World leaders paid their respects to Singapore’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, when he died in March this year.
In his lifetime, Yew witnessed remarkable changes to this city-state since its creation in 1959.
The island nation had an unusual start in life. After gaining autonomy from Britain, Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya in 1963. However, the country was expelled in 1965 and started out on its own – with a forward-thinking, long-term attitude from the beginning, which has seen it become a highly successful global trading post, with one of the world’s busiest seaports.
This dynamic outlook becomes apparent when you land at Changi airport. With a profusion of lush green foliage, glass and marble, award-winning Changi is almost palatial compared to many international airports. Built on reclaimed land at the furthermost eastern point of the diamond-shaped island, it can operate 24/7 without disturbing residents, and has helped make Changi a leading global aviation hub – particularly for Singapore Airlines.
As the carrier’s regional vice-president for Europe, Subhas Menon, puts it: “Singapore has an incredibly limited home market, meaning our only recourse has been to develop an extensive, efficient and expanding network through the world-class hub that is Changi, with the result that the airport is integral to our business. We’ve worked very closely with them over the years to jointly develop passenger traffic.”
Vivian Choo is the Singapore managing director for travel management company ATPI. She, too, cites the key role played by the airport. “With the investment in Changi, a third runway, and the opening of terminal four in 2017 plus terminal five in the mid 2020s, Singapore is becoming known for its easy access and modern air transportation. The geographical location of Singapore has played a significant role in terms of driving international business travel to the region.”
A short drive – around 25 minutes, traffic permitting – along the pretty tree-lined East Coast Parkway brings you to the impressive skyline of the city centre, and another key factor in Singapore’s progress: a choice of industry-leading hi-tech venues, and a plethora of upscale international hotels.
One of the most iconic images of modern Singapore is the glittering 57-storey three-legged table that is Marina Bay Sands. The Las Vegas Sands Corp development includes the Expo and Convention Centre, and the numbers here are as spectacular as the view from the 150m table-top infinity pool: 120,000sqm of space, 250 flexible meeting rooms, expo capacity for 2,000 exhibitor booths, a ballroom for up to 11,000 delegates theatre style, 2,500 guestrooms… you get the picture. Depending on availability, up to 1,600 rooms can be block booked as part of a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) package deal. And far above the expo halls and meeting rooms are spectacular events spaces on the table-top Skypark, from private dining to receptions for up to 500 on the observation deck.
ATPI’s Choo says world-leading design and technology at Singapore’s venues help bolster its “strong reputation in the Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions sector”. Evidence of this can be seen at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. On my visit, the first thing to catch my eye is a personal greeting: the BBT logo appears over swirling graphics on the 664-screen high-definition video wall – the world’s largest. Then I notice that when visitors ride the escalators flanking this, they’re accompanied by cartoon images that glide up the screens alongside them – triggered by sensors. These can be bespoke to your brand or event. Intelligent tech permeates Suntec’s six levels and more than 40,000 sqm of events space: the latest in stage lighting and sound; programmable LED ceilings that can display moving logos; rich digital signage to guide delegates; and free wifi that the venue claims can handle up to 6,000 devices at once. Full-size articulated lorries can drive directly into the expo halls – even on the sixth floor – enabling faster, more cost-efficient set-ups and get-outs.
At Singapore Airlines, Menon says the carrier has seen a significant increase in Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions traffic in the past decade, driven by factors including world-class facilities, a “pro-business approach” and Singapore’s emergence as a leading financial centre.
He cites some interesting figures. “In 2013, Singapore was voted Asia’s Top Convention City for the 12th consecutive year by ICCA [the International Congress and Convention Association],” he says. “And according to SECB [the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau], 2013 saw business travel and Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions visitor arrivals hit 3.5 million, with an estimated expenditure of S$5.5 billion [£2.73 billion].”
Menon says Singapore Airlines is also proactive in encouraging Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions traffic, offering benefits including special Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions fares and freight rates, complimentary tickets for organisers, and extra baggage allowances. He adds that the airline is currently running, in partnership with the Changi Airport Group, a cash incentive of S$35 (£17) per Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions passenger travelling via Changi until September 2016.
ATPI’s Choo draws attention to the Business Events in Singapore scheme, supported by the Tourism Board: eligible Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions bookers can get funding for up to 70 per cent of ‘qualifying costs’, which include third-party professional services, content development and marketing.
Scale and success
Founding father Yew’s brand of what The Guardian termed “authoritarian pragmatism” attracted criticism during his decades in power, for restrictions on the media, free speech and political opposition. But no-one denies his epic achievement in building a nation.
The title of one of his books perhaps best sums up the scale and success of his tiny country’s ambitions as a global player: From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000. At Yew’s funeral in March, his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, told mourners that in London, celebrated architect Christopher Wren is buried in his own masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. “Mr Lee Kuan Yew built Singapore,” said Loong. “To those who seek his monument, Singaporeans can reply proudly: ‘Look around you’.”
• Singapore Airlines is rolling out its new premium economy product on the London LHR route in August and from Manchester in September. singaporeair.com
• Gardens by the Bay Opened in 2012, this 101-hectare horticultural attraction has a range of spectacular indoor and outdoor events spaces and activities, including the 38m-high climate-controlled glass Flower Dome. gardensbythebay.com
• Capella This Foster and Partners-designed luxury boutique hotel on Sentosa Island overlooks the South China Sea and has a range of stylish events spaces for up 500 theatre-style.capellahotels.com
• Swissotel has two properties in Singapore: the Stamford, which includes a convention centre with 27 events spaces totalling 6,500 sqm; and the smaller, 476-room Merchant Court. swissotel.com