APRIL 7 ― Eighteen million people visited Singapore last year. The highest number in history.
That’s a staggering number; over five visitors for every single citizen, and 25,000 visitors for every square kilometre of our nation.
Of course, you do have to take into account that some people visit multiple times and that many are really just transiting through but no matter how you look at it, Singapore gets a lot of tourists.
These visitors spent over S$27 billion (RM81 billion) in 2018 ― making tourism a significant revenue earner for the country.
It's all very impressive for a country not really blessed with any natural attractions.
White sandy beaches, spectacular mountains, ancient sites ― we have none of these. Instead we’ve used creativity, connectivity, diversity and development to lure visitors to our shores.
Attractions like Sentosa Island, Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay ― and many others ― have been created and built from scratch.
You can’t overstate the role played by the government, relevant authorities and businesses in placing Singapore firmly on the world’s tourism map.
Impressively, the country has pivoted in terms of its image and appeal to visitors over the years.
Back in the 60s and 70s, it was exotic Asia. Later it became a shopping and dining paradise and then a destination for family education and entertainment.
Recently we’ve seen a focus on high end entertainment, gaming and luxury.
The pivots and reinventions are testament to a strong product ― but for all the positives, there have been some warning signs.
Despite a record number of visitors, tourist spending did not really increase between 2017 and 2018.
So people aren’t spending more and as rents rise and the cost of living spikes, Singapore isn’t quite the cheap shopping paradise it once was.
A night out on the town is not for the light spender and increasingly for shopping and a bit of a party, you’ll get better value in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City or even KL.
But that doesn’t mean Singapore is losing its edge ― it’s just moving on to another phase.
Today Singapore is reinventing itself again. Selling its futuristic skyline, its functionality; blade-runner (without the dysfunction) and a plethora of Michelin starred restaurants.
The essence of tropical and modern with new walkways, parks, redeveloped islands and investments creating an increasingly diverse array of attractions.
Hike into the jungle in the morning, brunch with a view at midday, sailing in the afternoon and “live” music in the evening.
Families, couples, business travellers, solo tourists ― there is something for everyone but there is also a long way to go.
Singapore today is competing not so much with Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as it is with New York, London and Tokyo ― and we need to admit that in the big leagues, we remain a work in progress.
To match the night life, the diversity, the subcultures of the world’s major cities, Singapore needs to offer visitors reasons to come back again and again.
Neighbourhoods, theatres, clubs and bars that are attractions in themselves. And a lifestyle and image that is unique to the city and desirable around the world.
A Londoner, a New Yorker; we all think we know what that means, and what that stands for.
It's also not contingent on citizenship. People who have been in New York for years but aren’t Americans still call themselves New Yorkers.
So, what’s the Singapore equivalent?
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.