Local Footprints

by Wendy Long
02 Sep 2020

Portfolio’s resident columnist discusses how local brand support is the new defense against an invisible opponent.

In a post-circuit breaker ‘new normal’ world, at least till the end of 2020, the thought of traveling again will be like dreaming of a seat on Virgin Galactic – an unimaginable experience that seems light-years away. In place of a globetrotting and wanderlust vacation, we are all stranded on this island (Wilson! Wilson!) and will have to make the most of the situation. Perhaps that is why on a recent trip to Spago at the Marina Bay Sands, I found myself weaving through throngs of staycationers milling around the vast hotel atrium, checking into the hotel rooms, and making their way to the iconic rooftop infinity pool – just like what tourists will do on a regular day except that they are not tourists! It’s domestic tourism as the next best thing to leaving on a jet plane. Staycation is the new vacation, Sentosa is now our long weekend in Bali, and Capella is now our Como retreat.

While staycations still take some getting used to, it’s heartening to see a surge in demand and support for local businesses. At times like these, we can only depend on each other for both supply and demand. It’s a win-win scenario. This global pandemic exposed the interconnectivity of the worldwide community, which led to a deep inter-reliance that came to a complete detrimental stop when things went viral, literally. If we learned anything from this episode, it’s the importance of having a robust local infrastructure and support system because, as the Chinese saying goes, if your roof is falling, your next-door neighbor will be of better help than a far-flung relative.

That sentiment was clearly echoed by Michelin-starred restaurateurs who used to rely on travelling gourmands, making reservations the minute the reservation line is open, typically months ahead and catering to an international clientele who had flown thousands of miles just for a one-night, three-hour degustation dinner. Now that international travel is non-existent, it has completely turned the tables on the way these restaurants will have to adjust to the new reality. In a recent Vanity Fair article about what Swedish restaurants learned, staying open in a pandemic, Chef/owner Niklas Ekstedt of Michelin-starred Ekstedt in Stockholm, summed it up best: “What we’re experiencing now is that we have a brand-new clientele that has never been to the restaurant, a lot of whom live in the neighborhood. We’ve switched from being an international fine-dining restaurant to a local power-diner restaurant.”


"#Supportlocal is not just an economic hashtag; it’s a rallying cry for our patriotism as we come together to defend a reality that has come under siege from an invisible opponent."

It does not take rocket science to see why. Who else is going to walk through that door, pay for a meal, and cover next month’s rent? Well, it’s definitely not a foodie who lives across the ocean, waiting for border controls to be relaxed – and who knows, by then, we would have moved on to winter truffles, and what will happen to perishable summer inventories?

It’s the same predicament across all industries, especially those that had typically relied on tourists for at least 30-40 per cent of their revenues. Right now, the only pool of ready consumers is the local community. Never before has the ecosystem been so streamlined and linear.

As consumers, we should also do our part to support local businesses. After all, the vibrancy of any societies is measured by the local flavors that are representations of each society’s unique characteristics. Imagine Singapore without hawker centers and kopitiams? That’s akin to taking away our national identity.

On a macro level, we should render support to local enterprises now, including non-profit organizations, because who else is going to do so other than ‘our own people’ more than ever? We need these local enterprises to thrive as much as they need us for survival. Surely, as a nation, we can all be counted on to help a fellow countryman? #Supportlocal is not just an economic hashtag; it’s a rallying cry for our patriotism as we come together to defend a reality that has come under siege from an invisible opponent.

It still hurts to see our national icon Singapore Airlines and her fleet of Singapore-flag carriers grounded on empty tarmacs, next to once-bustling Changi Airport terminals, with barely a whisper of rolling luggage. It’s almost unthinkable to imagine her wings clipped for an extended period. While Singapore Airlines is not exactly a ‘local business’ in the standard economic definition, it certainly feels as local, if not more, as any other homegrown companies. When the time comes to take off once again, I’ll be booking my seat (on redemption or not) on an SQ flight because nothing spells victory like soaring with national pride.