Singapore tourism official: Resort brings diverse attractions

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
Headline Goes Here Resorts World At Sentosa

An aerial view of Resorts World At Sentosa

SINGAPORE - The chief executive of Singapore's Tourism Board spoke to Local 10 about the effects of the Genting Group's resort there, as the company plans to build a similar resort in Miami. 

"I suppose it started with us looking at ways to add new life to our tourism landscape, looking at how we could further enhance that which would be good for the country economically, that would bring good jobs and would add value to the economy," said Kah Peng Aw, chief executive of Singapore's Tourism Board. 

Kah Peng Aw met with Local 10's Christina Vazquez in a conference room at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore. 

The Tourism Board helped oversee the bidding process for what it calls integrated resorts. 

"Really is to say that we look at the entire resort as something that has many components but all pulled together in a way which made sense," Kah Peng Aw said.

One component is, of course, the company's cash cow, the casino. But each property also had to deliver an amenity the government knew it needed. 

Kah Peng Aw explained how in an area in Singapore known as Marina Bay, the government wanted more convention center space. Las Vegas Sands won that bid, opening the integrated resort Marina Bay Sands. Las Vegas Sands has already expressed interest in opening something similar in South Florida should state lawmakers grant approval. 

"So as an example, the integrated resort that we have at Marina Bay, which is called Marina Bay Sands, is focused very much on the business traveler because it has at very large MICE, meaning exhibitions and convention facilities, and yet while that is the heart of what they have, they have a good deal of retail, (food and beverage), obviously hotels, public spaces, a museum. When you look at all that in its entirety than rather than trying to name every component, you call it an integrated resort," Kah Peng Aw said.

Before approving gaming or issuing a gaming license, Singapore sent out a request for a concept. 

"In many ways, the concept of an integrated resort can have so many possibilities, meanings. So many people can take that simple idea and create concepts with it, and we just wanted to see what the possibilities were out there," Kah Peng Aw said.

Singapore's Sentosa Island was already a tourist draw for families with kid-friendly activities and sandy beaches. The government wanted to bolster that area with a theme park. The Genting Group won the bid and partnered with Universal Studios which is the star attraction of Resorts World Sentosa, its integrated resort on Singapore's Sentosa Island. Genting is now hoping to offer a "family-friendly" destination casino resort in Downtown Miami.

"The integrated resort on Sentosa was very much focused on the customer segment of families, " explained Kah Peng Aw. "In other words, if you look at where they are located, which is the island of Sentosa, that is already a place where families, whether they are Singaporeans or visitors, would go to spend time with their families. It's a nice place to be. It's extremely green. There are hotels. There are beaches. There are restaurants. There are things you can do with your kids outdoors. It was already in that kind of setting, so what Resorts World was presenting made a lot of sense."

Local 10 asked Kah Peng Aw why they decided to start with a request for concept before finalizing a decision on whether to allow casino gambling, to which she responded, "I suppose because we already started with the whole notion of an integrated resort necessarily meant there were many elements to look at, but then again there would be something to anchor them. So whether they decided to focus on a particular segment of the market, like families or the business traveler -- that made a lot of sense as far as we were considered -- then looking at all the different components that had to be put together in order for that proposition to make sense."

"Was there concern in the country about the casino aspect of these resorts?" Vazquez asked.

"Yeah, I think everybody knows what a casino is. They understand that there are downsides. There are issues that could arise if not properly managed, and then look at it on a net basis and look at what the upsides and the positives are, as well. So you know in this sense, it has to be taken in totality," Kah Peng Aw said.

It's been just over a year and a half since both of Singapore's integrated resorts have opened, and it is already a major tourist attraction. In the country's Chinatown neighborhood, visitors can spot T-shirts and refrigerator magnets showcasing both gaming and the integrated resort properties.

Kah Peng Aw said in the case of Marina Bay Sands, "it's had a lot of impact on tourism. As you can see it literally changed our skyline because of the whole structure of the entire resort."

"In terms of tourism, I think certainly it's brought broad ranging impact," she said. "It has created a lot of interest because people just wanted to know what the integrated resorts were. They wanted to come and visit. They wanted to see what it was about. Obviously, the interest that is created has also created effects across the rest of the tourism sector. Last year, our arrivals jumped quite significantly over 20 percent, but more importantly the spending by visitors in Singapore jumped very high over 50 percent. To be fair, it wasn't only the integrated resorts. We already have a very vibrant tourism industry, but I would say the integrated resort added more sparkle to it because we saw numbers going up double-digit rate across every sector -- meaning shopping, retail, (food and beverage), accommodations -- throughout the island, beyond the integrated resorts. As I said, they added new sparkle to our integrated landscape. We call it tourism spend or tourism receipts, meaning the amount of money that tourists would spend on Singapore when they were here, and last year it was $19 billion in Singapore dollars, which was a really high step jump from the year before."

The chief executive for Singapore's Tourism Board also explained why she thinks the two integrated resorts helped to boost tourism across the Island country.

"All visitors to any destination would never just go for one reason when they come here. They could be in a meeting, be in a conference and then spend some time with the family. They could eat in a restaurant, go shopping in a restaurant for a couple of hours. So it is hard to pigeonhole these people and say they came here just for the resort and did absolutely nothing else. It is not possible," she said.

Controversy and a fierce debate ensued when the Singapore government began to consider granting two gaming licenses.

The arguments may sound familiar to you. Detractors worried about the social cost of gaming to include personal bankruptcy, crime, prostitution and money laundering. Supporters said it would bring more jobs and revenue to the island. Plus, they added that gambling already existed in the form of horse racing and the lottery.

To alleviate concerns, the government mandated that the casino could not take up more than 5 percent of the entire resort.

Genting took it a step further, burying its casino in the basement and covering entrances with screens to ensure no one would ever spot a single slot machine.

To deter people of limited means from "frivolous" gambling, the government also imposed a levy. Singaporeans have to pay 100 Singaporean dollars for every 24 hours they enter a casino or an annual fee of 2,000 Singaporean dollars.

The money raised went toward a national campaign warning of problem gambling.

"Different measures were put in place to allow voluntary exclusions," said Kah Peng Aw. "People can sign exclusion papers to make sure if they feel they shouldn't be there they would not be allowed to be."

When Local 10 asked her if she thought Singapore's leisure and hospitality market could support two integrated resorts, she responded, "Well, we are certainly hopeful, certainly."

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