Singapore Looks to Big-Ticket Events to Spur Tourism

From the Rugby Sevens to St. Jerome’s Laneway music festival, Singapore is turning to big-ticket events to drive tourism traffic, including to its two casino resorts and a new 55,000-seat stadium.

The Southeast Asian island is also creating clusters of attractions similar to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, to lengthen the stay of visitors and encourage them to spend more, according to S. Iswaran, who’s responsible for developing the tourism industry as Singapore’s second trade minister.

The city, home to an Asian leg of the Formula One series, posted its first decline in visitor arrivals since the global financial crisis as political turmoil in Thailand, aviation disasters and a slowdown in Chinese tourists damped travel in the region last year. The island is counting on events including the Women’s Tennis Association tournament to transform it into a standalone destination rather than an itinerary item on regional travel packages.

“It’s not our intention that we want to attract all the sort of low-cost, three cities in three days or two days kind of thing,” Iswaran said in an interview on Tuesday. “People are valuing the experience in a place like Singapore in its own right, which is a good thing.”

Singapore plans to move its 44-year-old Jurong Bird Park next to its zoo, Night Safari and River Safari in the North and add more attractions to the area, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post this month. The project will be carried out by the Singapore Tourism Board and state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte, he said.

Rugby Sevens

The city-state is seeking events such as the rugby IRB Sevens World Series for its S$1.3 billion ($955 million) Singapore Sports Hub after hosting the WTA final for the first time last year, Iswaran said.

Singapore was also the venue for the FINA Swimming World Cup for the first time last year, while the Formula One night race, which will include concerts by artists Pharrell Williams and Maroon 5 this September, has drawn some of the biggest crowds in the city in past years.

“The focus on events is potentially pivotal, we’ve not developed that to its potential,” said Wai Ho Leong, a Singapore-based economist at Barclays Plc. “Niche events should not be confined to sports, but a wider spectrum of activity -- from sports to luxury dining to specialist trade shows to hobby craft to music events to cruises.”

Laneway, which started as a music festival drawing 1,400 in Melbourne about a decade ago, expanded to Singapore in 2011. The event last month was sold out after reaching the 13,000 capacity in a downtown Singapore park with performances by FKA Twigs and St. Vincent, the organizer said.

‘Major Outlay’

To beef up its infrastructure, the government is planning a fifth terminal at Changi Airport that will be almost as large as the three existing ones combined. It will be a “major outlay” over the next 10 to 15 years with a S$3 billion development fund from the administration, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his budget speech on Monday.

The investment comes as Singapore’s visitor arrivals fell 3.1 percent to 15.1 million in 2014, the first drop since 2009, according to data from the tourism board earlier this month. The country had previously targeted 17 million tourist arrivals for 2015. Economic expansion also slowed to 2.9 percent in 2014 from 4.4 percent in 2013.

New Casinos?

The government has said its infrastructure planning is for the long term. Economic growth surged to a record 15 percent the year Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Genting Singapore Plc opened the doors to two multi-billion dollar casino resorts, spurring a 20 percent increase in visitor arrivals. Las Vegas Sands’s Marina Bay Sands houses the country’s biggest hotel and convention center, while Genting’s Resorts World Sentosa owns Southeast Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park.

The exclusivity with the two casino companies will expire in 2017, said Iswaran, declining to say if the government plans to open the city-state to more gaming operators.

“We haven’t crossed that bridge,” he said. The government has been focused on making sure that “economic outcomes have been met and continue to be met, and at the same time some of our social safeguard issues are adequately and consistently addressed,” he said.

Pinacothèque de Paris, the largest private art museum in Paris, will open its first venue outside of Europe in Singapore this year, while the National Gallery is also set to open in 2015. These will complement the existing infrastructure in the city, the minister said.

Alongside the facilities, events “are very important because if you start creating a very interesting and varied events calendar, that in itself is a driver of tourism,” Iswaran said. “We have to try and create reasons for people to come back, repeated visits, and then to extend their stay.”