I caught up with Aloysius Arlando, Singapore Tourism Board’s Assistant Chief Executive for Business Travel and MICE during a hectic circuit of the show floor at last month’s ITB Asia in Singapore. While the show featured sellers from throughout Asia, Singapore was heavily represented and there was a full measure of excitement about developments in the Lion City.
“The perception out there is that Singapore is a nanny state,” said Arlando. “We first dealt with pragmatic needs, such as food, a roof and a job. We’ve got the basics in place and we now promote diversity. We’re in the process of opening casinos—we’ve come past being a nanny state.”
In the top 10 markets to Singapore, the U.S. ranks eighth. Sixty percent of visitors from the U.S. are business travelers and the meetings market. Twenty percent of these business travelers bring their children.
“While the corporate market from the U.S. is strong, the actual numbers of leisure travelers from the U.S. are comparatively small, although we love you—you’re high-spenders,” said Arlando.
Arlando notes that Singapore has a game plan in place. “By 2015, we hope to triple the tourism receipts and double the number of visitors,” he said. The plan was launched in 2006 and Arlando admits there have been challenges in meeting goals.
“There have been major bumps along the way,” he said. “Number one was the increase in oil prices, although airlines have been reducing the surcharge and partners are working for the good of all. A second bump was the financial turmoil. The question is how precarious the situation will prove to be. We also have concerns about whether the bailout in the U.S. will help.”
While the economic downturn is a real concern, Arlando points to Singapore’s fundamentals remaining strong. The country is proactive about reaching its goals, with new development, special events and marketing initiatives leading the charge. Arlando reveals that dual destination travel pairing Singapore with other countries will be powered by the interests of the visitor.
“Increasingly, travelers want a variety of experiences,” he said. “An ecotourist or diver could be paired with Malaysia, shoppers with Hong Kong, and Singapore’s beaches could be paired with Indonesian beach resorts.”
I asked Arlando what repeat visitors to Singapore can expect to find if they’ve been away from the Lion City for a few years or more.
“When they return, they’ll feel a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Forty percent of the population is foreign—the buzz and energy is totally different,” said Arlando.
Last September, Singapore hosted the inaugural Formula One night race, which was by all accounts a huge success. The country will repeat the event next year. Upcoming special events with international appeal include the Volvo Ocean Race, with Singapore being the first Southeast Asia stopover in the 34-year-old race. The fleet is scheduled to stop over in Singapore in late December and will call at the resort island of Sentosa and be based at the new, state-of-the-art ONE Degree 15 Marina Club. Singapore will then stage the second in-port race of the series; the first will be in Alicante, Spain.
Singapore will also host the first-ever Olympic Youth Games in August 2010. It’s predicted that the games will attract 3,500 athletes between the ages of 14 and 18, competing in 26 sports.
“The response to these events speaks volumes about the new Singapore and new development,” says Arlando. “The fact that we speak English makes it more convenient for travelers from the U.S. We’re Asia 101—come here first if you’re new to Asia.”