Sen. Marco Rubio mocked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday for wearing a mask and face shield upon arriving in the Philippines.
“Our @SecDef is vaccinated,” Rubio wrote in a tweet alongside a video that showed Austin deplaning. “But he arrives in the Philippines wearing a mask AND a face shield.”
“Embarrassing COVID theatre,” he continued.
The Philippines requires anyone in public places to wear a mask and a face shield, according to the US Embassy in the Philippines. Some of the people Austin is greeted by in the video are wearing masks and face shields as well.
The Philippines is also facing a surge in COVID-19, prompting authorities in Manila to impose tighter coronavirus restrictions this week. Reuters reported Tuesday that the Philippines recorded its highest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases in more than six weeks. The country has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia, according to The New York Times.
Rubio’s home state of Florida is dealing with its own COVID-19 surge. The state leads the US in COVID-19 cases, and has the highest number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 per capita, according to data compiled by the Times. It also has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita, after Louisiana.
Austin met with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his visit. After the meeting, Duterte reversed a past decision to withdraw from a defense pact with the US, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Associated Press reported. The VFA allows the large-scale combat exercises between the US and Philippines forces, which have occasionally sparked concern from China.
“Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crises to the pandemic and, as we do, a strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said. “A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”
In 2016, Chen and his wife, Chrissy Luo, donated $115 million to create the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech, which is just a five-minute drive from their new home.
Chen declined to comment on the purchase via his company.
Called the Seeley Mudd Estate, the 14,000-square-foot home is also known as the University of Southern California (USC) Presidential Mansion because it housed the university’s presidents for 40 years.
The residence has hosted multiple holiday parties each year for university donors, faculty, trustees, and special guests since 1979, according to Douglas Elliman. And every Thanksgiving, the university president would invite USC students who were unable to travel home for the holiday to a dinner at the residence.
USC decided to sell the estate to cut costs during the pandemic and downsized to a smaller home for the university president in Santa Monica, per the Los Angeles Times.
Built in 1934, the American Colonial-style mansion sits on more than seven acres in San Marino, an upscale Los Angeles suburb.
Its $25 million price tag makes it the most expensive home sale in San Marino history, according to Douglas Elliman.
Kevin Willis has worked at three different Maldives resorts. Currently, he’s a learning and development manager at Patina Maldives, a new luxury resort that’s replete with all the usual trappings – overwater villas, a marina with 20 berths for yachts up to 80 feet long, spa center, you name it. And yet, this is the first time in five years of work that he, a staffer, has ever had a room with a sea view.
While the Maldives is paradise for guests, it isn’t necessarily a dream for resort staff. Many employees face hard realities – among them isolation, cultural clashes, and feeling like second-class citizens – as they work on an island in the middle of the ocean for months on end.
Singapore’s luxury hotel owner Pontiac Land Group wants to change that. It’s launching three new resorts in a string of four islands called the Fari Islands in the Maldives’ north Male atoll. All four islands are a quick water-taxi ride away from each other. Three of those islands boast Pontiac resorts – a Ritz-Carlton, a Capella, and a Patina. The fourth island, called Fari Campus, is dedicated to housing and creating a sense of community for staff members of those three resorts.
Pontiac is expected to have around 1,200-plus staff members when its Fari Islands is fully operational. The Patina hotel opened in May, followed by the Ritz-Carlton in June. Capella is slated to open in the next 18 to 24 months.
Currently about 750 staff from the Ritz-Carlton and Patina live in the Fari Campus, Willis among them.
“It provides a sense of community and life away from work,” Willis told Insider of life on campus, adding that it gives staff a positive opportunity to meet new people who work at different resorts.
Hidden from sight along with the laundry facilities
Many Maldives resorts are designed to optimize the amount of beachfront space available for guests’ villas. That means staffers are made as invisible to guests as possible and packed into the middle of the island along with things like generators, waste storage, water treatment installations, and laundry.
So even if a developer wants to allocate more land to staff facilities, space is limited – and it often comes at the cost of staffers’ wellbeing.
“A lot of times what happens is staff really don’t have [social] engagement,” said Gaurang Khemka, founder and design director of URBNarc, the Singapore-based firm that designed the Fari Campus. “They are on an island in the middle of nowhere, living in the center, which is the least prime land, and screened off as if they are something to hide.”
Nicholas Clayton is the CEO of Capella Hotel Group. He told Insider that at Maldives projects he has previously worked on, worker facilities were always hidden away from sight.
“It sends a really wrong message that you’re a second-class citizen in a way,” Clayton said.
“Because of space limitations, there has to be a compromise between staff facilities and the equipment planned for the center. So, as much as other [developers] try, colleagues’ facilities generally are somewhat landlocked and constricted, versus a blank canvas that we have to create a wholesome village,” he added.
The blank canvas at the Fari Campus, meanwhile, spans 12 hectares, an area that can fit 16 football fields.
Creating private spaces for workers
The Kwee family, who owns Pontiac, bought Capella Hotel Group in 2017.
It’s a third-generation Kwee, Evan Kwee, vice chairman of Capella Hotel Group and head of design and hospitality at Pontiac, who had the vision to build a staff island with a community of its own.
At Fari Campus, staff accommodation is spread out on the island in five clusters. Each cluster comprises four three-story buildings and has a courtyard.
Khemka, the design director, said it’s all about creating private spaces for people.
