Tourists visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.
SINGAPORE has to keep reinventing itself to keep pulling in repeat visitors.
But old can be tourism gold too, and maintaining a fine balance between the two will be this country’s challenge as it tackles slowing growth in tourist numbers, according to the chief of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
“You have to keep investing and innovating to make sure people don’t come just once,” said David Scowsill, president and chief executive of the London-based council.
He pointed to the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, which made its debut in 2008, and the two integrated resorts, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, which opened in 2010, as examples of newer attractions.
But Scowsill, who has more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry, warned against forgetting the lure of local heritage.
“If there was a mistake Singapore made, it was many years ago when it lost too much of the old parts of town. Buildings were going up and Chinese shophouses torn down,” he said.
Scowsill’s comments – made on the sidelines of WTTC’s global summit held in Hainan two weeks ago – come as Singapore’s tourism industry, which accounts for four percent of gross domestic product, faces the prospect of slower growth over the next decade.
Growth in visitor arrivals and tourism spending last year was the lowest since 2009.
A Singapore Tourism Board (STB) forecast projected that arrivals would grow between three percent and four percent year-on-year over the next decade, with tourism receipts tipped to increase between four percent and six percent.
Industry players agreed that many historical sites made way for infrastructure like public housing and schools.
This meant Singapore “has no choice” but to continually come up with new products so tourists would come back, said Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
But more could be done to market local culture and heritage to tourists such as promoting local cuisine on a bigger scale and getting tourists to visit old estates, with locals sharing what the places meant to them, he added.
The STB has been working to enhance ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown and Little India.
Historical buildings are also being revitalised. For instance, the upcoming Sofitel So hotel is being built on the former Ogilvy Centre, a conservation site, while the National Gallery Singapore will reopen next year housed in the former Supreme Court.
At the same time, Cheong said, Singapore must avoid another possible “mistake” – products aimed solely at visitors, such as the Singapore River cruises and trishaw rides, that do not help tourists understand the local culture and heritage better. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network