Thursday, December 07, 2006

Big Singapore Tourism Bet

The Singapore tourism engine will be firing on all cylinders in the next few years as part of the plan to boost tourist arrivals to 17 million from 9 million in less than a decade. The 9-million mark was reached yesterday amidst much fanfare, according to the ST report today.

(Picture Source: The Straits Times, Singapore)

Dec 7, 2006 Tourism booms as arrivals hit nine million
By Krist Boo & Lim Wei Chean
BLEARY-EYED Russian tourist Elena Vladykina was taken aback by the orchid garlands and noisy drumming and dancing that greeted her on her 6am arrival at Changi Airport yesterday.

Then she realised she was being welcomed as Singapore's nine-millionth visitor -- a sweet ground-breaking number that caps a year of new records for Singapore's tourism industry. Last year, the island received 8.9 million visitors.

Yesterday, there was much to celebrate for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), whose senior executives turned up at the airport to welcome Dr Vladykina, 29, after her 14-hour flight from Moscow. She was whisked off in a limousine with $35,000 worth of hotel, shopping and other vouchers.

It took Singapore just two years to leap from eight million to nine million visitors, said STB's assistant chief executive for leisure, Dr Chan Tat Hon.

The seven-millionth visitor was welcomed in 1995, but it took almost another 10 years before the eight-millionth showed up in 2004.

The tourism Singapore target now seems a tad conservative if the two integrated resorts and casinos -- Las Vegas Sands' Marina Bay and Sentosa -- can achieve their targets.

The next big news will be the decision on the winner of the Sentosa project -- widely expected to be made tomorrow -- to help achieve the Singapore tourism goal. All three bidders -- Genting-Universal, CapitaLand-Kerzner and Eighth Wonder -- have each promised to deliver more than 10 million extra visitors to Singapore.

And there is still last-minute lobbying, as seen in two letters published in ST today, by fans of the two front-runners for the Sentosa IR project -- Genting-Universal and CapitaLand-Kerzner.

A Genting win will benefit Singapore
I REFER to the articles, 'Harry's Island at cinemas worldwide?' (ST, Nov 30) and 'Free nightly show, says Eighth Wonder' (ST, Dec 1).

Having resided on both sides of the US continent for seven years, I wonder if Eighth Wonder or, for that matter, Kerzner-CapitaLand can attract the tourist numbers that Singapore wants.

Very often, visitors would want me to spend time with them at Disney or Universal Studios and, to a lesser extent, Six Flags or Sea World. Hardly anyone would care to visit Getty Center, Guggenheim, Atlantis or, for that matter, the Volcano at Las Vegas.

Most would want to have a fun day for themselves and their families at Disney and Universal Studios. Not many would want to get wet. Hardly anyone would want to gawk at architecture.

At Disney and Universal Studios, you can see their smiling faces, and feel their excitement. Universal Studios is a very recognisable name.

Genting's partner, Star Cruises, the third largest in the world, could use Singapore as a hub for their guests.

The other two contenders lack this and an attraction like Universal Studios. Can you imagine Universal Studios and the cruise business going to one of our immediate neighbours? Disney may or may not come in later.

If Genting wins, Singapore wins - if tourism is what Singapore values.

Lau Chee Kian

Go for the iconic, avoid the insipid
I REFER to the article, 'Sentosa IR race: Who will win?'' (The Sunday Times, Dec 3). I find the writer's take on which bidder will be selected to develop the Sentosa integrated resort very economical and safe.

No doubt, this approach has worked well in Singapore many times. It will give us a resort that is packed with features, economically optimised, comfortable to most, but insipid and hardly iconic.

The decision this time round is like no other. In our quest to be a truly global city and our search for the 'wow' factor, we can afford a little risk, trade a little function for aesthetics, economics for uniqueness, and familiarity for icons.

Hence, my choice would be Kerzner/CapitaLand's bid. Where else in Asia can one find another Frank Gehry work and a robotic wonderland?

This is not only 'magical' but will also appeal to a wider group of people and be more sustainable in the long run than a football school, a cooking school when we are hardly a culinary capital, a marine research institute far away from the ocean, maritime museum or another ultra-large hall.

To attract the tourist numbers the Singapore Tourism Board hopes to achieve, we need more than just the Sentosa IR.

We can have the 'usual' theme park at Marina East, collections of boutique hotels at the Southern Islands, celebrated chefs /restaurants doting the city and perhaps another Request for Proposal for the central promontory.

Let's see the Sentosa bid not as a single commercial decision, but with the perspective of recreating Singapore.

We need to seek for Sentosa what we could not have done in another site in Singapore, and bearing in mind that an offering like Frank Gehry's is available only this time round.

Ong Phui Luong

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