“We may want to be in a courtyard to read a book, or just hang out with two staff and not 1,200,” Khemka said. “Or, find a spot to make a phone call to loved ones because all the time we are always surrounded by other staff. Staff stay dorm-style, four to a room, or two to a room [for the more senior staff].”
Facilities include a jogging track along the beach, the largest soccer field in soccer-crazy Maldives, basketball and volleyball courts, a communal plaza, library, clinic, beauty salon, and retail store. And of course, two other key facilities: a mosque and a staff canteen that “isn’t your regular staff mess,” said Khemka. It seats 450 people but was designed to create intimate sections, just as in a restaurant.
“Staff can feel psychologically comfortable and create their own little communities. It’s just like housing planning, the idea being to create sub-communities by having clusters of courtyards and smaller spaces,” said Khemka.
Mausool Abdulla is an essentialist (concierge or butler) at Patina. Patina is the seventh Maldives resort he’s worked at. He told Insider he’s overjoyed by the “space away from work” and the exclusivity of Fari Campus.
Best of all, staff have their own beach. How often can you see an off-duty staff sun-tanning on the beach in the Maldives when guests have been promised a private beach?
Trapped in more ways than one
In the Maldives, staff are often trapped not just by constrained living conditions but by geography, cultural differences, and religious taboos.
Fifty percent of staff, by law, must be locals – but not all locals work in resorts that are near the capital, Male, or their atoll’s capital island, where staff ferries can take them home every day. Many do what their foreign colleagues do: stay at the resort, work during off-days to accumulate more leave on top of their 30-day annual leave, then go home once a year.
“The staff are very trapped. They have nowhere to go. A 10-minute speedboat ride can cost $100, one way,” said a former hotel general manager of a resort in north Male atoll, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Staff must stay inside their compound. They hang out at the staff jetty. There is limited space to hang out elsewhere.”
He said the walls are so thin that people can hear private phone conversations from two rooms away.
“The pressure and stress of having no escape, no privacy, can turn little conflicts between staff into big dramas. As a GM, a major part of my job in the resort was managing people’s lives 24-7,” he said.
The isolation that comes with the job has also led to drug issues at some resorts. On some local islands, he said, there’s a black market for alcohol and drugs. The going price for a bottle of beer or a small piece of heroin is said to be $7.
“If you have a gram of heroin or a bottle of beer on you, which is easier to pocket? So any staff could be sitting here with a month’s supply of drugs,” said the GM, noting that he experienced two or three cases in the three years he worked for the hotel.
There’s also the matter of cultural clashes. The GM said he oversaw a team of 15 foreign nationalities, a cultural diversity that puts to test even the most tolerant and accepting of staff working in a constrained environment.
A game-changing vision
Pontiac’s Fari Campus stands to be a test of whether a dedicated staff island, effective design and facilities, and the right “programming” can create a harmonious and thriving community for staff. Proposed ideas on staff programs include organizing a bazaar or hosting friendly soccer matches between, say, Ritz-Carlton staff and Patina staff.
While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s not perfect.
“One improvement [would be] for us to have a training facility on Patina island, as this would save teammates a lot of time in commuting to attend training,” Willis, the development manager, said.
It’s also not the only hospitality chain paying ever more attention to the welfare of its workers.
“Maldives tourism has evolved over 30 years and living conditions for staff have improved with the entry of more international chains and the tourism ministry’s regulations on staff welfare,” said Ibrahim Nizam, CEO of The Grand Associates, a firm that helps investors invest in the Maldives. “A few resorts even have a pool for staff.”
Capella’s Clayton declined to reveal the cost of developing Fari Campus but said “it’s consistent with the investment to build and run a luxury resort in the Maldives.” In other words, it wasn’t cheap.
“The strategy behind the campus is about creating a healthy, productive environment for colleagues,” Clayton said.
“But from a cold business standpoint, we are looking for a competitive advantage,” Clayton said. We want our three hotels there to provide superior service over the competition.”
Caroline Rainsford, 39, is Google’s country director for New Zealand. She oversees about 50 employees in Auckland.
Rainsford, who previously worked at L’Oréal, Philips, and GE, got a recruiting call from Google in 2017. At the time, she was three months into her maternity leave for her second child.
After a five-month interview process, Google offered her the role and asked how long she intended to take for her maternity leave. (In New Zealand, parents are entitled to one year of maternity leave — six months of which are paid.)
She told the recruitment team that she was planning on taking the full year, but for this opportunity she would end it early if necessary.
“And they said, ‘No, we’re happy to wait for you,'” Rainsford said. “And so I started in this company with just the best experience. Being a mother was always first. So in my approach as a leader, I feel like I’m this custodian to make sure that everyone has that experience now if they want to be a working mother.”
On top of her New Zealand duties, Rainsford has been managing more than 1,800 Googlers in Australia for the past several months while their managing director is on a year-long maternity leave.
“With working more closely on the Australian business, it was important that I got over to Sydney to get valuable face time with some of the team,” she said.
Here’s a look at Rainsford’s daily routine in Auckland while she oversees both Google New Zealand and Google Australia.
6 a.m: “On a weekday I usually wake up at 6 a.m. naturally thanks to two small children-shaped alarm clocks,” Rainsford said.
Rainsford said she tries to get eight hours of sleep each night so she’s at her best for a full day of parenting and working.
“The kids and I usually have Vegemite toast for breakfast — a classic in any Kiwi household,” she said.
7:45 a.m: Rainsford drops her son William, four, and daughter Olivia, six, off at school three mornings a week. “I love doing this as they tell me all the good stories in the car on the way,” she said.
