Tourism makeover

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am

There is one thing about the Singaporean authorities: they always put their money where their mouth is. More than a year ago, the Economic Review Committee (ERC) identified the tourism sector as a key industry for the future of Singapore, which currently contributes 10 per cent to gross domestic product, and warned that if the island state did not 'substantially reinvent' its products, its share of the tourist market could slip

So in recent months, several well-known attractions have been revamped, while new ones are being dreamed up. While Singapore lacks the historical monuments of Thailand or the jungles of Borneo, there are still plenty of things to do to keep you occupied for several days, even though the image of 'nothing to see, nothing to do but shop' is hard to shake off.

The jewel of the attractions is undeniably Singapore Zoo, one of the best open zoo concepts in the world. But even the famous night safari has been dusted off, with the recent opening of a S$3 million (HK$13.6 million) amphitheatre with a 40-minute jaw-dropping show, featuring a more interactive format (in line with a general recommendation from the ERC) where animals are brought closer to visitors. If you have ever wondered about the leopard's hunting skills, howling wolves and prowling hyenas, this is the place to go. Well, apart from the wild, of course.

Meanwhile, the lesser known, but still well-worth-seeing Jurong BirdPark is planning to open a walk-in aviary with 1,000 birds in June, to try to boost its falling visitor numbers. Rainbow Valley will feature several species from the parrot family, all brought in from South Africa. The park has high hopes that this new addition will increase its visitor numbers by up to 3 per cent.

But while it might be relatively straightforward to increase numbers at already successful attractions, it may be another matter at ageing ones which have fallen by the wayside and have got a poor reputation. A case in point is the Haw Par villa, the local theme park for Chinese mythology, with garish statues of frightening creatures to give children nightmares.

The Singapore Tourism Board has just paraded around town the 'tiger car', a replica of the outrageous circus-like Buick vehicle with a huge tiger's head on the bonnet made in the 1920s to promote the Aw family's Tiger Balm ointment (the original owners of the villa). In itself, the car is unlikely to bring back people, but a new jade museum, featuring the family's private collection, will help.

But for real results, the authorities will have to wait for the opening of the Hua Song Museum, a new attraction documenting the history of overseas Chinese. This project will cost S$7.8 million and is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

Chinese tourists are the fastest-growing group in Singapore, and the authorities are especially mindful that they need to provide for them. The museum will be located next to the Har Par villa, so visitors are expected to spill over.

Beyond the Chinese tourists, Singapore is also trying to appeal to a younger, cosmopolitan crowd with more thrill-seeking aspirations than a quiet family day out.

A reverse bungy was recently launched on Clarke Quay, propelling those brave enough 60 metres upwards at speeds of up to 200km/h. The Big Splash, with its giant water slides, has already seen some renovations and its private operator is now considering injecting S$30 million for further improvements.

Whether all those improvements will bring in more tourists remains to be seen. But for now the big beneficiaries are the people living here.