TOURISM IN SINGAPORE

Tourism revenue soared 49 percent to US$14.8 billion as visitor arrivals grew 20 percent to 11.6 million in 2010, the Singapore Tourism Board said. The sharp rise was largely thanks to the opening of the city-state's first two casino resorts in 2010.

In 2005 Singapore welcomed some 8.9 million arriving visitors, not counting Malaysians who entered by land across the Jahore Strait. Most visitors to Singapore in 2005 came from Indonesia (20.3 percent), China (9.6 percent), Australia (6.9 percent), Japan (6.6 percent), India (6.5 percent), and Malaysia (6.5 percent; not including those arriving by land). In 2007, 9.7 million history visited Singapore, according to the Singapore Tourism Board. Indonesians and Chinese made up 33 percent. American and Britons, 9 percent. In 2000, 7 million foreign visitors traveled to Singapore, almost twice the city-state’s population and more than visited Japan. The money generated from tourism that year was $7.2

Singapore is aiming to be both a popular tourist destination in its own right and hub for travelers on their way elsewhere in Asia. Singapore has more convention and conference and capacity than Hong Kong. In one survey on Conventions it ranked No. 1 in Asia, No. 6 in the world (Hong Kong was 10th). Theme parks and amusement areas in Singapore earned US$67.3 million in 1994, a ten-fold increase from 1984.

The Singapore government tourism boards has tried a variety of things to attract visitors including special deals for seniors and conventioneers and offering incentives to Singaporean citizens to invite their overseas friends. Millions of tourists each year come to Singapore to take advantage of the country's duty free shopping.

Over three quarters of the visitors to Singapore are from other Asian countries, with Chinese, Indonesians, Malaysians, Japanese and Taiwanese at the top. In recent years, more tourists have been coming from India, Thailand and South Korea as those countries have become richer. There are also large numbers of Europeans, Americans, Aussies and Kiwis.

In the early 2000s, tourists from China were given a 96 hour visa only after turning over a $714 security deposit. One million Japanese tourist visited Singapore in 1996, spending $2.2 billion. Of the 6.4 million visitors to Singapore in 1993, about 300,000 were Americans, an increase of 7 percent over 1992.

According to a 1996 survey of 46 Asia-Pacific cities by the Hong Kong-based Business Traveller the top four cities were 1) Sydney, 2) Vancouver, 3) San Francisco and 4) Singapore. The rating was made by 1,000 completed questionnaires filled out by business travelers in the region who have an average income of $110,000.

As for Singaporean tourists, half of Singaporeans travel overseas each year. They have traditionally bought their share of luxury goods. Asian market for French luxury goods (1996): 1) Japan (50 percent); 2) Hong Kong (15 percent); 3) China (7 percent); 4) Singapore (6.5 percent); 5) Taiwan (5 percent); 6) Australia (4.5 percent); 7) South Korea (4 percent); 8) Thailand (1 percent); and Other (5 percent).

Development of Tourism in Singapore in the 1980s

Tourism has been an important sector of Singapore's economy for more than a decade, averaging 16 percent of total foreign exchange earnings and 6 percent of GDP between 1980 and 1985. Tourist arrivals had dropped sharply in 1983, however, the first decline in over twenty years. The decrease resulted both from the regional and world economic downturn at that time and from travel restrictions instituted by neighboring countries to preserve their own foreign exchange. Observers noted also that Singapore was losing its "oriental mystique and charm." In its effort to build a modern city, it had torn down old buildings and curtailed traditional street activities, aspects considered by tourists to be part of Singapore's attraction. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989 *]

In 1984 the government established a Tourism Task Force to recommend ways to attract more visitors, and the following year the budget of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board was increased by 60 percent. Steps were taken to preserve areas of special architectural, historical, or cultural interest. Sentosa Island, off the southern coast, was developed as a resort and recreation center, complete with museums, parks, golf courses, lagoons, beaches, trails, and gardens, all connected by monorail. Singapore also began billing itself as the "hub of Southeast Asia" and marketing sidetrips to destinations in neighboring countries. As with other economic activities, tourism was viewed as a high value-added industry. Although increasing the absolute number of visitor arrivals was the main target, a further aim was to attract the high-spending, business visitors attending conventions and trade exhibitions, which Singapore hosted in large numbers. *

