A good meal can do wonders for jet lag, so when I arrived in Singapore after my 18-hour flight, I decided to forgo sleep and, instead, do as the locals do when hunger strikes: visit one of Singapore’s many “hawker centers” for a sampling of the diverse cuisine. These open-air food courts offer an array of inexpensive dishes that showcase the Chinese, Indian, and Malay influences that make up Singapore’s population.
Walking among the food stalls, I felt right at home. Sure, the fare was unfamiliar, but the people were friendly and the heavenly aromas intoxicating. After a meal of Hainanese chicken rice (a local favorite) and some fresh coconut juice, I was ready to see what the city had to offer meeting and incentive groups.
One of the first things visitors will notice is the abundance of infrastructure and striking high-rise buildings. The city center has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel, and visitors like myself, who come to Singapore as a first trip to Asia, will find themselves at ease with the modern culture and widespread use of English as the nation’s official language.
The Singapore Tourism Board, which hosted our group of international journalists for the week, has been working to promote the nation as a major player in attracting meetings, incentives, and conventions. And it has much to crow about.
Recent developments include the 42-story-tall Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel that opened in March giving visitors a bird’s-eye view of the downtown area; the new Fairmont Singapore—Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ first property in Asia—which opened in December, with 769 guest rooms, 27 meeting rooms, and 70,000 square feet of meeting space; and the planned construction of at least 12 new hotels that will add more than 10,000 rooms to the city over the next three years.
Other projects in the works include the $3.5 billion Marina Bay Sands, the nation’s first casino, opening in 2009 with more than 1.2 million square feet of meeting space; Resorts World Sentosa, a leisure destination scheduled to open in 2010 with a Universal Studios theme park, casino, marine life park, and six hotels providing more than 1,800 rooms; the Singapore Sports Hub, opening in 2011 with a 55,000-capacity National Stadium; and a $28 million revamp of Singapore’s high-end retail district, Orchard Road, scheduled for completion in 2009.
If shopping is a passion for your attendees, they’ll find a mecca for all things retail. While Singapore is known for its high-end shopping malls, visitors can also explore traditional marketplaces offering everything from baskets and trinkets to antiques and fabrics. During my stay, I took in the local flavor during a visit to Arab Street, with its bazaar-style shopping, street vendors, and sidewalk cafés. I skipped bargain hunting here in favor of relaxing streetside with a cup of “teh-tarik” or pulled tea—a mixture of Indian tea and condensed milk. The server pours the tea with flair from one container into another, allowing the drink to cool slightly, before serving it.
With its Eastern and Western influences; abundance of restaurants, bars, and nightlife; and a plethora of planned venues and attractions coming online over the next three years, Singapore should expect some serious attention from groups considering a trip to Asia.