Arelatively tiny island state, the Lion City (Singapura in Malay) has created a modern, dynamic economy that belies its size. Put into context, the total area of 710 square kilometres makes Singapore smaller than Kiribati and just above the Federated States of Micronesia in the list of countries by size. While you may not have even heard of the other two, Singapore has a global presence and reputation as a place for business and tourism.
With no natural resources to speak of, Singapore's strength was built on the foundations of trade. Singapore was a sleepy fishing port until 1819 when Thomas Stamford Raffles landed on its shores and struck a deal to develop the island as a trading post of the British East India Company. The port quickly became one of the most important in the region, and the island thrived on its trade and migrant workforce.
Since declaring independence from British colonial rule in 1965, Singapore has been a runaway success story, with the modern city built on the back of hard work and visionary development. Tourism plays a key part in this, with millions of visitors passing through the island's award-winning airport to visit the island or en route to Asia and beyond.
The ease of doing business and relative lack of red-tape, coupled with a diverse and talented workforce, have made Singapore an attractive Asian base for leading multinationals, while the foundations of a British legal and banking system have driven the island forward as a financial hub.
Singapore today is a gleaming modern cityscape with a bustling central business district adjacent to luxury, landmark hotels, cultural enclaves and stunning leisure and tourism offerings. Being small and successful also means the island is the second most densely populated country in the world.
Having suffered a number of sharp dips in the last decade due to global and regional factors, Singapore's economy is once again on the up. Indeed, in the first half of 2010, Singapore claimed to have the fastest growing economy in the world, with GDP growth of 17.9% (albeit following a sharp decline in 2009).
Singapore finds itself past the halfway mark in an ambitious 10-year expansion plan to double tourism numbers and triple tourism receipts. The targets were laid out by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 2005 and aimed for 17 million visitors spending S$30 billion by 2015.
In 2009, visitor numbers dropped below 10 million as a result of the global financial crisis, but renewed optimism and growth already saw nearly 8 million visitors in 2010 between January and August.
STB identified three key areas to strengthen the country's long-term appeal and to boost the economy - positioning Singapore as a leading conventions and exhibitions city in Asia, enriching the visitor experience, and establishing Singapore as a hub for education and healthcare.
The visitor experience, encapsulated by the STB slogan 'Uniquely Singapore', has benefitted from new attractions (such as the Singapore Flyer observation wheel), new resort developments (Marina Bay with its malls, soaring hotels and casinos) and the attraction of major events (the Formula One grand prix night race).
Investment in schools and further education establishments has boosted an already strong sector, while Singapore's established reputation for medical excellence has been further enhanced to attract medical tourists.
MEETINGS & INCENTIVES OVERVIEW
Part of STB's strategy involved attracting some of the world's most prestigious meetings events to Singapore, with examples being the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group in 2006.
The Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau (SECB) is the division of STB that was established to specifically promote business travel and business events.
SECB aims to create, grow, and attract business events that reinforce Singapore's reputation as a business and intellectual hub. It partners with organisers and other government agencies to leverage established strengths in key industries such as biomedical and healthcare, ICT and media, social, transport and security, lifestyle and cruise, environment and energy, infrastructure, business, trade and professional services.
SECB works with industry partners to create memorable experiences for their business events and for delegates.
It is a member of the BestCities Global Alliance - a collection of convention bureaus that aim to deliver the world's best service experience for meeting and event planners. The other premier destinations include Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Edinburgh, Melbourne, San Juan and Vancouver.
The appeal of Singapore for meetings planners is clear to see. This small island offers the facilities of a major global city with the boutique variety of a much larger and more disparate destination. You are never more than 30 minutes drive away from anywhere on the island, allowing for a varied programme of activities that are easily accessible. Beaches, shopping, golf, theme parks, world-class restaurants, nature parks and culture are all on the doorstep on the Little Red Dot.
The emergence of China as a commercial superpower has also boosted Singapore's attraction. In many ways the last Western-minded outpost heading East,Singapore is a natural stepping stone for those wanting to grab a slice of China's business while enjoying the familiar comforts of 'home'.
English is extensively spoken in Singapore and is the official language of business. The rich, multinational population offers a wide skill set for companies looking for an Asian base, while the airport and its connections mean that visitors are only a few hours away from all of the major commercial centres in the region.
Hotels play a major part in meetings and Singapore has a superb collection of business and leisure hotels all within close proximity. According to STB's Hotel Statistics Report, there are around 31,000 gazetted hotel rooms in Singapore, and through 2010 the occupancy rates remained around 85% with an average room rate of SG$210 (US$160).
With a low crime rate, notoriously strict anti-social behaviour policies and one of the most stable Governments in the world, Singapore is also a destination that will throw up few surprises for planners. The island is often 'accused' of being conservative, but that policy is an attribute in uncertain times.
In Suntec, Singapore has one of the best conference facilities in the region, if not the world. Centrally located and surrounded by Singapore's finest hotels within walking distance, not to mention malls and arts centres, delegates can easily reach Suntec within 20 minutes of the airport and not need to leave the vicinity for the duration of their stay.
