Lawyers and construction site do not mix, as MBS finds out.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Monday, 10th May 2010
What do you get when you mix 1,000 lawyers with a hotel that's still a construction site? Plenty of potholes to fall into, as Marina Bay Sands discovers. Yeoh Siew Hoon watches from behind the wall.

The SkyPark atop Marina Bay Sands

You've got to feel sorry for the folks at Marina Bay Sands. Delays, management shake-ups, staff woes, construction problems and now the latest salt to be rubbed into the wound – threats of legal action by organizers of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association (IPBA) Conference, the first event it hosted after opening on April 27.

Whether it turns into a full-blown legal case remains to be seen – some thing tells me that lots will be done behind-the-scenes to keep the lid on things; it is after all as much a blow to the Singapore brand as it is to the resort – but the damage has been done.

The bad press it's received so far – headlines such as "Uproar over Marina Bay Sands conferences woes" – will be hard to live down in this small town where its three hotel towers are already sticking out more than they should.

It was always a risk – to play host to more than 1,000 lawyers right after opening when your place is still very much a construction site and your staff have hardly had any time to get used to dealing with real customers, let alone demanding and I-know-my-rights kind of people.

The lawyers' charge is that MBS failed to deliver the "unmatched guest experience" it promised. And their list of complaints ranged from having to sleep without air-conditioners the first night, phones in bedrooms not working, gym, spa and swimming pool not open and hot water and toilet flushes not working in bathrooms.

Pretty standard fare really for a hotel opening, big or small.

I recall sleeping with doors open in Cambodiana Phnom Penh many years ago because there was a blackout.

But that was Cambodia many years ago and this is Singapore, 2010, world class city and hub of all things and where efficiency is part of the brand DNA.

There was one complaint which amused me because I could just picture it. Apparently, a committee meeting had to be reconvened along a corridor because there was loud piped music playing in the meeting room and the staff couldn't do anything about it because the sound engineer was not around. Plus there was a black-out for more than 30 minutes during a key address by the Chief Justice of New South Wales, Australia.

As I said, pretty standard fare but …

The lawyer quoted most in the media was a German named Alex Reeg who was quoted in the media as saying the resort should be re-named Construction Bay. He was the one who raised the motion during the AGM that a "fair and tough stance" be taken against Marina Bay Sands.

Yap Wai Ming, chairman of the organizing committee, told the Straits Times that MBS "should have been more honest about the progress of the IR right from the start". He said he never expected his conference to be used as a "stress test" for the resort.

So I wonder who's feeling the stress now? One can only speculate. The folks at MBS are not saying much to the media except that it is "putting every effort to ensure that situations commonplace in all new operations are minimized and resolved promptly".

Perhaps the resort had no choice but to host the conference (for one reason or another) – and it was probably a commitment made a long time ago when the people who sold it are no longer those responsible for delivering the "unmatched guest experience" promised.

If it had gone well, the IPBA conference would have been a big feather in the cap for MBS. Sadly, it's turned out to be a big floppy hat, by the media reports.

I feel sorry for the staff who had to go through such a baptism of fire – but hey, if they can get through this without third degree burns, well, then, they can handle anything else that comes their way. At least we hope.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

WIT 2010: October 19-22 SUNTEC Singapore ~ www.webintravel.com
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