In 2017 ASEAN attracted 125 million international visitors, making it one of the fastest-growing tourism regions in the world. The culturally-diverse, food-haven metropolis of Singapore is at the heart of this explosive growth, featuring iconic attractions Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa.
Over the past decade, four of the tourism sector’s most valued performance indicators – visitor arrivals, hotel occupancy rates, tourism investment, and business travel spend – have all been on a steep upward curve across Asia, propelling the region to the top of international market growth charts.
Situated at the centre of this explosive growth – quite literally – is Singapore, conveniently laying as it does within a seven-hour flight radius of half the world’s population. Ranked as Asia’s most competitive tourism and aviation hub by the World Economic Forum, the island city-state is not only recognized by the travel trade for its cultural diversity and exceptional attractions – making it a world-class destination in its own right – but also as a strategic gateway to the rest of the region.
“Singapore is planning for increased tourism and doing a good job at that,” says George Tanasijevich, CEO of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. “Terminal Four recently opened at Changi Airport and it will increase the capacity of tourists that can come through Singapore. The ability to bring the people in is going to be enhanced. The infrastructure that’s in place is constantly evolving and improving here.
Of all the geographical zones that comprise the vast continent of Asia, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has perhaps the greatest potential for tourism development, explains Melissa Ow, Deputy Chief Executive of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
“Apart from it being historically rich, the cultural aspects and the heritage aspects of the region are probably second to none in terms of diversity,” she says, highlighting that there are 37 UNESCO World Heritage sites to be found in Southeast Asia, including the spectacular Singapore Botanical Gardens
“Last year alone, the region attracted about 125 million international visitors – a figure that has actually grown some seven per cent in the last decade – and generated more than $93 billion in tourism revenue. If you look at what that means in terms of how it translates into outcomes, you can see that it ASEAN is today one of the fastest-growing tourism regions in the world.”
When looking at Singapore individually, the growth witnessed during 2017 was record breaking. Both tourism receipts (up 3.9 per cent to S$26.8 billion) and visitor arrivals (up 6.2 per cent to 17.4 million) attained all-time highs for the second time in two years, with the city’s top markets originating from high-spending counties such as China, South Korea, the United States and United Kingdom. Over the next ten years, the STB does not expect the sector’s expansion to let up.
“What you will likely see is that this pace will continue given all the interest that the region attracts,” says Ms. Ow. “It is estimated in the latest World Travel and Tourism Council report that tourism in Southeast Asia will grow significantly to more than 200 million visitors and generate about $250 billion by 2028. That is a phenomenal growth for a collection of ten nation states.”
Within Singapore, a major part of the government’s overall tourism strategy that aims to capitalise on this growth and enhance its destination appeal further still, are its so-called Integrated Resorts (IRs). IRs, of which there are currently two, have been defined by the STB as “distinctive world-class developments offering a comprehensive range of amenities such as hotels, convention facilities, theme parks, luxury retail, and fine dining.”
So conspicuous are these glamorous resorts – both in terms of their dominating presence on the city skyline and their socio-economic impact since opening in 2010 – that they have quickly become synonymous with Singapore amongst tourists and residents alike. Marina Bay Sands, a 2,561-room hotel, casino and exhibition center, is today one of Asia’s most iconic buildings, distinguishable by the 1,220ft Sky Park and infinity pool – the world’s longest – that rests atop three 55-storey towers.
Singapore’s other IR, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), is the third most expensive piece of property ever built, costing a staggering $6.59 billion. This premium lifestyle destination resort is situated on Sentosa island just off the south coast of the city, and features a host of facilities including a casino, a Universal Studios Singapore theme park, an Adventure Cove Waterpark, and the S.E.A. Aquarium which is home to one of the world’s largest oceanarium.
The CEO of RWS, Tan Hee Teck, attempts to put the massive impact of this mega resort into some perspective. “We, as RWS, account for one third of foreign visitor arrivals to Singapore,” he says. “We are very proud of that and we will continue to grow our offerings here, with a focus on family attractions. As a family destination, we hope to build even more hotel rooms. We’re already running at 91 percent occupancy year-round, which means by any normal hotel standards, we are totally full.”
At its mammoth capacity – covering 120 acres, six hotels with 1,600 rooms – RWS is the biggest private sector employer in Singapore, providing jobs for 13,000 staff.
“The government has been very supportive from the time we started construction until today. They are probably one of the most efficient in terms of bureaucracy, both in terms of a law and regulation standpoint. Any investor wants to know that their investments are safe and that the rules and regulations are stable. In that sense, it’s good for the investor, but it’s also good in terms of the visitor. Singapore has always prided itself being one of the most secure, safest countries in the world.”
While Singapore may indeed be one of the safest places to visit anywhere – it recently ranked second on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index, coming in just behind Tokyo – it could simultaneously rank as one of the most awe-inspiring, if such an index existed. Besides the pristine streets, stunning skyscrapers and world-class attractions – Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa among them – Singapore has a sprinkle of glamour that you’d expect from one of the globe’s most cosmopolitan metropolises. Unsurprising then that Singapore has become a hot stopover for overseas celebrities, with major international events being held such as the Formula One, glitzy movie premieres and a packed concert calendar.
“I have been coming here for over 20 years,” says David Beckham, the world-famous soccer star and Global Ambassador for Marina Bay Sands. “It has changed so much during that time in terms of the hotels, the restaurants…everything! But the people have always been the same: they are incredible. People in Singapore are genuine, kind and honest. I think that’s why people love to come here. I love the food here too.”
Beckham is not alone. Thanks largely to its distinct cultural diversity – a melting pot of mainly Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Peranakan – Singapore has become one of the world’s best-loved foodie destinations. One of the break-out stars of the city’s thriving food scene is BreadTalk Group. Having revolutionized the bakery industry since 2000, BreadTalk prides itself on a blend of unique concepts that have envisioned new food cultures across its bakery, restaurant, food atrium and ramen outlet chains.
“We have a total of 10 brands under our portfolio,” says Group CEO Henry Chu. “For our business right now with close to 1,000 stores globally and more than 300 in Asia alone, we are learning with each new area we go into, but we see ASEAN in particular as a growing bloc with many opportunities.”
So successful has BreadTalk been in Asia, the group is now branching out with the goal of exporting its unique blend of cuisines and food concepts from east to west.
“As we venture out of Asia, looking at the United States, we recognize its strategic importance to the Group,” says Mr. Chu. “Our entry into the U.S. remains a mid to long-term vision. We will continue to research, tweak our strategies and improve our product mix to ensure that consumers in the states will be receptive when we open our first store there.”