Dubbed 'Asia's Convention City', Suntec Singapore offers direct access to 100,000 square metres of meeting space, 5,200 hotel rooms, 1,000 shops, 300 restaurants and a world-class performing arts centre. All of the facilities are interconnected and easily accessible via air-conditioned tunnels and covered walkways - precious in a tropical climate where heat, humidity and heavy downpours are a fact of daily life. Delegates are never more than a 15-minute walk from Suntec at the above-mentioned facilities.
Singapore's top hotels within the Suntec 'city' include Pan Pacific Singapore, Mandarin Oriental Singapore, Marina Mandarin Singapore, Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singaporeand Conrad Centennial Singapore, while Raffles and The Fullerton (arguably the city's crown hospitality jewels) are also nearby. Singapore Airlines, Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau (SECB) and STB all actively support the Suntec city ideal.
Suntec's Convention Halls offer the largest column-free meeting area in Asia, spanning 12,000 square metres. Flexible and multi-functional, the halls can accommodate up to 10,000 delegates in theatrestyle seating or 10,600 square metres of exhibition space. The exhibition halls can also be divided into four sections.
Singapore Expo is the largest purposebuilt MICE venue in Singapore and is located just five minutes from Changi International Airport and 15 minutes from the city centre by car.
With 10 convention and exhibition multipurpose halls, ten conference halls, and multiple meeting rooms, Singapore Expo can host groups of 30 to 19,000 delegates.State-of-the-art technology comes as standard, while facilities include prayer rooms, a business centre, concierge and Flavours East - 15 food and drink outlets offering a wide range of cuisine onsite for delegates.
If you're already familiar with Singapore then the newest meeting venue will surely impress. Intended to claim the crown as Asia's premiere exhibition and meeting location, Sands Expo and Convention Center has 120,000 square metres of floor space and can host the largest conventions of up to 45,000 delegates.
The impressive venue has the largest ballroom in Southeast Asia, able to accommodate up to 6,600 banquet diners or 11,000 delegates, while its flexible space also enables set-up of up to 2,000 exhibition booths and 250 meeting rooms. Located in the new Marina Bay area and part of the Marina Bay Sands, world-class accommodation, dining and entertainment are all under one roof.
For smaller meetings and gatherings, Singapore's fine portfolio of fivestar hotels have their own bespoke solutions and services. SECB can also assist in sourcing the right venue for planners' needs, ranging from small cocktail receptions in heritage buildings to state-of-the-art meeting rooms.
For meetings planners, Singapore couldn't get much better in terms of variety and accessibility of activities. The island is a unique mix of beaches, multicultural enclaves and world-class attractions, all just minutes away from the CBD.
Sentosa, dubbed Asia's favourite playground, is an island resort connected to the main island by road, monorail and cable car. Enjoy watersports on the beaches or thrill rides at the Universal Studios theme park. There are 11 hotels and six spas on the island too, as well as the Sentosa Golf Club, home to the Singapore Open. Of Sentosa's many restaurants, the contemporary Italian Il Lido comes highly recommended.
On the banks of Marina Bay at the mouth of the Singapore River, the Singapore Flyer is the world's largest observation wheel, standing 165 metres tall. As well as breathtaking views of the soaring skyline, the Flyer has special 'flights' Ð tailor-made hospitality packages including transport, dining and your own VIP capsule.
Smaller groups can tour Chinatown in a trishaw (rickshaw), seeing all of the sights, having a meal in a Chinese restaurant, visiting the bustling Night Market and ending the evening with a cruise along the river.
Considered one of the best in the world, Singapore Zoo has an incredible selection of animals housed in superb habitat enclosures. A humid day out, the zoo also offers popular night safaris which are ideal for evening activities.
Singapore has a number of top-class golf courses, with the best being the Sentosa Golf Club and the Marina Bay Golf Course, which is open to the public. Night golf is also available at Marina Bay. The stunning, new Marina Bay Sands is a landmark hotel built in the Marina Bay area. As well as international theatre and shows, a major attraction is Singapore's first casino at this Integrated Resort (IR).
No trip to Singapore would be complete without a trip to the famous Raffles Hotel, where groups can partake in the signature Singapore Sling cocktail invented in the Long Bar.
Culture lovers will also enjoy a trip to Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay, also in the marina area. Affectionately referred to as the armadillo due to its unusual architecture, the theatres and galleries host a varied programme of events and are surrounded by waterfront restaurants and bars. Down river into the city, Boat Quay has an atmospheric collection of bars and restaurants, especially catering for tourists looking for the famous Singapore chilli crab. Clarke Quay on the opposite bank is more dynamic, featuring nightclubs and trendy F&B options.
The city is dotted with quality spas and salons, with many of the best located on Sentosa. For something unusual, the award-winning Spa Botanica is Singapore's first destination spa. Offering both indoor and outdoor treatments and rituals in lush surroundings, Spa Botanica ranks amongthe world's best urban spas, with mud pools, waterfalls and meditation labyrinths.
Fish Reflexology offers a twist on the foot spa, with small fish nibbling away at dead skin. Probably more enjoyable and less macabre than it sounds, the fish are followed by human therapists to add a more traditional finish.
Amara Sanctuary & Resort's Spa And Wellness Centre is located in a conservation building in the gardens and also offers the world's first Mongolian spa.