SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): In one of the strongest signals that the country is committed to reopening and returning to life in a world with Covid-19, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and promoters Singapore GP on Thursday (Jan 27) announced a new seven-year deal to continue hosting a Formula One race here.
With international travel showing some signs of recovery, the agreement is the longest renewal with the Formula One Group - the previous ones were between four and five years. The longer runway is intended to help reposition Singapore again as a business and lifestyle destination and ensure the country maintains its competitive edge in the long term.
The last two night races were cancelled due to the pandemic while last year's edition was the last of the four-year extension signed in 2017. Singapore Airlines' title sponsorship also ended last year.
The latest contract is from 2022 until 2028 with this year's race scheduled for Oct 2 at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
S. Iswaran, Minister for Transport and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, said: "Even as we deal with the immediate challenges of the pandemic, it is important that we focus on our recovery and long-term growth. The Singapore F1 race continues to be a strong focal point for tourists, global events and business meetings.
"We have decided to continue hosting the F1 race for another seven years, after thoroughly evaluating the long-term benefits that a term extension could bring to Singapore.
"The renewal will help sustain Singapore's reputation as a global city with a vibrant lifestyle, attracting international visitors as travel rebounds, and generating business revenue and jobs for Singaporeans."
The joint statement also stressed that the stakeholders would work with the various government agencies to ensure the health and safety for all participants, staff, local and overseas fans and the community.
While three of last year's 22 races - in Italy, Portugal and Azerbaijan - were held behind closed doors, the rest proceeded with spectators in the grandstands. Some, like in Bahrain, Spain and Monaco, early in the year had reduced capacities before venues in Austria, England and the United States began welcoming full houses.
The majority of races required adults to be fully vaccinated and/or supply a negative test result though mask wearing and social distancing were loosely enforced.
Singapore has already hosted several international events in recent months. Last Nov 27 and 28, popstar JJ Lin performed in front of 2,000 fans each night at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands under vaccination-differentiated safe management measures which allowed concert-goers to sit alongside one another without the need for social distancing.
Two weeks prior, the Bloomberg New Economy Forum welcomed 300 international business and government leaders to Sentosa's Capella hotel, with strict testing requirements for delegates so as to allow for business networking.
And in December, Singapore received more than 500 foreign travellers - players, coaches, officials, sponsors and delegates from regional and continental football bodies - for the month-long, 10-team Suzuki Cup tournament with some games at the National Stadium drawing almost 10,000 fans.
The Singapore Grand Prix is on a different scale though.
The 2019 race, the last time it was staged here, drew a three-day total of 268,000 spectators - the second-highest after the 300,000 total at the 2008 maiden race.
Overseas visitors generally comprise 40 per cent of race-goers here and the race weekend contributes about $130 million annually in tourism receipts.
There have been 12 editions since 2008 and together, they brought more than 550,000 unique foreign visitors, contributing over $1.5 billion in tourism receipts.
The tourism sector has been battered by Covid-19. Last year, there were 330,000 visitor arrivals and an estimated $1.9 billion in tourism receipts - much lower than the 2.7 million arrivals and $4.8 billion in receipts in 2020.
It is also only a fraction of the 19 million visitors and $27.7 billion in receipts from before the pandemic in 2019.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry and STB fund 60 per cent of the $135 million night race costs each year, with race promoters Singapore GP footing the rest.
This year's race layout at Marina Bay will likely have to be tweaked though due to the planned construction of the NS Square, a new permanent space for large-scale national events which will replace the Float@Marina Bay. The new site, scheduled to start construction in March, will be completed by the end of 2025.
Last year's F1 drivers' championship was one of the most dramatic in recent memory, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen claiming his first world title at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, beating seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes under controversial circumstances.
In this year's provisional calendar released by F1 last October, it listed a record 23 races.
The 2022 season begins on March 20 in Bahrain. China will again not host a race for the third straight year due to the pandemic. Excluding the Middle East, there are only two races in Asia, Singapore on Oct 2 and the Japanese GP a week later.
As recently as 2013, there were six stops in the region - Malaysia, China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and India.