Rainsford employs a nanny who takes the kids to school the other two days of the week.
As a single mother, Rainsford’s message to young women is that you can “have it all.”
“I think that it’s really about integration.” she said. “… Everybody at Google New Zealand and a lot of Australia know my two children. The nice thing about the last year and a half is it’s made us all way more vulnerable and it’s made us more open to who we actually are as people.”
On the days she doesn’t do school drop-off – or if the traffic isn’t too bad – Rainsford takes a morning walk around the waterfront of Auckland.
“The eastern bays are stunning and it hasn’t been too bad getting through the past 12 months with this on my doorstep,” she said.
On Friday mornings, Rainsford plays golf.
“I used to play golf before I had children,” she said. “One of my goals since joining Google has been to sharpen my skills, so every Friday morning I go and play. Sometimes I only have time for 40 mins of chipping but it is amazing mindfulness!”
9:30 a.m: Rainsford starts her work day by answering emails and preparing for the day ahead before her meetings kick off.
“I’m a huge planner so I always know the most important things I need to get done during the day,” she said. “I also have a sign above my screen in my home office that says, ‘Are you doing what matters?’ and it helps keep me focused on the important stuff.”
Since Googlers were allowed to return to the office in November, Rainsford is working three days a week from home and two days a week at the office.
10:30 a.m: Rainsford heads into the office and has a virtual meeting with Google leaders from the Singapore and US offices.
Rainsford said her number of daily meetings has increased by about 20% since she took over Australia, so she now has an average of eight to 10 meetings per day.
“This has been a really great stretch opportunity for me — something that I encourage everyone to think about in their career and work life,” Rainsford said. “It’s important to feel challenged … it can be where you see the most growth in your abilities.”
11:15 a.m: Rainsford takes 10 minutes to pop over and check on the progress of Google’s new office, which – like the current office – is in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.
“The views are stunning from this vantage point, across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour,” she said.
The building will be targeting a 5 Star Green Design from the Green Building Council of Australia and will feature a vertical planted green screen with native species and rainwater harvesting, she said.
Rainsford heads back to the current office for a client meeting before lunch.
12 – 12:30 p.m: Rainsford has lunch at the office with some of the Google New Zealand team. “Since we’ve been back in the office, I know the team (and I) have really appreciated this space again,” she said.
When she’s in the Auckland office, Rainsford schedules fewer meetings so she can spend informal time with her team. During the pandemic, she’s tried to be more open with them as a leader about how she weathers challenging times.
“I think there’s going to be a new breed of leadership,” she said. “We will see more vulnerability coming from leaders.”
The biggest lesson she’s learned during COVID-19 is how important it was to reset expectations for her employees, Rainsford said.
“I have this amazing exec business coach and he said to me, ‘OK, you’re in lockdown now across Australia and New Zealand. How are you thinking about resetting expectations with your team? Because they’re not going to be able to achieve like what they would normally, given this pandemic,'” she said. “And so we spent ages in the teams talking about really leveling expectations.”
After lunch, Rainsford heads to a session of a week-long director training course she’s taking through New Zealand’s Institute of Directors.
“This was a one-off course so I can learn about governance,” she said. “I really want to join a few Australia-New Zealand boards in the coming years to support New Zealand business growth and transformation.”
Google helped cover the cost of the course.
3 p.m.: She dials into a Women & Google panel held in Sydney, where she was one of six women participating in a Q&A.
“We spoke about the intensity of work in the first few months of 2021 as well as some of our career highs and lows,” Rainsford said.
Then Rainsford heads to watch her daughter Olivia’s after-school activity: rugby.
“Since COVID I have learned that it is possible to make time to attend my children’s most important moments,” Rainsford said. “Like when my daughter got player of the day at rugby. She is six and plays in an all-girls team. She is very good at chasing the other team!”
5:45 p.m: Rainsford speaks at a Digital Boost Launch Event at The Mind Lab, an education center in Auckland.
In New Zealand last month, Google searches for “online learning” spiked more than 600% from the year before, showing a growing appetite to learn new skills, according to Rainsford.
5:30 to 7:30 p.m: Rainsford spends time with and has dinner with her children.
“I have a tradition that once a week we have a family roast and the kids have to sit at the table with me,” she said. “It means we talk about the day. I cherish it.”
Rainsford tries to limit her kids’ screen time throughout the day, but while she’s cooking dinner, she lets them watch YouTube Kids on the tablet. “Some of their favourite local creators are Rainbow Learning and BBC Earth for the volcano content,” she said.
After the kids are asleep, Rainsford gets back on her computer and takes some time to get any “life admin” done.
“That’s birthday presents for friends, or ordering flowers for my Mum to say thank you, or even booking our next New Zealand staycation,” she said.
Before bed, she spends some time watching Netflix (right now it’s “The Queen’s Gambit”) or reading. “I am currently reading a book called ‘Mental Fitness — Build Your Mind for Strength and Resilience Every Day.’ It’s so relevant given our current environment.”
Rainsford said that despite her busy schedule, her two young children, and the pandemic, she doesn’t regret taking on the challenge of leading Australia for a year.
“Sometimes doing these things that are out of your comfort zone are really, really good, and you should embrace them,” she said. “But I think a lot of particularly young females would say no to a lot of this. So I’m hoping that Australia will convey that you can take on these additional challenges even at the most unusual time.”
