EVEN as destinations in the Gulf follow in Singapore’s footsteps, whether by creating a hub such as Changi Airport, or by putting the focus on shopping, Asia’s original melting pot continues to innovate to stay ahead of the pack.
TTN’s KEITH J FERNANDEZ caught up with Ke-Wei Peh, area director, Middle East & Africa, Singapore Tourism Board for a quick interview. Excerpts:
What can Middle Eastern tourism learn from Singapore?
The tourism sector plays an important role in Singapore’s economy, contributing about three per cent to Singapore’s GDP and provides 150,000 jobs. Our tourism sector has indeed come a long way since 1964 when we welcomed some 91,000 visitors. Four decades of remarkable growth later, Singapore is a thriving, well-established and internationally-renowned destination.
However, given the potential for tourism globally, many cities in the region such as Dubai, Shanghai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong are busy re-making themselves to win the tourism dollar. Singapore must do the same and more if we want to remain competitive and attractive as a destination. In view of this, the Tourism 2015 blueprint was launched in 2005, setting ambitious targets for the tourism sector – to achieve S$30 billion ($18.8 billion) in tourism receipts and 17 million visitor arrivals by 2015. The government has also set aside S$2 billion in the Tourism Development Fund to invest in tourism infrastructure, upgrade the capabilities of the tourism workforce, seed development of major attractions and attract major events into Singapore. Recent events include the 117th International Olympic Committee Session in 2005 and last month’s Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which brought 16,000 delegates to our shores
What are your arrivals expectations for 2006?
Singapore has seen strong growth in the tourism sector in recent years with record highs in terms of visitor arrivals in 2005 (8.9 million) and 2004 (8.3 million). Tourism receipts in 2005 were an estimated S$10.8 billion, 10 per cent up from 2004. In 2006, Singapore aims to attract 9.4 million visitors, or six per cent more than 2005. [The target for tourism receipts is S$12 billion].
What percentage of these comes from the Middle East? You’ve launched several new programmes for tourists in the region?
The Middle East is an important emerging market for Singapore; and visitor arrivals from the region have been on the rise in recent years. In 2004, Singapore welcomed 68,000 Middle Eastern visitors, 15 per cent more than 2002. The growth in the number of Middle East visitors to Singapore was sustained in 2005, with a 3.8 per cent year-on-year growth. The first six months of 2006 saw a strong 23 per cent increase over the same period in 2005.
As part of our efforts to encourage more visitors from the region, STB recently launched a new Muslim Visitor’s Guide with essential information on annual events, cultural districts, major shopping areas and vital advice for Muslim tourists, such as a list of Halal-certified restaurants. A new Arabic language version of the Visit Singapore website features online updates of new attractions and festivals.
What are your plans to promote Singapore to the Middle East in 2007?
In line with Phase Two of our brand launch, Beyond Words, which focuses on the unique experiences in Singapore, we will step up our efforts to attract more Middle East visitors to events such as the Singapore Food Festival, Great Singapore Sale, Festival Light-ups and Christmas in the Tropics by collaborating with the key travel trade partners to develop customised travel packages. STB Dubai will also organise more consumer events such as Singapore Food Promotions to build our profile as a top-of-the-mind destination. We continue to tap into growth opportunities for business events, as well as the healthcare and education segments.
What new source markets are you looking at within the region?
The UAE will remain our largest market, with Saudi Arabia and Iran as the other two top priority markets. We will also intensify our efforts in Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
Although visitors know otherwise, in the popular mind Singapore is a dynamic, evolving destination. Are you working on changing that with your communication?
Singapore has much to offer other than just being a top-of-mind shopping destination: from landmarks and memorials to themed parks, gardens and nature reserves, theatres and museums, restaurants to shopping malls and chic boutiques.
STB is continually enhancing our events calendar and entertainment options by anchoring the world’s best brand names in entertainment in Singapore, such as working with major players like MTV, WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) and London’s Ministry of Sound. Local establishments are also encouraged to spot trends and innovate their products to keep up with changing times.
Do you get a lot of MICE business from the Middle East?
Currently, more than 25 per cent of Middle East visitors travel to Singapore for business purposes (with MICE traffic contributing between three and four per cent) and this segment has been registering positive growth. Going forward, STB Dubai will allocate more resources to develop and nurture the BTMICE segment.
I’ve just returned from Singapore and there’s a tremendous tourism buzz about the Integrated Resorts, which will apparently bring in even more tourists. Tell me more?
The Integrated Resorts (IR) are envisaged to be large-scale iconic developments with a compelling mix of convention and exhibition facilities, themed attractions, entertainment and performance venues, recreation facilities, hotel, retail uses, encompassing a small gaming component, offering a multi-faceted experience. They are expected to boost Singapore's attractiveness as a destination and enhance our tourism appeal and reputation.
The IRs are also expected to contribute significantly to the economy. By 2015, the Marina Bay Sands itself is expected to generate an additional S$2.7 billion, or about 0.8 per cent, to Singapore's GDP. In addition, approximately 30,000 jobs will be created throughout the economy by 2015. The IR at Marina Bay incorporates significant MICE facilities to cater to business and MICE visitors, while the IR on Sentosa will be a world-class tropical resort that offers the whole family a fun and memorable leisure experience. Las Vegas Sands Corp have announced that the Marina Bay Sands is on track to be launched in 2009. The successful proposer for the IR on Sentosa is expected to be announced at the end of the year. It is expected to be opened within three or four years from the time of award.
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