Tourist arrivals recovered quickly from the 1983 downturn, reaching 3 million in 1985. In 1987 tourist arrivals reached 3.7 million, a 15 percent increase over the previous year. In 1988 arrivals rose another 14 percent to nearly 4.2 million. Singapore's top tourist-generating markets in 1987 were ASEAN (29 percent), Japan (15 percent), Australia (9 percent), India (7 percent), the United States (6 percent), and Britain (5 percent). Although a building boom had caused a glut of hotel rooms in the mid-1980s, by early 1989 occupancy was running at about 80 percent. *

See SARS Under Health and Disease. Also See Recreation

Safe But Dull Singapore Seeks to Change Image

In August 2005, Reuters reported: “If one thinks of Singapore, safe but dull are likely to come to mind. But the government is trying to cast off this image by building casinos and exotic venues to entertain tourists and lure lucrative business travelers. Despite boasting one of the world's top-ranked airports and impressive convention entrees, industry experts say the country -- which bans the sale of chewing gum and Playboy magazine -- stumbles when it comes to the fun factor. "Singapore has the image of being boring and authoritarian. For business travelers, it's like visiting your parents rather than going to somewhere fun," said Patrick Wilkerson, Regional Brand and Business Development Director of ad agency Leo Burnett. Wilkerson, who has helped neighboring Thailand sell itself to tourists, said Singapore must overcome its unexciting image if it wants to attract more business travelers. Such visitors contributed S$2.4 billion ($1.45 billion) to the country in 2004, or 30 percent of total tourism revenue. [Source: Reuters, August 19, 2005 ^*^]

“Competition is intensifying as other Asian cities boost their infrastructure -- Singapore has about 36,500 hotel rooms but Shanghai and Bangkok already have about two times that number. Convention and incentive travel is key to the government's plan to triple tourism revenues to S$30 billion by 2015. Tourism is increasingly important for the tiny island's $110 billion economy as it loses more manufacturing jobs to low-cost neighbors. "Whether it's attracting larger events such as the Olympic meeting or smaller industry conventions, it's all about creating jobs," said CIMB-GK Goh Economist Song Seng Wun.^*^

“Once described as "Disneyland with a death penalty" by science fiction writer William Gibson, Singapore has taken steps in recent years to rectify its reputation for being bland, allowing bar-top dancing and street busking. Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told a gathering of conference operators last month the state was ready to "break the old mould" to become one of the world's top meeting places. ^*^

“Singapore, which only lifted a ban on the risque U.S. television show "Sex and the City" last year, will also soon have its own branch of Paris's Crazy Horse cabaret, famous for its erotic nude dance performances. "We're all human -- we would all like to attend events in places that have prestige or glamour," said Sophie LeRay, Managing Director of naseba, a Monaco-based events organizer. But she added that Singapore's predictability is a strength in these uncertain times. While neighboring Thailand and Indonesia have suffered militant attacks, the city-state has remained unscathed. "Singapore's drawbacks are the usual cliches that you can't smoke, can't chew gum and you can't jaywalk here. But once people arrive here, these cliches disappear," she said. ^*^

Singapore’s Effort to Attract Conventioneers and MICE

In July 2005, Reuters reported, “the International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore, where London was chosen as host for the 2012 Olympics, received a few barbs for its televised finale. A British newspaper said the show scaled new heights of kitsch. But the event, seen by about one billion people worldwide, highlighted its ability to stage big business gatherings. Singapore was ranked sixth for the number of international meetings hosted in 2003, after Paris, Vienna, Geneva, Brussels and London and ahead of Barcelona, Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome and New York, according the Union of International Associations.[Source: Reuters, August 19, 2005 ^*^]

“The only Asian destination among the top-ranked cities, Singapore aims to lure more such gatherings, known in industry jargon as "MICE" travel -- Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions -- to its shores and hopes this kind of travel will see average growth of 15 percent per year in the next decade. "We want to grow this portion because the MICE visitor spends more than the average tourist," Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Lee Boon Yang, told Reuters. ^*^