When Singapore closed its borders in March 2020, the number of visitors to the island plunged 99% from what it was the previous year. Then came the cancelation requests.
“Around 70% of our bookings were cancelled, and 30% were postponed,” said Krystal Tan, director of Blue Sky Escapes, a local travel company known for crafting off-the-beaten-path experiences in destinations like Bhutan and Peru.
She wasn’t alone.
“Overnight, bookings came to a standstill,” said Jess Yap, one of the founders of travel agency Intriq Journey, which launched in Singapore last January.
Thanks to the border closures brought on by the pandemic, travel operators around the world were forced to find new revenue streams. This was especially true for those in the business of planning overseas travel – and, by extension, for travel operators in Singapore. The city-state, which is the size of New York City, has virtually no domestic travel.
Insider spoke with three Singapore travel companies to find out how they stayed afloat when their core business offering disappeared.
New ways to discover Singapore
Pre-pandemic, bespoke luxury travel specialist Quotient Travel was known for long-haul, multi-country holidays that could include a visit to the Sahara Desert or a meal at three-Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.
Javiny Lim, the cofounder and managing director of Quotient Travel, said the travel company usually sells 150 holidays a year. In Q2 last year, it had zero bookings.
Quotient Travel has since designed eight new tours. Some of those, like the “Eat, Pray, Love at Balestier” ($71 per person), take you to iconic landmarks and hidden finds alike, such as one of the last remaining traditional bakeries and coffee roasters in Singapore.
Others, like The Great Singapore Road Trip, draw inspiration from iconic holidays in places like New Zealand and Japan. The Singapore road trip is a two-day, self-drive itinerary at $5 per person encompassing local “national parks” (Singapore does not have designated national parks), a former Grand Prix street circuit, and a seaside lunch in a neoclassical home built in 1910.
A post shared by Quotient Travel (@quotienttravelplanner)
Blue Sky Escapes, too, offers new ways of exploring Singapore.
One popular option is a tour through Singapore’s last kampung (village) in Lorong Buangkok ($315 for up to five persons), a quaint hodgepodge of zinc-roofed homes – complete with kitchen gardens and strolling chickens – that defy time.
“It’s home to 29 families – most of the residents don’t speak English or even own a mobile phone,” said Tan. “It’s a wonderful chance to step back in time and understand what ‘kampung spirit’ is truly about.”
Blue Sky Escapes has also found a niche with its wellness retreats, which debuted in January. Among these is a three-day, two-night retreat from $2,590 per person that claims to help guests “find themselves” through stillness and meditation. Held at Villa Samadhi, a restored century-old mansion in Labrador nature reserve, each retreat includes embodied movement and sound healing.
A post shared by Blue Sky Escapes (@bluesky.escapes)
New audiences and shorter experiences
When Singapore’s travel bubble with Hong Kong was called off for the first time in November, Yap of Intriq Journey realized she needed to “do more than just [sell] staycations and cruises-to-nowhere.”
She also found herself having to re-examine her target client: The industry veteran works with clients who typically spend $10,000-$12,000 per person, per trip.
A post shared by Intriq Journey (@intriqjourney)
Last year, she changed her approach and launched “virtual trips” from $80 per person. One of those trips was a two-day virtual trip to Beijing and Chengdu that Intriq Journey created for a local college. Virtually, the students visited the Great Wall of China and explored Chengdu’s vibrant street food scene.
“It’s not a pre-recorded presentation. There’s an actual guide, a host,” said Yap, who added that guests can interact with guides and meet new people in real time. “It’s real life, straight from the location.”
Lim said Quotient Travel’s usual budget guidance for a European holiday for a couple is $750 per person, per day. That number is significantly lower now, she added.
“The main change across all tours for us would be a broader client segment,” said Lim.
A blow to an already-struggling industry
The pandemic is a further blow to an industry that was already under pressure.
In a Q3 2019 GlobalData survey, only 17% of global respondents said they booked with an in-store travel agent. Despite this, travel agencies in Singapore have remained relatively resilient throughout the pandemic. According to TTG Asia, only 38 of the 137 travel agents that closed in the city-state between February 2020 and May 2021 cited the pandemic as a reason for ceasing operations.
This is largely thanks to the Singapore government’s efforts to support the local tourism industry. These include wage subsidies, waiving license fees, and allocating $320 million in vouchers for citizens to spend on local hotels and attractions.
All three Singapore-based agencies Insider spoke with said they did not downsize their teams, although pay cuts were part of all their business continuity plans.
Lim said Quotient Travel implemented a three-day workweek and pay cuts of up to 25% over the last 15 months. Tan and her husband (who is also her business partner) stopped drawing salaries for a year. At one point, Tan’s sales team pivoted into events programming and content marketing, while Lim said her company branched out into an online luxury jewellery store.
“It was especially challenging to have to show up each day without fail – through the bad times – ready to lead and prop up team morale and navigate such a precarious, uncertain environment. We were in full beta mode with no clarity on what might stick,” said Tan.
Still, the new experiences are a far cry from the revenue the companies usually rake in.
Tan said new experiences cover about 50% of Blue Sky Escapes’ typical revenue. Lim said Quotient Travel’s local tours account for less than 1% of its typical revenue.
Yap said the next six months will be particularly challenging as the government’s wage support scheme ends in September. She remains hopeful that some form of leisure travel will resume by the last quarter of this year, as at least three quarters of Singapore’s population is slated to be vaccinated by then.
Arvinder Gujral, 46, is Twitter’s managing director for Southeast Asia, based in Singapore.
