Tonight I’ve been asked to participate in a focus group that will be discussing Singapore’s tourist attractions. I’m not entirely sure if that is the topic as they don’t tell you what the focus group is about, but in the “qualifying” statements they listed:
- I am a foreigner who has lived in S’pore for at least 2 years
- I have hosted visitors from abroad
- There are aspects of Singapore’s culture that intrigue me
- I am NOT in the marketing / advertising and travel / tourism / hospitality industry
- I have been to most of these cities: Bangkok, KL, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai
So in preparation for this focus group, I’ve thought about what I like – as a foreigner – when it comes to tourist sites in Singapore and some areas in which I think the Singapore Tourism Board should think more about.
1) Promote Little India
I know most locals seem to hate the place. Mention Little India’s appeal and their first response is, “Have you seen it on a Sunday??” Yes, I have. It’s like one massive street party with a smattering of Bengali, Sri Lankan, South Indian, and Nepalese culture. What’s that? A Buddhist temple near a Hindu temple? Awesome. Bright colors scream out from the stalls, the smells of spices and fragrances are everywhere, and when I walk along Dunlop Street or Desker Road I can marvel at a part of Singapore that is still a bit raw. When I have visitors, a nice walking tour is:
- Start on Waterloo Street & Middle Road – walk down Waterloo past the Hari Krishna temple and the Buddhist temple.
- Head into Little India. Cut through Rochor Centre before Little India and it’s a nice contrast from a Chinese enclave to the Indian one.
- Drop by Post Museum – see an exhibit, drink some organic wine (actually don’t – that stuff is nasty – but their other drinks are good)
- End up at Mustafa. Eat.
2) Sell on Unique
Build or develop interest in things that make Singapore unique. Example – Attraction-wise: Night Safari. That is unique. (or at least it was – and it’s still the best night-time zoo experience). Concept-wise: Singapore is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and British culture. Leverage it. Small country, big city… it might not be unique for shopping, the beach or nightlife, but show me how I can get the best of all 3 in a very short time. S’pore is easy to get around, I won’t get stuck in (much) traffic, so I can overwhelm myself with activities.
Wait, I just realized that Singapore’s tagline is Uniquely Singapore. Then we go and do things like build the Singapore Flyer. What was the point of it? Taiwan, UK, China, elsewhere… all have “observation wheels.” I wonder if there has been a single tourist that said,”I want to visit Singapore to ride the Flyer.” It’s not a draw.
Fun things to do:
- Get some kaya toast, runny eggs, and kopi for breakfast
- Head to Sentosa – lay on the beach. Or if you’re so inclined, check out a museum / attraction
- After enough sun, relax at Cafe del Mar or come back for a drink at Raffles Hotel (and a stroll around City Hall). Take a nap.
- Go to the Night Safari. Eat dinner there (even though they price gouge you – seriously 5 dollars for lime juice??)
- Still have energy? Go to Clarke Quay.
3) Nightlife as a tourist attraction
I’m ambivalent about this. I think the redevelopment of Clarke Quay was a positive and the combination of nightlife spots such as Clarke Quay, Dempsey Hill, Robertson Quay, etc. make Singapore a top place for night time fun. I can see that people come to Singapore and know they will have fun.
However I disagree with ideas such as the Crazy Horse debacle (I wrote a column once on how quickly that would fail) or Supper Club (what I consider the Singapore Flyer of nightlife). Generally, dinner is dinner and a show is a show. Dinner + show w/ trapeze artists or topless girls = gimmick. And gimmicks don’t last.
For a big night out:
- Start at Robertson Quay or Dempsey. Both have places to “ease” into the night with drinks and dinner. Loof would be another good choice.
- Move over to Clarke Quay for the variety and larger rowdier crowd. Drink profusely. On a sidenote don’t go to Le Noir because their customer service is atrocious. (I can never resist voicing my disdain for Le Noir and Supper Club). I suppose if you’re more Chinese-nightlife oriented you could head to St. James Powerstation instead of Clarke Quay.
- Zouk is always good late night.
- And the best part – a greasy supper at Spize. Get a chicken murtabak and you just might have enough left over for breakfast the next day.
For a sleazy night out:
- Substitute the Zouk portion above with any KTV with hostesses – if you have some money to burn, go to Tiananmen. As a westerner this will be guaranteed humorous as you will have no idea what is going on.
For a super-sleazy night out:
- Add in a stop to Orchard Towers. “Four Floors of Whores” And remember to check if that’s really a girl who is grabbing your merry-maker.
But remember, always eat supper and drink some water!
4) Singapore as a shopping destination
I understand why STB wants to promote Singapore as a shopping destination. It makes money, it’s good for the economy… get the rich tai-tais from Indonesia to come here and spend their money. My issue with it as a focal point is that promoting Singapore as a shopping destination does not increase the country’s cultural reputation. Some other place puts on a sale or builds a bigger mall and boom – there goes Singapore’s tourism campaign.
I don’t know why there is such promotion of Orchard Road as the place to see. A string of shopping malls. How exciting. You know what other cities promote themselves by using shopping malls as attractions? Manila and Dubai. These are not cities that Singapore should mimic when it comes to tourist satisfaction.
At the focus group tonight (I started writing this before the focus group), they played a video that was supposed to highlight Singapore attractions. You know what one of the scenes was? The front of the Bvlgari store. Videos promoting a country’s tourist industry should not include nonsense like the Bvlgari logo. Last I checked the brand did not originate in Singapore and I can buy their stuff anywhere in the world. I did have a chuckle that it was right after the testimonial by Koreans about how they enjoyed Singapore when they showed the logo.
But fine, if shopping beckons:
- Orchard Road for the standard shopping mall experience. At least eat some ice cream bread sandwiches on the street
- See if there’s anything quirky you can find at Bugis Village
- Stroll down Haji Lane and feel uncool cause everyone else there is young and hip. Have a coffee at Pluck.
- End up at Sim Lim Square and buy electronics. :)
5) Chase the pink dollar
That’s right – convince the gay community to come vacation in Singapore. Apparently from 2001 – 2005 Singapore flirted with the gay community… allowing large-scale parties such as Nation to be held – one party drawing 8,000 people, 40% of which were foreigners. However in 2005 the government rejected the application for Nation ‘05. The party then moved to Phuket and whimpered out.
Bring the reputation of acceptance and the pink money back. If the happiest place on earth allows it, Singapore should too.
(Written on the HP Mini 1000 while eating at Don Pie Club @ China Square. Now my new keyboard has chicken pie grease on it. I guess this is like a road test).