Pan Pacific Orchard Singapore, a biophilic hotel which opened in May (credit: WOHA) How biophilia helps Pan Pacific become a cool chainBy Raini Hamdi | June 28, 2023Share Biophilic design hotels make a bold statement, which could reward Singapore's Pan Pacific Hotels Group with more management deals. But first it must persuade other owners to think like its parent does. SINGAPORE – Ordinarily, the needle does not move much at Pan Pacific Hotels Group, a stable, dependable and predictable chain. Lately, however, the Singapore-based group is looking cool, figuratively, as in trendy, but also literally thanks to its eye-popping biophilic design hotels that conjure green spaces, sustainability and wellness just looking at them.The newly-opened, 347-room Pan Pacific Orchard, Singapore, for instance, boasts 14,000 sqm of foliage – twice the hotel’s land area – and reimagines the archetype of a city hotel by creating four different landscapes such as a forest and even a beach within the 23-story building. Among sustainability measures that earned the hotel a Green Mark Platinum Award, a certification program of Singapore's Building & Construction Authority, are the use of low-emissivity double glazed glass, solar power technology and a bio-digester system.Biophilic architecture appeals to humans’ love for nature which, according to a theory by biologist E.O. Wilson, is something that is embedded in our DNA. The Pan Pacific Orchard, designed by WOHA, is the chain’s third in Singapore that sports this design. A fourth, the redevelopment of commercial building Faber House in the heart of Orchard Road into a 250-room Parkroyal Collection hotel, is slated to open in 2026.The chain operates three brands, the classic luxury Pan Pacific, upper upscale Parkroyal Collection and upscale Parkroyal. It is investing close to $300 million (S$400 million) on a wave of new hotel openings and asset enhancements, CEO Choe Peng Sum told Hotel Investment Today. While not all will be biophilic in design, sustainability is the common thread that runs through these “version two” properties, he said.By 2026, Pan Pacific will have 60 opened hotels, from 38 currently, including its first hotel in Europe, the Pan Pacific London, which debuted in September 2021.Parental guidanceSingapore is a natural place to incubate green lessons that can be transferred to the rest of the portfolio. For one, parent UOL (United Overseas Land) Group, a real estate developer, has a “less carbon, more life” vision and is transparent about targets set and achieved each year, which it shares exhaustively in an annual sustainability report.Pan Pacific CEO Choe Peng SumUOL is a “Green Mark Champion” for having a “substantial” number of Green Mark buildings at Gold level or higher, the company said in its 2022 report.Apart from the parental driving force, Singapore itself is doing a lot to incentivize developers to go green.A scheme called Strategic Development Incentive, for instance, allows developers additional gross floor area (GFA) if the project creates an environmental improvement for the community and revitalizes an old precinct with new, innovative concepts.“If you are Green Mark Platinum, you will get about 3% additional GFA, which is a lot of money as it can account for one or two more additional floors of rooms. The government also helps to fund some of our green initiatives – there is a lot going on in Singapore [in this aspect],” Choe said.Gaurang Khemka, founder of urban architecture firm URBNarc in Singapore, said hotel clients do want to be green “but they are still few and far between.”One reason is cost. “It’s costly to build. The embedded energy is high. Lots more concrete and structural gymnastics,” Khemka said.Faster returnsChoe admits it’s expensive but notes that technology advancements are accelerating returns.“Ten years ago, we spent S$260,000 to put 260 solar panels at Parkroyal Collection Pickering [its first biophilic design hotel in Singapore] and they produced 65,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy. Fast forward to 2019, when we acquired Marina Mandarin Singapore [now rebranded to Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay], we spent S$100,000 on 210 solar panels but, guess what, they produced 120,000 kWh.“Overall, we calculated that the payback is now five to seven years, from 15 years previously, thanks to technology advancements and lower costs. Energy costs, as you know, have risen. Our energy bill was S$10 million more last year due to the Ukraine war and high oil prices.”In another example, low-emissivity glass windows at the hotel was a S$3 million investment but they represent at least 30% savings on costs of running the air-condition, especially in tropical cities such as Singapore, Choe added.“Sustainability is not just about removing plastic straws and bottles. What makes a building sustainable is hidden – it’s all behind the scenes and yes, the initial investment is very high, but the returns will come,” he said.Rendering of Faber House redevelopment, Pan Pacific's fourth biophilic hotel in SingaporeWATG Managing Principal of Architecture I-Jin Chew also observed that costs of adoption have lowered over the years, making sustainable practices “more economically viable.” The shift is driven by technological advancements, reduced costs of renewables and green materials, and the introduction of green loans and financial incentives.“With the right strategies in place, there will be significant long-term predicted savings in energy, water, materials, etc.,” Chew said. “You are also appealing to shifting travelers’ aspirations – they want to understand and agree with your eco-integrity in addition to seeking that Instagrammable moment. At the end of the day, we need to relearn what profits mean today and deliver a built product that doesn’t cost the earth, so to speak.”Earthly motivationsAccording to Choe, 99% of corporate companies now ask about sustainable practices when doing RFPs.Another motivation is future valuation. Nearly 70% of Pan Pacific Hotels Group portfolio are owned hotels, the rest managed.“We have close to S$4.5 billion in assets. If we manage them well, raise their standards, their valuation will continue to rise,” Choe said. “All these properties are located in prime locations in key gateway cities Singapore, Melbourne/Sydney, London, etc. And as more of our version two hotels open, we’re getting more phone calls asking us to manage hotels.”Other locations in the group's expansion from 2022 to 2026 include Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Tokyo and even Nairobi, where a Pan Pacific Serviced Suites soft-opened in May.“We’re also growing our resorts. We’ve opened Parkroyal Langkawi in February and have just renovated our Parkroyal Penang as a version two. We’re going into Malacca and Phuket next,” Choe said.He expects the chain to grow faster through management contracts and is aiming for a 50:50 ratio of owned and managed hotels in the next few years.UOL bought the Pan Pacific brand from Tokyu Corp. in 2007, saying the deal would “fast-track” its strategy to become a key player in hotel management in Asia Pacific.