He’s responsible for growing Twitter’s business across Southeast Asia and reports directly to Yu Sasamoto, the company’s vice president for the Japan, South Korea, and Asia Pacific region, according to a Twitter spokesperson. The spokesperson said it’s against company policy to disclose how many employees Gujral oversees.
Before joining Twitter in 2013, Gujral was the head of digital and innovation at Aircel, a telecom operator in India. He has also lived and worked in Silicon Valley.
Gujral told Insider that he’s started living a healthier lifestyle during the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic struck, I was on a plane almost every week — meaning irregular sleep, an unhealthy carb-led diet, drinking during weekdays, and no time to work out,” he said. “My current routine corrects all these mistakes made during my travels.”
When he returns to traveling for work again, Gujral says he will bring his healthy lifestyle with him. Still, he said he can’t wait to visit his teams in the region to share a coffee “or something stronger” with them in person.
Here’s a peek into Gujral’s daily routine in Singapore, where he lives with his wife and two sons.
6:30 a.m: On a typical work day, Gujral wakes up at about 6:30 a.m. so that he and his wife can get their two sons – aged 14 and seven – ready for school.
First, he checks his notifications on his phone and does a quick scan through Twitter.
He and his wife make sure their sons have their breakfast, shower, and are on the school bus by 7:30 a.m.
“This is almost always followed by a huge collective sigh of relief — it’s usually a last minute sprint down to the bus stop,” Gujral said.
Once the kids are out the door, Gujral sits down on the couch to drink his “daily magic potion,” a protein shake breakfast made with cacao, protein, banana, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt.
“I typically enjoy my breakfast while switching between Bloomberg, CNBC, and CNA on the television,” he said.
8 a.m: Gujral does his morning workout, usually alternating between yoga and a home dumbbell gym routine.
“Yoga is a relatively recent addition to my life (all credit to my wife), and it has really helped me manage the various aches and pains channel ling throughout my decaying (!), worn-out body,” Gujral said.
The dumbbell is the only home gym investment he’s made since Singapore’s coronavirus lockdown, but it allows him to work out almost every part of his body at home, he said.
While he works out, Gujral listens to podcasts instead of music.
“I am a firm believer in ‘continuous learning’ and I use this time to learn about philosophy, astronomy, anthropology, history, as well as occasionally mixing it up with plain old fiction thrillers,” he said.
Some of his favorites include “The Daily” from The New York Times, “Against The Rules” by Michael Lewis, “The Seen And The Unseen” by Amit Varma, and “Throughline” and “Planet Money” by NPR.
After the workout, it’s time to get to work in his home office, which he converted from a guest bedroom when Twitter employees started working from home in March 2020.
Twitter provided a budget for all global employees to set up a home office, so Gujral bought an office desk and ergonomic chair (helpful for his lower back issues), a printer, and a standing desk.
“I share this room with my younger son whose study desk is also in the same room, so you can imagine taking calls becomes quite a challenge on days when he is home,” Gujral said.
Before the pandemic, Gujral said he liked to keep his work and home worlds separate.
“Now that the inter-mix has happened there is no going back,” he said. “While I miss the serendipity that an office environment provides, I don’t see myself going back full-time to the office in the near-term.”
9 a.m: After a quick shower, it’s time for the first virtual meeting of the day.
It’s with the board of Interactive Advertising Bureau Southeast Asia and India (IAB SEA+India), of which he’s a member.
Gujral’s next virtual engagement is moderating an “inclusive marketing” webinar panel with Campaign Asia, a magazine that covers the marketing and advertising industry in Asia.
His fellow panelists include the Global CMO of Dole and the Chief Investment Officer of media agency Mindshare. The marketing community still has “much more distance to cover” in diversity and inclusion, Gujral said.
11 a.m.: Gujral has two more morning meetings: One is a sales finance meeting, where they review plans for the upcoming quarter, and the other is with Twitter’s product lead for the region.
“Anyone else find that work definitions slowly end up creeping into family life?” Gujral said. “I have to admit, I’ve found myself talking in quarters even when talking to my wife about events in our life happening!”
12 p.m: Lunchtime. “For me the biggest gain from the current pandemic climate has been the ability to have lunch at home with my wife every day without the kids around,” Gujral said.
Gujral said they like to keep lunch light and simple.
“There are times where our lunch is nothing more than a plate of fruits, an acai bowl, or just some baked veggies with a protein on the side,” he said.
12:30 p.m: “I use the hour between 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. as me-time,” Gujral said. This is usually when he reads or does some writing.
“Inspired by a virtual class on the ‘Art of Clear Writing,’ I’ve been exploring the ‘potential author’ in me (that’s been stated in my Twitter bio since 2008),” Gujral said.
He publishes some of his short stories on Substack.
1:30 – 5:30 p.m: The rest of the afternoon is taken up by a series of back-to-back meetings.
In between meetings, Gujral gets what he says is his “one and only caffeine fix” of the day.
He enjoys an Indian chai tea, in which he dunks three measured rusks, an Indian crispbread snack.
After his meetings finish at 5:30 p.m., Gujral plays cricket with his seven-year-old son.
“I’ve devised a novel scoring system and our game becomes highly competitive,” Gujral said. “It’s incredible how much trash talk a seven-year old is capable of.”
6:30 p.m.: Gujral has dinner with his family, with a “no-phones-on-table” rule.
