SINGAPORE – Singapore’s tourism industry and the integrated resorts posted sterling performances in 2010, as the world economy emerged from the worst of the recession.
But record numbers aside, the year was also not without some controversy.
At Resorts World Sentosa, a roller-coaster ride was grounded for not being safe enough.
While at Marina Bay Sands, facilities which did not work as they should at its first major event left a client, the Inter-Pacific Bar Association, fuming and led to a series of lawsuits.
Still, visitors kept coming, and so did the money. In Q3, Marina Bay Sands posted receipts of S$631 million while Resorts World reported revenues of over S$732 million.
Aw Kah Peng, Singapore Tourism Board’s Chief Executive, said: “The IRs are still not complete yet…there’s still plenty of construction going on, so we do expect the two IRs to continue opening different parts of the entire resort in the next year or so. And that will continue to generate excitement.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also gave the resorts his vote of confidence at the People’s Action Party Conference in November.
“One of the reasons that the economy is doing well is because the IRs have been a success, literally millions of tourists are coming, visiting the IRs and spending time in Singapore and we are expecting 12 million tourists in Singapore, which is going to be a record,” PM Lee said.
However, the IRs’ success have also increased concerns over gambling problems. Beyond reports of eye-popping multi-million dollar losses at the tables, there were many more gamblers whose families bore the sting of their addiction. By September, authorities had received over 2,500 applications for self-exclusion orders, of which 9 in 10 were made after the casinos opened. Another 194 Family Exclusion Orders were issued. Amid some criticism that the approval process took too long, authorities are looking at how to speed things up.
Also in September, bus services running to the IRs from the city centre and the heartlands were scrapped over worries that they made gambling too easy.
On the aviation front, headlines were made in November when a Qantas A380 plane, carrying over 450 people and bound for Sydney, made an emergency landing at Changi Airport after a mid-air engine failure.
A day later, another Qantas plane – this time a Boeing 747 – was forced to turn around after an engine caught fire minutes after take-off.
The incident prompted Singapore Airlines to inspect its own fleet of 11 A380s.
But while it will replace the engines of three planes following recommendations by engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, it will stick by its order for more of the planes. SIA added that its A380s are put through an inspection programme to ensure safe operations.
Julius Yeo, Consultant for Aerospace and Defence Practice at Frost and Sullivan, said: “The main impetus for them to push for the orders with the A380 is purely business, because the SQ is a legacy airlines, and legacy airlines they are looking for international flights outside of Singapore. A380 being the biggest plane, they have the capacity for SIA to enhance their growth internationally.”
On the whole, analysts said 2011 will be an interesting year for tourism.
“It’s quite a promising I think segment at this juncture. It is extremely competitive because every other country around us are also trying to boost hospitality, they have aggressively stepped up advertising campaigns as well but I think as long as the region attracts more visitors – we will see them in Singapore, be it for business or just for fun,” said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB.
The improving economy also spurred a 10-month string of record-breaking visitor arrival numbers, beginning from December 2009.
The Singapore Tourism Board expects visitor arrivals to hit a record 12 million this year, with tourism receipts of up to S$18.5 billion.