A carpentry apprenticeship that aims to bring the trade back to Singapore and the rise of Taiwan's hotel industry.
In a new carpentry workshop in northern Singapore a small team of students is industriously chipping away at planks of teak – and their country’s hi-tech image. Launched last year, the Creative Craftsman Apprenticeship Programme is a collaboration spearheaded by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC) together with private and government organisations such as the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. The aim is to reverse the tide of furniture manufacturing being outsourced or produced by cheap foreign labour as the nation pursues that elusive goal: a knowledge-based economy.
The apprenticeship consists of practical and theory components. The Singaporean students (you have to be a citizen or permanent resident to enrol) are sponsored by companies that agree to minimum monthly wages starting from s$1,500 (€920). In 2014 Singapore’s furniture industry is expected to have had more than s$6bn (€3.7bn) in sales, accounting for 1.05 per cent of the international market share.
“Experienced local carpenters are in their seventies and eighties so we need to build a pool of carpenters to bring the trade back to Singapore,” says Dominic Ng, general manager of the SFIC Institute. “This happened in the culinary scene. It can happen to carpentry, too.”
When opening a hotel mini bar you expect to see the ubiquitous bottle of Heineken. But at the Hotel Vermont in Burlington owners Chuck DesLauriers and Jay Cunning have gone a step further. They’ve tapped into the lake town’s burgeoning craft-brewery scene and brought in a special concierge who finds unique brews for guests, takes them on brewery tours and stocks hotel rooms with their chosen tipple before arrival. “We work carefully with local suppliers,” says DesLauriers. “The hotel showcases Burlington’s culture and what is happening in the community.”
Japanese subway operator Tokyo Metro is betting that new brakes will cut its electricity bill. Since June the company has used technology that captures energy from its carriages’ brakes and converts it into electricity for lights, escalators and turnstiles at a station in Chiba, east of Tokyo – producing around 10 per cent of the required electricity. “We could save ¥3.29m [€22,500] per station annually,” says Tokyo Metro engineer Kota Mantani.
Tokyo Metro’s fleet of rolling stock uses regenerative braking, which means when a conductor slows a train the electric motors that normally drive the train forward run backwards; in reverse they act as generators. Thanks to a system developed by Mitsubishi Electric, the electricity can then be used to power other trains nearby and now amenities in stations. By March Tokyo Metro will have six more stations using the technology.
Brothers Markus and David Freitag (pictured, Markus on right) launched their eponymous sustainable fashion brand more than 20 years ago with a range of bags made out of old truck tarpaulins. Now they have added a biodegradable material for worker’s uniforms called F-abric to their collection. Their aim was to source and manufacture sustainable vegetable fibres as close to Zürich (where they are based) as possible.
But the brothers are clear that sustainability mustn’t trump all other considerations. “We never wanted to make a product because we felt sorry for the environment,” says David. “You should have a good feeling about the product.”
Loh Lik Peng’s Unlisted Collection owns 12 properties around the world including London’s Town Hall Hotel, Shanghai’s The Waterhouse at South Bund and Singapore’s Wanderlust. In 2015 Loh will open his first Australian venture, The Old Clare Hotel, in a former brewery in Sydney.
How did your career in the hospitality industry begin?
I started out with Hotel 1929 in Singapore. The concept of a boutique or design-led hotel was new to Singapore then so 1929 created quite a buzz. This was my first experience of opening a hotel and restaurant and also started my love affair with conservation buildings. I didn’t set out to create an international brand or group of hotels. The growth has been organic and opportunistic. We concentrate on key gateway cities and always look for buildings with a lot of character. We are conservative so we only expand when we feel the opportunity is too good to pass up and this has meant slow but sustainable growth.
Why have you chosen Sydney for your next venture?
Sydney is a fantastic lifestyle destination and, for me, getting the opportunity to do something there with a building as charming and full of history as the Clare and the cub [Carlton United Brewery] was a chance too good to miss. I have tried to do something that is respectful of the building’s history and its locale and hopefully of a quality that will stand the test of time.
How do you see the hospitality industry evolving?
The next big wave is the large number of outbound travellers expected from markets such as China and India. How it will change the travel industry is hard to predict.
China’s Yunnan province may be better known for scenic gorges, towering peaks and the Puer tea variety but an unlikely crop is helping drive an agricultural boom for the region’s farmers. Although French missionaries first planted coffee beans in Yunnan as early as the 1890s, it took the arrival of foreign corporations – including Nestlé and Starbucks – more than a century later for demand to really take off.
Recognition for Yunnan coffee remains low but Thai-Chinese entrepreneur Bryan Rakphongphairoj is looking to raise the profile of Chinese-grown beans both at home and abroad. Established in 2011, Lanna Coffee works closely with co-operatives and farmers in Baoshan, Puer and Xishuangbanna prefectures to source specific varietals such as Arabica Typica and Arabica Catimor.
All beans are roasted at a facility in Kunming while a standalone café opened in 2014 in Shanghai. Nestled in the bustling Jingan district, Lanna Coffee caters to passing shoppers and office workers. Over the next year Rakphongphairoj hopes to expand with additional shops in China and possibly Hong Kong. “Some are reluctant to market the product as Chinese-grown coffee but the beans produce a quality brew that is often overlooked,” he says. “Regardless of its origins this is farm-to-cup coffee that ought to be tried.”
On the back of a tourism boom fuelled by growing numbers from Japan and Southeast Asia, Taiwan’s hotel industry is emerging as a hotbed of investment. In the first half of 2014 the island nation registered the highest growth in foreign tourist arrivals in the world at 26.7 per cent. With 10 million visitors expected in 2015, hotel operators are looking to capture a share of the lucrative market.
Although the capital Taipei already has a number of international hotels, including Mandarin Oriental, Okura and Hyatt, a Taiwanese hospitality group is looking to fill a void in the market for a unique design-driven experience. Launched in 2013, Humble House Taipei is the brand’s first property. Home to a 600-piece collection of contemporary art that features works by London-based Paul Cocksedge and Chinese artist Yang Yongliang, Humble House Group looks to make its mark as a homegrown hotel chain that rivals international competitors.
But the boom isn’t limited to the capital. Improved railway links from Taipei have made it increasingly attractive and convenient for locals and tourists alike to visit Taiwan’s lesser-known beaches in Taitung and Hualien. “There’s a noticeable shift in interest towards eastern Taiwan where there was a lack of international hotel presence before,” says Steven Zhu, associate director of hospitality consultancy hvs in Shanghai. This untapped area has not gone unnoticed: Bangkok-based Six Senses, Hong Kong’s Miramar Group and Singapore’s ghm are all set to launch properties there by 2016. As travellers continue to discover Taiwan’s diverse regions its hotel industry shows few signs of slowing down.
Hospitality is one thing but how can you provide it in an inhospitable environment? Founded in Marseilles in 1966, Sodexo is one of the world’s leading companies at providing what it terms “quality-of-life services” in remote and challenging parts of the world. From offshore installations in the Arctic to mine sites in the desert, from Singapore to the Gulf of Mexico, it seeks to build a happy working environment for its clients’ employees. As well as catering facilities its packages include gyms and housekeeping. Sodexo now manages around 500 offshore sites worldwide and made more than €18m in revenue across all sectors last year.