“This is when we all catch up with each other and hear from our teenage son,” Gujral said. “Teenagers seemingly live in a parallel universe, operating on a completely different time zone, so my wife and I really treasure these moments when our two worlds collide.”
Their dinners typically fluctuate between Indian food like vegetable kebabs, palak paneer, lentils, and chicken curry, to non-Indian fare like roasted chicken, Tuscan butter salmon, or pasta, Gujral said. “I try to avoid carbs at dinner as much as possible,” he said.
After dinner, Gujral cuddles with his seven-year-old while reading him a book in bed — right now it’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” His son is tucked in for bed by 8 p.m.
8 – 9 p.m: After dinner, Gujral typically spends another hour working.
He finishes up any final tasks and prepares for the following day.
After Gujral has wrapped up his work for the evening, he and his wife start their daily ritual of deciding which show to watch on which platform.
“Rom-com or thriller? To preserve my marriage of more than 20 years, I cannot reveal the victor,” Gujral said.
At 11 p.m., they head to bed.
“My bedtime routine after a shower has been the same for the last 20 years,” Gujral said. “Regardless of what time I go to bed, I must have a book in my hand. The only thing that’s changed is that I’ve replaced physical books with a Kindle since we’ve run out of space. We are a family of voracious readers.”
Gujral usually alternates between reading a thriller and a thought-provoking book. He recently finished “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak and is now reading “Death in the East” by Abir Mukherjee.
He reads for about 30 to 45 minutes before going to sleep.
It’s happened to all of us: We think of a business idea, maybe tell a friend or two, then forget all about it.
Not Martha Waslen.
Fresh off Singapore’s “circuit breaker” last June, when borders were closed to foreign travelers, Waslen was strolling the grounds of one of her favorite hotels, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, when she noticed something.
“They have these amazing facilities, like a beautiful gym, spa, and pool – and there was nobody there,” said Waslen, who observed the same scenario at several other luxury hotels in the island nation.
At the time, the hybrid hospitality trend, which blends hotel and coworking spaces, was starting to take off in Europe and the US. But when Waslen, and her husband inquired about possible work from hotel arrangements, many hotels in Singapore said they weren’t set up for it yet.
This persuaded her there really was an untapped market opportunity, and, as Waslen told Insider, “things just snowballed from there.”
Targeting Singaporeans and expats who enjoy the finer things in life
DayAway, which soft-launched in April, allows users to discover, browse, and book daytime experiences at Singapore’s finest luxury hotels. The platform works with selected hotel partners to curate exclusive packages.
According to Waslen, DayAway’s proposition is timely because hotels have been trying to increase revenue generated by ancillary (non-room) inventory such as pools, gyms, restaurants, spas, and meeting venues for nearly a decade, but “either lacked the technology to sell these spaces effectively or the marketing channels to engage with the local community.”
DayAway’s partners include some of Singapore’s most iconic hotels, including the Raffles Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Hotel & The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, and the Intercontinental Singapore and Fairmont Singapore. It currently partners with 10 hotels and aims to add 25 more by July. Right now, it’s free for all to use.
Among DayAway’s offerings is its Sling and Swim experience at Raffles Hotel Singapore. For $100, users get three hours of pool time, a $20 credit at the hotel’s Pool Bar, gym access, and a complimentary Singapore Sling. The experience, Waslen said, sold out within a day of launch.
The Afternoon Tea by the Bay package ($428) at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, meanwhile, offers a classic three-tier afternoon tea for two in the privacy of a Bay View room that overlooks the Singapore skyline. It also includes six-hour room access, a complimentary bottle of wine, and one hour access to the hotel’s infinity pool.
A one-stop shopping for curated experiences
One of the differentiators that sets DayAway apart from other platforms offering daytime experiences (such as Dayuse, Klook, or Daypass) is its branding, according to Waslen.
“We’re not a discount or voucher site. We built our platform to offer luxurious, elevated experiences so that our users can feel like they’re booking a really indulgent escape for themselves and their loved ones,” Waslen said.
A post shared by D A Y A W A Y (@dayaways)
DayAway operates on a B2B subscription model and can manage inventory and share analytics with its partner hotels, Waslen said.
Building a user-friendly inventory system was key because many hotels are saddled with rigid legacy systems that make incorporating new technology difficult. Often, the information about special experiences is buried deep within hotels’ websites.
“Whether they’re after a relaxing afternoon or a special event like a bridal shower or birthday celebration, DayAway helps our users do everything in one nicely packaged platform. They’re not going to want to go back to trawling through 50 websites for all that information,” said Waslen.
Currently, Waslen said, users only pay for what they buy. DayAway plans to draw revenue from corporate bookings as well as its hotel partners, although it is currently waiving fees for the latter as part of its pilot program.
Fashion and beauty marketing expert turned tech founder
Monetizing gaps in the market is nothing new for Waslen, an American who began her career at Ralph Lauren’s headquarters in New York as a sales and marketing rep.
“Branding was everything to Ralph,” she said. “Every single detail, when you walk into a store or showroom, is selling his dream, his vision. I learned that just one thing out of place can ruin the whole illusion.”
In 2011, Waslen made a jump for a job a continent away in Singapore at Luxola, a digital beauty platform that was eventually acquired by Sephora.
According to Waslen, the learning curve was steep: The team was lean, e-commerce hadn’t quite taken off in Singapore yet, and other platforms and blackmarket sites were selling similar products out of China for up to 70% less.
“But we developed such a beautiful brand experience, like in the images we used, our marketing campaigns, and social media. And we had an amazing customer experience: We picked up every phone call and hand-delivered every item in beautiful packaging,” she said.