“MICE visitors made up 26 percent of Singapore's 8.3 million tourist arrivals in 2005 and the country wants this portion to rise to 35 percent by 2015. Like other business travelers, MICE visitors typically spend two or three times more than leisure tourists. On average, business travelers fork out S$1,500 ($904) to $1,800 per trip, figures from the Singapore Tourism Board show. ^*^

Singapore's reputation for efficiency has attracted a series of high-profile events, including July's IC meeting, the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Asia Security Conference in June and the World Economic Forum in April. In September 2005 it hosted 16,000 delegates for the six-day annual meetings of the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group. Larger still will be Asian Aerospace 2006 in February, expected to draw 27,000 visitors.

American Theme Park Designers Find Work in Singapore

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “To round up talent to build Universal Studios' newest theme park in Singapore, chief designer Kevin Barbee didn't look far from his Wilshire Boulevard office. After all, Southern California is a hive for independent designers and other creative types who perfected their craft at Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and others. But with the U.S. economy struggling, veterans like Barbee are packing their bags for Asia, one of the few sources of steady employment for purveyors of pixie dust these days. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2011 /+\]

“Universal Studios Singapore, which officially launched in May 2011, after a soft opening in 2010, is positioned to capture travelers from Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China. The park's operator, Resorts World Sentosa, projects 4 million visitors this year. In southern Malaysia, a massive new development will include a Legoland that's scheduled to open in 2012. /+\

“Steve Ryan, an L.A.-based industry veteran behind the live shows and thrill rides at Universal Studios Singapore, said his work there is opening other doors in Asia. "When I got back to L.A., the phone started ringing off the hook," he said. "I now have a project in Beijing to build a retail and dining district with a couple anchor attractions." /+\

“While many elements of U.S.-style theme parks have been instant hits overseas, Barbee said others are acquired tastes. Universal Studios didn't anticipate that visitors at its Japanese park would be so timid during rowdy live shows. "We decided we had to warm them up so we'd throw out a beach ball into the crowd and made them do the wave," Barbee said. In Singapore, visitors often complained about the gut-wrenching twists and dives on the Revenge of the Mummy and Battlestar Galactica rides. "It turned out many people didn't know what a roller coaster was," Barbee said. The park had to post warning signs and install TV screens showing what the attractions would do.” /+\

Raffles Hotel 'sold for $275 Million

In April 2010, it was announced that Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel has been bought by a Qatar sovereign wealth fund for US$275 million. Esther Teo wrote in The Straits Times, “Qatari Diar - the principal real estate entity of the Qatar Investment Authority - has purchased the historic property in Beach Road from current owner Fairmont Raffles, a Toronto-based luxury hotel chain, according to an Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National. Fairmont Raffles has about 100 hotels under the three brands of Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel in 24 countries. [Source: Esther Teo, The Straits Times, Reuters, April 8, 2010 |::|]

“Canada's hotel chain Fairmont Raffles said it would sell new shares equivalent to 40 percent of its capital to affiliates of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund as part of a $847 million deal to fund the firm's global expansion. Fairmont Raffles' biggest shareholder, private Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding, had announced earlier on Monday that the hotel chain had agreed to sell the stake to Cayman Islands-based Voyager Partners Ltd and Qatari Diar, which is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority. |::|

“The deal will mean Kingdom Holding, a main shareholder in Citigroup Inc , will see its stake in the unlisted hotelier diluted to 35 percent from 58 percent, the hotel chain's chief executive, William Fatt, said on Monday. Fairmont will get US$467 million in the stake sale, another US$275 million from the sale of Raffles Hotel which the Qatari investors have agreed to buy by early 2011 and US$105 million in promised management contracts, Fatt said. |::|

