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Why Covid is a really big deal

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaAs travel cautiously restarts, hotels trip over each other to present inventive offerings, not all based on just price. But do trawl for the best offers.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Pool at Tanah Gajah Ubud, a Resort by Hadiprana

Stunning pool at Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprana up in the cool hills of Ubud, Bali. Spots like this can be booked out entirely for not too much of a dent in the wallet.

AS COVID interruptions continue to blight travel, the enduring flavour of the month has become wellness, health and vitality. From yoga, to body treatments, to organic food hotels are hunting for brand partners associated with a robust pink-cheeked way of life. It is not just a tropical pursuit either. Hotels from Shanghai to Hong Kong are leaping on the bandwagon.

Not that this would stop Covid-19 in its tracks. We’re waiting to see who gives the first hug as travel bubbles emerge and the hospitality industry steps out of its comfort zone. But health and wellness is the psychological first line of defence. It also serves up a feel-good distraction for travellers already tuning into new forms of experience.

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While luxury marques are teaming up with posh wellness brands to add muscle to their New Age travel enticements, Banyan Tree has jumped into a different field, quite literally. The group has partnered with two Michelin star chef James Noble and his sustainable farming enterprise spread over 350 pristine acres in Chiang Mai, up in Thailand’s north. Opening October 2020, ORI9IN focuses on organic farming and local produce with its ‘zero-waste kitchen.’ Remember what your father said: “Finish it all.”

{Hotels team up with wellness brands to offer healthy stays and some take to farming to grow fresh traffic from eco-purists who prefer everything organic ...

Safety and wellbeing are the two watchwords at Hyatt Hotels where a collaboration with Headspace sees the introduction of private in-room meditation, fitness equipment like bikes, weights or treadmills, and do-it-yourself spa kits. Outdoor workout spots are coming into vogue while no-touch travel options are multiplying (mobile room entry, housekeeping rescheduling, and ‘contactless check-in and check-out’).

From Hilton’s exhaustive CleanStay and Four Seasons’ spa goodies and spending credits to The Fullerton Singapore’s flexible cancellations (across the group), Lanson Place Hong Kong’s ‘Worry Free Guarantee’ (with as many date changes as you like without charges) and the in-room Dusit Care Kits and flexi-stays with boxed local experiences at, say, The Dusit Manila, hotels are pulling out all the stops to prepare for the return of traffic within changing safety confines.

CORDIS Hong Kong is one step ahead on unusual staycations with ‘private’ Summer Screenings in the ballroom where couples will be set up on a king-size bed under a seven-feet-high ceiling. Snacks and canapés served bedside while they watch their movie. Screening dates for July and August are posted on their website. How much for the movie? Well, here’s the catch – you’ll need to spend a night in superior room (not the ballroom) with breakfast, dining discounts, and spa credit. We’re not sure if this is a drive-in ballroom with several beds motoring in, or just lonesome you.

There’s just one thing missing – guests.

Asian hotels have reverted to type doing what they do best – offering deals and undercutting each other, which is great news for travellers.

But there are offbeat lures. Like from Thailand-headquartered Anantara, which would like guests to rent out an entire island in the Maldives for a very private escape with a 24-hour butler in attendance. This runs at US$35,000 a night for 20 villas with private pools (holding up to 50), private cruises, snorkelling, and swimming with sharks (unless you’ve had enough of that at the office). Or book the entire 28-villa island at Six Senses Zil Pasyon in Seychelles.

At the delightful six-hectare gem Tanah Gajah in Ubud, Bali (a resort by Hadiprana) social distancing is a doddle with just 20 villas spaced out randomly across lush rice fields, water features, gardens bursting with colours and exotic foliage and – everywhere – jolly stone statues of the Indian elephant god Ganesha. Try out a one-bedroom suite with a floating breakfast, bento-box picnic, and a complimentary mini-bar. But why stop there? Book the entire resort at just US$7,500 per night and enjoy the verdant environs with friends or colleagues.

And in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the high-rise Rosewood has a nice spin on Japanese dining with its ‘Kaiseki-Cation’ deal till 27 September – a dinner for two at US$195 with a set menu meal at Iza and a complimentary night in an executive room. After getting pickled on sake, this may not be a bad idea at all.

Other goodies include ‘Your Perfect Thailand Getaway’ from InterContinental hotels with 50% off on any IHG hotel room bookings before 31 July (with breakfast for stays until 31 March 2021). Try the Holiday Inn Vana Nava in Hua Hin with its adjoining water park for kids or sample the swish new lifestyle retreat Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok that opens 1 October. Or sample the 'Stronger Together' flexi stays at Centara's Thailand properties with rates starting at an astonishing Bt960.

Marriott Bonvoy members get ho-hum 20% savings at Asia-Pacific hotels but you might drop by Four Seasons Langkawi for 40% off on its Bed & Breakfast deals till 30 September, while at the darkly elegant The PuLi Hotel & Spa Shanghai guests may avail of a two-night stay in a spoiling suite for the price of one (until 31 August), which is 50% off.

When international travel into China resumes, suits and leisure trippers may wish to consult the National Health Commission site for updates on Covid-19 protocols. As travel reopens do pack a large amount of commonsense in your old kit bag, and smile boys, smile (under that mask).

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