Waslen says she brought the same customer-oriented approach to DayAway, which she bootstrapped until closing an initial round of $350,000 in seed funding in late March. Waslen declined to provide further details on the funding, saying only that it was from a small group of investors from Singapore, the United States, and Europe.
Her advisory panel includes Roger Egan III, cofounder and CEO of Redmart, and Daniel Pristavec, an early Airbnb employee.
Singapore was instrumental in DayAway’s success
Waslen says one of the main reasons she managed to bring DayAway to fruition in under a year is because she launched it in Singapore.
“If I did this in New York, this would have been such a battle and I don’t know that I would have gotten to this point,” she said. “But in Singapore, it’s phenomenal how people are so willing to network, be collaborative and be receptive to new ideas. One person would introduce me to five people, then those five people would introduce me to five more.”
The pandemic too has proven an unlikely catalyst, according to Waslen, who observed that amidst its devastation, COVID-19 has also created opportunity, such as by opening up conversations with hotels searching for new revenue streams.
Following a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Singapore tightened restrictions on movements and activities through the middle of June. Waslen is planning to use this time to onboard more hotels and experiences. Beyond that are ambitious plans to expand into international markets and take the company public one day.
For now, though, she’s fully committed to what she’s building.
“I’m not at a point in my career where I can just think, ‘Lots of first-time CEOs fail on the first try,’ and move on to the next entrepreneurial project,” said Waslen. “DayAway is it for me, because I think it has unlimited potential across the globe.”
Both the apartment and the year-long Shangri-La credit are among the many perks vaccinated Hong Kong residents can enter to win, the South China Morning Post reported. Also on the list? A Tesla, thousands of free airline tickets, a $16,000 prepaid credit card, and a “private party” on a Cathay Pacific-operated Airbus A321neo.
Per the Post, the total value of the available rewards exceeds $14 million. The eligibility terms differ depending on the perk but are exclusively available to vaccinated individuals.
The rewards have been donated by various Hong Kong-based companies, business people, and business chambers, per the Post. For example, the philanthropic arm of property developer Sino Group is donating the $1.4 million apartment, while Goodman Hong Kong is donating the Tesla Model 3, which is valued at $64,000. The Hong Kong Air Authority is behind the 50,000 free airline tickets, and the Shangri-La Group – which operates more than 100 locations globally with nightly rates starting around $300 – is providing the year’s worth of hotel stays.
As Katie Warren previously reported for Insider, the perk rollout comes as the Hong Kong government turns to businesses to entice residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine – and as public interest in getting the vaccine remains low.
More than 2.6 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the city to date, with 1.1 million people – about 15% of the total population – fully vaccinated, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. For comparison, 42% of people in the US and the UK respectively are now fully vaccinated.
Because reception to the vaccine in Hong Kong has been slower than expected, the city is sitting on a surplus of 840,000 BioNtech vaccines that are set to expire in August, Bloomberg reported in late May. Affecting the slow rollout, per Bloomberg, is a lack of trust in the government and a fear of vaccine side effects.
Made by TikTok owner ByteDance, the Dali Smart Lamp comes with two cameras: one mounted on the front and one on the top. The lamp can connect to a parent’s smartphone, with the dual cameras allowing parents to see both their child’s face and their homework while video chatting, according to an October news release about the product. An iPhone-sized screen on the lamp lets children video chat with parents or tutors. It also has an artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant to help with vocabulary and math problems.
The lamp was designed to let busy parents stay involved in their children’s studies, according to the news release.
“When parents work overtime or are away on business, they can use the powerful dual-camera video call function to talk to their children anytime and anywhere,” the release reads. “When they see their children, they can see the desktop more clearly, remotely counseling, and they don’t miss their children’s growth.”
Promotional images show the lamp is T-shaped and that it comes in two colors – “lake blue” and “cherry blossom powder.”
A slightly pricier $170 version of the lamp can send alerts and photos to parents when their children slouch, per The Journal.
ByteDance sold more than 10,000 of the lamps within a month of launch in October 2020, and the products have gotten “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Chinese social media, according to The Journal. ByteDance has been selling $1.5 million worth of the smart lamps each month on Tmall, the Chinese e-commerce site operated by Alibaba, according to SupChina, a New York-based, China-focused news site. ByteDance and Alibaba did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on sales figures.
Some people have expressed privacy concerns over some of the lamp’s functions, like the remote working and the ability for children to upload videos. (ByteDance told The Journal that only videos of homework can be uploaded, and only with parental permission.) But as evidenced by the lamp’s popularity, many other parents don’t seem to mind.
“In Asia, parents are less obsessed about the idea of surveillance and parents often see parental oversight as a good thing,” Sunsun Lim, a professor at Singapore’s University of Technology and Design who studies technology and families, told The Journal.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
Moving into China’s $40 billion online education industry
Wee Luen Chia, 43, is a Singapore-based executive at ServiceNow, an American software company with a global team of 14,000 people.
As Managing Director and Area Vice President in Asia, Chia oversees a team of more than 100 people in his home country of Singapore. He joined ServiceNow, which makes software that automates business processes to help its customers work more efficiently, in 2019.
He previously worked at Oracle, Red Hat, Qlik, and the Singapore government’s Infocomm Media Development Authority.
He told Insider that despite the pandemic, “2020 has been the best year of my working life.”
