Lion City shakes off prickly image in bid to boost tourism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 May, 2010, 12:00am

A US$1.46 billion scheme for tourism growth is bearing fruit in Singapore. In recent years the city state has shed its prickly image, launching casinos, theme parks, heritage hotels, fashion shows and other attractions.

After a US$5.5 billion casino resort opened on Tuesday, a revamped botanical garden, a river safari and a national art gallery are in the pipeline to help achieve the government's target of US$21.9 billion in annual tourism receipts by 2015.

'We are well poised to take off. This is only the beginning of our journey to become an international destination,' Ken Low, assistant chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, said.

Known as Tourism 2015, the S$2 billion (HK$11.34 billion) scheme was introduced in 2005 with the aim of having 17 million visitors and S$30 billion in tourism receipts in 2015.

Low said the stereotype of Singapore being a boring and prickly place could not be further from the truth.

'Because of the banning of chewing gum and the caning of Michael Fay, the media had a field day, but they didn't come to see the city,' he said. 'Life here is actually relaxed, casual and open-minded.'

Michael Peter Fay is an American who was sentenced to caning in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994, when he was 18.

Las Vegas Sands Corp opened parts of the world's second most expensive casino resort, the Marina Bay Sands, on Tuesday. Some 36,000 people visited the resort in the first 24 hours following the opening. On February 14, Malaysia's Genting Group opened the US$4.4 billion Resorts World Sentosa, the first casino resort in Singapore.

The world's fourth Universal Studios theme park, costing over US$1 billion, opened at Resorts World on March 18.

A botanical garden with a history going back over 100 years is being revamped and is scheduled to reopen next year. A river safari, featuring creatures from famed rivers such as the Amazon and the Nile, is slated for opening in 2012.

The National Art Gallery, housed in two heritage sites, the City Hall and the Supreme Court buildings, is scheduled to open in 2013 with the biggest collection of Southeast Asian art.

Low said a trend of revitalising historic buildings is forming in Singapore, where plenty of heritage sites show a rich colonial history.

Hong Kong's Sino Land spent about S$400 million, excluding land costs, to develop a prime waterfront area featuring historic buildings, known as the Fullerton Heritage precinct. Four buildings, the oldest built in 1900, have been or are being turned into hotels and restaurants without losing any of their historic value, with two new buildings erected alongside.

To promote Singapore as a fashion hub, the government has launched the Asia Fashion Exchange. The annual event, held last week, featured a festival, summit, trade show and design contest.