Raffles Hotel  on Beach Road is undoubtedly an icon. I love the place. I am sure many Singaporeans are fond of the place too.
Built in 1887, it was extensively renovated between 1989 and 1991. I must say, those involved in the restoration works did a marvellous job. The architecture of the building and its elegant interiors evoke the nostalgic ambience of a bygone era. Raffles Hotel is certainly a Singapore landmark I would be proud to boast about and to bring my foreign friends to see.
Sadly, Raffles Hotel does not belong to Singaporeans, as I only recently found out. Until 2005, the hotel was owned by Singapore-listed “Raffles Holdings”, a Temasek Holdings company.
In 2005, Raffles Holdings sold all of its hotel assets to US-based Colony Capital for SGD$1.72 billion. The portfolio of assets owned by Raffles Holdings consisted of 41 hotels and resorts, with its most prominent establishment being the luxurious 103-suite Raffles Hotel. (I guess I did not pick up on this news at the time it was announced.)
At the time of the acquisition, Colony Capital chief executive Thomas J. Barrack said: "We are honored to become the custodian of one of the finest hotel chains in the world and a true national treasure of the people of Singapore. We deeply respect the historical significance of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore and we consider it our responsibility to protect that legacy."
In 2006, Colony Capital teamed up with a Saudi businessman to buy Fairmount Hotels and Resorts in a deal that resulted in Toronto-based Fairmount Raffles Hotel International becoming the new owner of Raffles Hotel.
On 8 April 2010, The Straits Times reported that a Qatar sovereign wealth fund has bought Raffles Hotel for US$275 million (S$384 million), making it the third change of ownership in seven years.
This morning, 14 January 2012, I read in the Straits Times that “Singapore’s grand old dame Raffles Hotel is finally in the hands of its new Qatari owners” - the government-owned Qatar National Hotels Company.
Though I feel a sense of loss upon reading today’s Straits Times article, the fact is, that the horse bolted out of the stable seven years ago.
Still, questions nag my mind:
- How could parent company Temasek Holdings consider it alright to sell away “Singapore’s grand old dame”? There is only ONE Raffles Hotel and it is of historic and sentimental value to Singaporeans.
- Did Singapore need the money badly that we had sell off our heirloom and heritage? (To my understanding, people sell off their family jewels in times of war or crisis, out of necessity, in order to survive their hard times.)
- Have Singaporeans benefitted from the proceeds of the sale of Raffles Hotel in 2005? More hospital beds? Better care facilities for our elderly? More affordable housing for Singaporeans? Higher subsidies for education? Improvements in public transport?
I suppose it is pointless to lament the loss of Raffles Hotel. The next time I talk about Raffles Hotel to my foreign friends, I have to remind myself that Raffles Hotel does not belong to Singaporeans, so I have nothing to boast about.