technologies to navigate new safety standards brought on by the pandemic. Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore is also fast-tracking digitalisation but that’s not the only investment it made during the pandemic.

It has used the period of reduced tourism to improve accessibility for the disabled — a decision that highlights its dedication to customer service and innovation. Taking this initiative at a time of economic uncertainty is a bold move, especially when the hotel is already channelling its energies into filling up empty rooms. It also managed to attract local residents with offerings such as tailored staycation packages and new F&B services.

Juggling all these ventures is possible thanks to three key principles, according to Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore’s General Manager Tane Picken: Rising to the challenge, nurturing creativity and respect for colleagues.

In a crisis, ‘there is no time to ponder’

Rather than sit and count their losses, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore put on its thinking cap to explore new avenues of income. It chose to invest in its future by committing to accessibility—a move that will open the hotel to an untapped consumer sector. It is estimated that one billion people, or 15 percent of the global population, experience some form of disability, according to the World Bank.

From April to September last year, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore partnered Wheel the World, a U.S. startup that offers travel guides and tours for people with disabilities. The collaboration was part of the Singapore Tourism Accelerator—an initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board that connects travel-oriented tech firms with Singaporean hospitality leaders to develop future-proof solutions for the industry. Through the pilot, Wheel the World conducted an on-site mapping to benchmark the hotel’s accessibility features against their 65-point assessment. Using the online training platform and content developed by the travel start-up, the hotel was able to identify knowledge gaps, train, and certify staff on topics such as disabilities, accessibility, as well as universal design, to better cater to guests with greater accessibility needs.

"Travel should be for everyone. We want to provide a hassle-free experience for persons with disabilities and their caregivers, giving them the assurance that they can move around with ease within the hotel and fully enjoy the unique experiences that the hotel has to offer," Picken shared. To this end, Wheel the World will also establish accessible itineraries with other travel partners and places of interests to create a menu of “out-of-the-hotel experiences” for guests, helping Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore to reimagine the world with a new perspective.

“We're still dealing with the impact of the pandemic but there is no time to ponder and sit back,” said Picken. “We need to rise to current challenges and identify new streams of revenue and guest experiences, as well as prepare for international travel and what we can bring forth when borders reopen.” It is important to gain a deeper perspective of the hotel journey for guests in wheelchairs so that once “we're back in business for our international travel markets, our hotel is better equipped for all guests,” he continued.

Building a culture of innovation

The year 2020 showed the global business community just how critical creative thinking skills are. Without it, industries struggle to adapt to game-changing developments such as circuit breakers.

At Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, employees are pushed to take responsibility and think out of the box when a problem arises—a major element of its innovative spirit. “The hotel promotes a culture of ownership when it comes to our service approach, encouraging our staff to value their work here and take charge to provide solutions during problem solving,” said Picken. “Our staff extend hospitality from the heart and go the extra mile to deliver their very best for guests and colleagues.”

One of his go-to quotes to inspire innovation among staff is “there are no bad ideas.” Transparent communication between colleagues as well as an open mindset among senior leaders helps to cultivate creativity, he explained. “Creating an environment in the hotel that promotes values such as trust and quality” also makes a difference, he added.

“If we always try and push boundaries, we will innovate,” said Picken. “We must never be afraid to fail, just make sure we keep trying.” Innovation ultimately “helps us to adapt and seize opportunities” that may arise in times of crisis, he continued.

Leadership is tied to empathy

No matter how bad or good business is going, there’s one key factor that every hotel leader can’t do without: Respect for all employees. “Empathy, excellent communication, having foresight and a vision, and utmost respect for our front-liners, staff members and guests” are essential qualities for leaders in the hotel industry, Picken described.

Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore demonstrated those traits at the peak of Singapore’s lockdown. “Our first concern was the wellbeing of our staff associates, in particular their mental wellbeing,” Picken explained. To address that, the hotel launched an internal five-week campaign to communicate the importance of self-care, resilience and wellbeing. “As some of our staff were working from home, the team also made use of our online learning platform Shangri-La Academy so that everyone was able to participate in the program,” Picken noted. In June, their staff also received a new digital healthcare initiative with on-demand telehealth services.

It’s also important to provide staff with the necessary training to handle new protocols so nobody feels overwhelmed, Picken continued. For example, when the hotel launched contactless F&B services last year, managers embarked on training and simulation programs to ensure its team would be fully fluent and confident with the new system.

Ultimately, all of that paid off. When Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore unveiled new F&B offers and deliveries through online platforms, “we saw an increase in revenue with the local market,” Picken noted.

With the future still in limbo, it’s more important than ever for the hospitality industry to continue with digitalisation, tap into the local market and prepare staff to welcome all kinds of tourists once commercial travel fully resumes. “We are still in the midst of navigating the waters but are continuing to press on together,” said Picken.


Special thanks to Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, and Wheel the World for their support and contributions to the development of this story. 

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