New Casinos Make a Big Splash and Boost Tourism in Singapore

The opening of two casino resorts in Singapore payed off quickly, attracting over a million visitors a month within six months after they opened. "Let there be no mistake about it, the legalisation of casino gaming in Singapore was always intended to be a part of an enhanced tourism strategy for the country," said Jonathan Galaviz, a Las Vegas-based expert on Asian gaming. "The development of multi-billion dollar integrated resorts in Singapore is clearly paying off for the country, and they will continue to do so for at least the next decade," said the managing director of Galaviz & Company. [Source: Martin Abbugao, AFP, August 29, 2010 >>>]

Martin Abbugao of AFP wrote: “Singapore's tourism board said the city-state, which has a population of just five million, welcomed one million visitors in July, thanks in large part to the pull of its new man-made tourist attractions. As well as the casinos, Singapore's euphemistically named "integrated resorts" also offer theme parks, high-end shopping, hotels and convention halls. Analysts say Singapore understood the importance of casinos in a broader context -- not just as a means to lure the high-rollers but as part of a strategy to stay competitive as a travel destination and a "global city". The $4.4 billion dollar Resorts World Sentosa, built by Malaysia's Genting Group, opened in February 2010. It boasts Southeast Asia's only Universal Studios theme park, among other attractions. The 5.5 billion dollar Marina Bay Sands, owned by Las Vegas Sands, started operations in April 2010. Its iconic building, consisting of a boat-shaped "skypark" perched atop three 55-story hotel towers, is the newest jewel on the city's glittering skyline. >>>

“Founding father Lee Kuan Yew said the government had been "against casinos for decades" and "refused offers of seedy casinos from Macau." But officials changed their position after seeing how the casino industry developed in Las Vegas, which offers Broadway hits and fine-dining restaurants featuring some of the world's famous chefs. >>>

“Revenue figures from the two Singapore casinos paint an upbeat picture. Resorts World Sentosa said it generated revenues of 636.5 million dollars in the three months to June. Net profit came in at almost 300 million dollars for the quarter. The Universal Studios theme park has attracted about 8,000 visitors a day and hotel occupancy rates are an estimated 70 percent. Marina Bay Sands declared net revenues of 216 million dollars in just its first 65 days of operation, with the casino accounting for 191 million dollars. Las Vegas Sands chief executive Sheldon Adelson said he was "gratified by the overwhelming reception the property has received". >>>

“Galaviz, the gaming consultant, said Singapore's total gross gaming revenue should reach 2.7 billion dollars this year, rising to 3.0 billion dollars in 2011. But he said this is unlikely to reach the levels in Las Vegas and Macau "if Singapore's market just remains at two casinos at their current size". Macau took in 14.5 billion dollars from gamblers in 2009, while casinos at the Las Vegas strip earned about 5.5 billion dollars. >>>

In February 2011, Associated Press reported: Spending by tourists in Singapore jumped by almost half last year as the opening of the city-state's first two casino resorts helped attract more visitors. Tourism revenue soared 49 percent to 18.8 billion Singapore dollars ($14.8 billion) as visitor arrivals grew 20 percent to 11.6 million in 2010, the Singapore Tourism Board said. Tourism Board Chief Executive Aw Kah Peng said she expects revenue and arrivals to grow this year. "We're on target to reach SG$30 billion in revenue and 17 million visitors by 2015," Aw said. [Source: Alex Kennedy, Associated Press, February 10 2011]

“About 80 percent of visitors to Singapore last year came from Asia, led by Indonesia and followed by China, Malaysia, Australia and India. The hotel occupancy rate rose 10 percentage points to 86 percent last year while the average room price per night jumped 12 percent to SG$212, the board said. Aw said one of the challenges to expanding the tourist sector is improving Singapore's customer service, which she called "uneven." "There are some good ones and some poor ones," Aw said. "Companies need to understand that customer satisfaction affects the bottom line." [Ibid]

Singapore’s New Casino Hotels Roll Out the Buzzers and Whistles

Jeremy Grant of Associated Press wrote: “To the uninitiated, a room in one of the “Ocean Suites” at Resorts World Sentosa looks and feels like any other hotel room. But at the flick of a switch, a window blind rolls back to reveal a floor-to-ceiling glass panel of an aquarium filled with manta rays and dozens of species of fish swimming past at eye-level. At S$2,400 (US$1,967) a night, the rooms, which opened for booking last month , are an extravagant finishing touch to a combined casino and leisure park that has been opening in phases on Singapore’s Sentosa island since 2010. [Source: Jeremy Grant, AP, January 7, 2013 ==]