While he used to fly around Asia for work on a weekly basis, he said he now has more time to spend with his four-year-old daughter, Chloe. Here’s a peek into his daily routine in 2021.
Editor’s note: This is a look at a typical day in Chia’s life before May 16, when Singapore reimposed COVID-19 restrictions like closing public schools and instructing most office workers to work from home.
6:45 a.m: Chia wakes up, showers, and drinks his coffee. Then he has breakfast with his wife, Susan Tan, and their four-year-old daughter Chloe.
“I try to get up at least 15 minutes earlier than my four-year-old daughter so I can prepare for the day before I wake her up,” Chia told Insider.
On weekends, the three of them often go out to breakfast for more family time.
In the pre-pandemic days, Chia woke up at 4 a.m. about once a week to catch a flight to meet with customers and other ServiceNow teams across Asia.
8 a.m: It’s time for Chloe to head to preschool. Chia sees his daughter off and his wife takes her to school.
“She is currently attending full-day pre-school, so we’re very fortunate to be able to have the time to concentrate on work,” Chia said.
Tan, Chia’s wife, also works in the IT industry for National Computer Systems.
Chia said he and his wife have tested out different ways to balance their work and family lives.
“What has worked best for us — I get up early to prep our daughter for school while Susan prepares for her work day,” he said. “We have breakfast together as a family. Susan takes on sending Chloe to school so that I can get an early start on planning for the day ahead.”
Chia’s meetings typically start between 8 and 9 a.m.
He uses any free time to go over emails that have come in overnight, which are usually from colleagues in different time zones.
Before he started working from home last year, Chia didn’t have a proper work-from-home setup, but he slowly built one up. Both he and his wife have dedicated home office setups and work in different areas of the home.
8:30 a.m: His first meeting of the day is a one-on-one with Albert Li, ServiceNow’s Managing Director for North Asia, who joined the team in March.
They brainstorm ideas and check in about onboarding progress.
“These one-on-one catchups really help when the agenda is not too structured – there’s an opportunity to build rapport, share challenges and experiences, and work together to learn from one another,” Chia said.
Throughout the pandemic, Chia said he’s continued to hire and onboard team members virtually across Asia.
9:30 a.m: Chia has a meeting with a customer in Malaysia, market expansion services company DKSH, for a “go live” event.
“The ‘go-live’ event is the moment in time all of the hard work is realized and the product is ‘live’ in the hands of the consumer – either consumers, citizens, employees, or business partners,” Chia said.
11:30 a.m: If he’s home and not traveling between meetings, Chia tries to fit in some exercise.
He keeps weights and other exercise gear in his home office to work out between meetings in short, two-to-three-minute intervals.
“It’s not a lot, but a little goes a long way over time,” he said.
12:30 p.m: Chia has lunch with his team at a sushi restaurant in Singapore’s Bugis neighborhood.
“I make it a point to bring my team out to lunch once a week, when it’s possible,” he said. “I like the opportunity to meet in small groups, connecting employees from different functional areas.”
They talk about how they’re adapting to the changes in where and how they work, how they’re dealing with the pandemic, and how their customers are adjusting.
Chia said he values face-to-face interactions more than ever. “Each moment I spend with someone is focused on building our relationship,” he said.
1:30 p.m: After lunch, he heads into ServiceNow’s office in downtown Singapore, which is the company headquarters for the Asia-Pacific and Japan region.
ServiceNow transitioned to remote work in March 2020, a company representative told Insider.
“The Singapore team, much like the other teams globally, will continue to be allowed the flexibility to work in a way that is most productive to them – and this will look different for different people,” the spokesperson said. “The hybrid workforce is definitely here to stay for the foreseeable future.”
Last year, the company hired 3,000 people in 25 countries, growing its global workforce by 25%.
4 p.m: Chia leaves the office to head to off-site meetings.
One of those meetings is with SGTech, a trade association for the tech industry in Singapore.
“I joined the committee as a means to use my years of experience to give back to society by helping Singapore-based companies accelerate their digital transformation journeys,” he said.
6:30 or 7 p.m: Chia is home for dinner with his family.
Tonight, the group includes his 69-year-old father, his 32-year-old brother, and his 43-year-old brother-in-law.
7:30 p.m: After dinner, the family plays Monopoly and Chia has to console his daughter after she loses.
“Sometimes there’s a teaching moment – it’s OK not to win every time,” Chia said, adding that he teaches her to be humble when she wins and gracious when she loses.
“This is currently one of my key focus areas in her development so she grows up to be able to take failure in her stride and be a good sport about things,” he said.
8 p.m: He reads his daughter a bedtime story, which he says is one of his “favorite moments” to spend with her.
“Her favorite book is ‘Rapunzel’ but I try to change stories when it’s possible to introduce new ideas,” Chia said. “She loves the classics including ‘Snow White’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel.'”
8:30 p.m: In the evenings, Chia goes on a run around his neighborhood.
He lives in Serangoon, a residential area in northeast Singapore.
“Each time, I change something in my routine,” he said. “Sometimes I listen to recorded Zoom calls during the run or listen to lectures on Udemy on different topics like AI and design thinking. I like to fuel my body and my mind.”
9:30 p.m.: Back at home, Chia showers and catches up on the news on TV and prepares for the next day’s meetings.
Around 11 p.m., he usually spends an hour reading a book or watching a Netflix show with his wife. Recently, they’ve been watching “The Last Dance” on Netflix and Chia has been reading Simon Sinek’s “Infinite Game.”