South East Asia: Singapore - Spicing up its image

While renowned for being Asia's top convention city, Singapore is now drawing attention to its range of incentive opportunities and its lively nightlife. Yasmin Razak reports. Jay-walkers, chewing gum addicts and fans of the pungent durian fruit perpetuate the myth that Singapore is a sterile city with arcane laws. However, scratching beneath its pristine veneer reveals a destination brimming with culture, incentive opportunities and excellent local service.

Indeed, Singapore oozes five-star appeal, as clearly demonstrated by its portfolio of hotels, which includes the Conrad Centennial, several Shangri-La properties, a Ritz-Carlton hotel and a Mandarin Oriental. The latter is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment and is scheduled to reopen in December 2004 with hopes of positioning itself as one of the destination's leading properties.

On the island of Sentosa, the Sentosa Re-sort & Spa is receiving a boost from its association, from June 2004, with the Small Luxury Hotels group. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the boutique market is growing with the whimsical Hotel 1929 on Keong Saik Road and the Scarlet, which are both due to open by the end of the year.

Singapore's service and accommodation have combined in the past to make the destination Asia's number one convention city - a move that has delighted the team at the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Sales and marketing director James Papineau points to a significant increase in enquiries from all market segments. "Asia is the world's fastest growing region and we are right in the middle," he says.

However, these developments have done little to quash the perception of Singapore as a conference-only destination. But the STB is hopeful that its latest global campaign, Uniquely Singapore, may encourage buyers to take a fresh look at an established destination and its incentive opportunities.

Fantastic nightlife

Pitching Singapore as an incentive destination means getting over an unfortunate perception that has dogged the city for years. Assertations that the city is dull or has little to offer pleasure-seekers are fiercely rebuked by the tourist office, and some agencies from the UK also rally to the destination's defence.

H&A Motivation managing director Frank Macaluso says: "Boring is a term that is not applicable to Singapore. The river and Boat and Clarke Quays have given it great cachet and the new Esplanade is a fabulous theatre, while nightlife along Orchard Road and Mohammed Sultan Road is fantastic."

The city's nightlife is winning plaudits, with clubs and bars creating a relaxing ambience for groups of all ages.

"Singapore is building a reputation as a safe place to party and let your hair down," says Detours Asia product director Colin Koh. Furthermore, he believes the night markets and renowned hawker stalls selling tasty local food such as morsels of chicken rice, roti prata and pepper crab are ideal for groups to explore at their leisure.

Pushing Singapore's incentives sector should be an easy task with numerous and varied options on offer, such as private tram rides, a day at the races at Singapore's stylish Turf Club with its capacious hospitality boxes and trekking through the primary rainforest in the Bukit Timah nature reserve. Other possibilities include breakfast with the orangutans at Singapore Zoo, touring the heritage buildings and upcoming venues such as the Arts House and exploring the ethnic pockets that still exist within the city, such as Little India, China Town and Arab Street, particularly when the festivals are on.

Indeed, the opportunity to discover Singapore's cultural attractions and inject a real sense of fun into a conference is readily available for groups who decide to take a fresh look at the Lion City.


BUSINESS TRAVELLERS: set within the sprawling Suntec complex, the Conrad Centennial offers 509 guestrooms with wireless broadband internet access. The dedicated floors for business travellers have personalised in-room registration while on the executive floors, delegates can visit the lounge for breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails and enjoy two hours' complimentary use of the conference rooms.

HISTORIC BACKDROP: an extensive renovation from 1989 to 1991 has restored Raffles Hotel to its former glory, and alongside the courtyards and verdant gardens are function areas. Concierges are present in the 18 staterooms in the business wing and delegates can unwind in the reading room and Raffles Inc. Lounge.

SPA TREATMENTS: Sentosa Island, Singapore's leisure haven, is home to a stylish spa retreat. The 214-room Sentosa Resort & Spa boasts a two-storey conference centre catering for up to 400 people, and outdoor events can be held in the impressive grounds where roaming peacocks and colourful blooms add to the tranquillity.

Tired delegates can indulge in Javanese lular scrubs, Singapore flower rituals and therapeutic spice massages before relaxing in the mud pools and steam baths.

BOUTIQUE DECOR: incentive groups looking for a more chi-chi bolthole next year will be impressed with the latest addition to the city's boutique market. The Scarlet is set to open in December 2004 and boasts five individually appointed suites, while the 26 executive and 14 premium rooms are fully wired and have been designed with the business traveller in mind.


When bartender Ngiam Tong Boon mixed gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, bitters, grenadine and fruit juices to make a light pink beverage at the turn of the century, he couldn't have guessed that its popularity would endure or that the Singapore Sling would become synonymous with the destination Groups still flock to Raffles Hotel and take tiffin in the dining room before venturing up to the Long Bar to try the legendary drink or one of Ngiam's other creations, the lime-infused Tiger Lily or the Million Dollar Cocktail.

Over at Swissotel the Stamford, the Equinox restaurant offers the highest vantage point in Singapore. After dinner, head to the New Asia Bar on the 71st floor and sip martinis and sundowners or venture up to Club 72, the members' bar and sample the brightly-coloured mind-numbing cocktails.

At the nearby Raffles The Plaza, delegates can relax in the leather booths at INK and listen to DJ Leomeo, a Buddha Bar disciple, spin his tracks for a chilled-out audience lazing in the red Chesterfield sofas.

Rather more saintly is a visit to former convent school Chijmes, where the chapel is now a popular gala dinner venue. Descend down the steps into a courtyard surrounded by pubs, including Irish favourite Father Flanagan's and China Jump, home to the best bartender in Singapore.

Just off Orchard Road, east truly collides with west on the cobbled street of Emerald Hill where lanterns sway alongside flashing beer signs and pubs and bars line up next to one another, offering a pub crawl opportunity for the lazy and the legless.

In No.5, expats mingle with locals downing vodka shots infused with lychees, Earl Grey tea or red chillis while the affable bar manager charms the crowd with his cheeky card tricks. ICE Cold Beer, presumably named after the drinks it serves from large ice tankards, is full of models and sporty types, while the Que Pasa bar is an elegant venue with an impressive wine list.

Come up for air by the vibrant Boat Quay area and stroll along the waterfront past the boats and along the old shop houses, stopping in to enjoy the live jazz at Harry's Bar where the low ceiling fans and shutters hark back to colonial days. For those feeling peckish, a number of eateries line the main street and when the Singaporeans shout "let's makan", it's time to dive in to one and feast on Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab, satay and fried hokkien mee. For those in awe of it all, why not stop by Molly Malone's on the corner for a quick pint and some stew.

Down on the Mohammed Sultan road, the Front Page watering hole, opened by an ex-newspaper editor for reporters at Times House to quench their thirst, connects with the Next Page pub. Further down the road, clubs stay open into the early hours but if you just want to see where the locals like to party, you can find the young and the beautiful at Zouk, elegantly slumming against the often rather hardcore dance backdrop.


Singapore Tourism Board: 1st Floor Carrington House, 126-130 Regent

Street, London W1B 5JX

Contact: Christina Nedovich

Tel: 020 7437 0033



Flight duration: 13 hours

Time difference: GMT +8hrs

Currency: Singapore dollar (SGD)

Current exchange rate: £1 = SGD3.01

International dialling code: +656

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