“Resorts World is betting that new attractions such as its Ocean Suites aquarium hotel rooms – on top of Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park – will help reverse the downturn by attracting more tourists and thus casino players. Lim Kok Thay, chairman of Genting, says the “novelty effect” of gaming for local Singaporean gamblers has started to wear off but that “as we open more and more of our facilities that will definitely give us an edge as we market overseas . . . [and] will help on the gaming front”. ==

Singapore Casinos Slow after Opening Buzz But Still Generate A Lot of Cash

Jeremy Grant of Associated Press wrote: “Singapore – Asia’s second-biggest gambling hub by revenues, behind Macau – now faces a slowdown as a weaker Chinese economy and tighter restrictions on the number of Singaporeans allowed to gamble take their toll. In the third quarter, both Mr Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World saw their gaming revenues fall the most in about 18 months, down 28 percent and 20 percent respectively year on year.[Source: Jeremy Grant, AP, January 7, 2013 ==]

“Singapore’s two casinos generated gaming revenues of US$5.9 billion in 2011, according to Citibank, just behind the $6.1 billion earned by casinos in Las Vegas, the US gambling capital. But last year George Choi, a Citi analyst, predicts that Singapore’s revenues will have fallen back to $5.4bn. “They almost matched what Vegas did last year and that was a very big achievement for Singapore. The problem is we hit the peak last year and it’s reached a plateau,” he said. ==

“One reason for the fall has been a widening in June of a ban by the Singapore government on low-income citizens from using the casinos, amid concerns over the social side-effects of gambling addiction. Singaporeans, unlike foreigners, already have to pay an entry fee of S$100 just to walk through the casino turnstiles. ==

“Despite the slowdown, Singapore’s decision to embrace gaming after years of opposition on the grounds of perceived links between gambling and crime appears to have paid off, giving a lift to the domestic economy just when it has started to need it most. “Economically, it’s been a great success,” Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, told Bloomberg. “Socially, the impact has been about what we expected it to be. I think we did the right thing.” ==

The casino resorts are part of a government plan to diversify Singapore's economy toward services such as tourism and away from low-skilled manufacturing. “An official task force estimated in 2005 that casinos combined with theme parks and convention facilities would add 35,000 jobs and 1.5 percentage points to gross domestic product. The government recently estimated that casinos contribute 1.5-2 percent of GDP and employ 22,400 people at the two resorts, with thousands more employed in ancillary services. ==

Gambling has also generated new revenues through taxes levied on gaming, amounting to 2.2 percent of total government operating revenue. Casinos have boosted tourism, with arrivals growing 8 percent in the second quarter to almost 3.5m – a figure equivalent to two-thirds of Singapore’s population. That generated about S$5.5 billion in revenues, a rise of 4 percent on a year before. Wai Ho Leong, senior regional economist at Barclays, and a former member of the task force, says: “Casinos have played a pivotal role in changing the Singapore experience for visitors. We are no longer losing out on our regional share of tourism.” ==

The prospects for Singapore’s casino industry are also clouded by the emergence of competition from elsewhere in the region and tighter restrictions looming on the use of so-called junkets – gambling tours organised by independent operators that help bring business to casinos. Fitch, the rating agency, says planned changes to the law governing Singapore’s gambling industry that would cap commissions paid to junket operators by casinos could crimp the “VIP” business that accounts for up to half of Singapore casinos’ revenues. ==

“Singapore’s initial success with casinos has prompted Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines to consider setting up or expanding existing casinos, putting more pressure on the city state to keep attracting high-rollers from the region. “The junket operators will be more reluctant to take VIPs to Singapore because they will get better returns elsewhere,” says Vicky Melbourne, head of industrials at Fitch. “Once Singapore opened up [to casinos] there was a lot more activity and interest in the region. That’s only going to increase.” ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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