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Giant pandas for a tiny country

Jeannie Lim

Jeannie Lim, Executive Director for MICE at Singapore Tourism Board, updates ITCM on the island’s attractions

I met Jeannie Lim on the Singapore Tourism Board stand at EIBTM 2012 I Barcelona. I asked her what was new on her island and her news couldn’t have been more up-to-date. ‘From this very day, today’, she replied, ‘Kai Kai and Jia Jia can be seen in Singapore’. This was what you might call big news, because Kai Kai and Jia Jia are giant pandas, kindly loaned for 10 years by China to add to Singapore’s visitor attractions.

Singapore is a tiny, tiny country that knows how to think big. The giant pandas are just the first part of a mammoth project which is modestly called River Safaris. It will come into operation in the first quarter of 2013 and will feature eight of the world’s longest rivers. These are, alphabetically, the Amazon, Congo, Ganges, Mekong, Mississippi, Murray, Nile and Yangtze.

River Safari is in essence a 30-acre river-themed zoo created at a cost of S$180m (about £90m or US$145m) with the aim of welcoming about 800,000 people per annum.

Jeannie, who is the Executive Director of the STB’s MICE Division, explained further: ‘There will be river cruises and the ambience will change according to the particular river theme and visitors will be able to see wildlife and flora representing the countries in which those rivers flow. This new zoo, the first of its kind in Asia, will be additional to the Singapore Zoo, the Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari, which are all very popular with visitors’.

Singapore has always been a very vital and prosperous trading and interlining hub and as such a central location for international exhibitions and conferences. For some years it has been building up its own visitor attractions so that more and more days are being spent by delegates and tourists seeing what Singapore has to offer outside the hotels and venues.

Jeannie mentions, of course, the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix. ‘It is the only F1 circuit that is a night race in a city’, she says. ‘Tourism brings in S$22bn, but is still only 5% of GDP. We are aiming to grow this to S$30bn by 2015. International events are an important part of our strategy. There are 7,000 regional corporate HQs based on the island and many global companies see Singapore as a very valuable central location from which to keep in touch with opportunities in the rest of Asia. That is why our exhibitions and conventions attract so many delegates.’

Singapore, it has to be remembered, is a valuable hub for Asian as well as Western business and tourism. ‘As many as 70% of our visitors nowadays come from neighbouring Asian countries. Our Number One source is Indonesia, which has a large and growing middle class eager to travel outside their country. Airline connections from Singapore have extended to all the big cities of Indonesia, not just Jakarta. ‘The same’, Jeannie goes on, ‘can be said of the Philippines and Vietnam.’

Not only are the international hotel numbers growing, with additions such as a new W and an imminent Sofitel, but cruise business is developing rapidly. ‘A new cruise terminal has added two additional berths for the largest cruise ships and Singapore is now an important home base for ships, not just a port of call.

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