Global Traveler Magazine

Singapore Looks To Population Expansion To Yield A Robust Future

October 2013

Singapore stands prominently as one of the world’s most international cities. Visitors can eat at a hawker (street food) stall for breakfast, shop at Prada by lunchtime, visit a cultural museum in the afternoon and dine at a celebrity chef ’s restaurant in the evening. Taxis buzz down wide, meticulously landscaped boulevards next to BMWs and Ferraris.

The city’s affluence is thanks to a robust business sector that grows exponentially every year. Electronics manufacturing (Singapore-based companies create a large share of computers, mobile phones and video games) is a major economic generator, as are biotechnology, tourism and financial services. Retail is also a significant economic player; visitors are guaranteed to run into a fancy (and air-conditioned) shopping mall around every turn.

Singapore has come a long way in just a few decades. Strategically situated at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and at the geographic center of most of Asia, Singapore has long been a sought-after land. Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Co. landed in Singapore, then a fishing village, in 1819 and established the area as a trading post. Singapore subsequently became a British colony in 1832. It remained that way until World War II when, in 1942, Japan invaded and took over for a few years before it returned to British rule in 1945.

Singapore gained its independence in 1965 under the governance of Lee Kuan Yew, often referred to as the Father of Singapore or the Grand Master of Asia, the country’s first prime minister, who ruled until 1990 (his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, is the current prime minister, holding that office since 2004). Under Kuan Yew’s watch, a strong focus was placed on economic progress, education and the fostering of innovation and entrepreneurship.

A book which includes interviews with Kuan Yew (now 90 years old), published in early 2013 and titled Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World, reports that Singapore’s annual per capita income was just $400 when Kuan Yew took over. Today it is estimated at $60,000. Kuan Yew suggests other developing countries can learn from Singapore’s success by focusing on manpower resources such as entrepreneurship, teamwork and education.

Today’s Singapore economy is a shining reminder that hard work pays off, growing by 3.8 percent on a year-over-year basis as of the second quarter of 2013, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics. Gross domestic product growth for 2013 is expected to land somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 percent. The country has a 2.1 percent unemployment rate, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

Trade in Singapore increased dramatically in recent years, hitting $770 billion in 2012, up from $403 billion in 2003. Regional trade with neighboring Asian countries comprises around 70 percent of its deals.

Singapore is also a trading partner with the United States, especially since the inception of the free trade agreement between the two countries that went into effect Jan. 1, 2004. Two-way trade between the countries totaled more than $50.8 billion in 2012, and U.S. exports to the island nation have increased by $11.2 billion since the free trade agreement, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

The population of Singapore is around 5.3 million, with a median age of about 38 years. More than 74 percent of Singapore’s residents are of Chinese descent, while around 13 percent are of Malay descent and 9 percent are of Indian descent.

These statistics are about to change, though, thanks to an influx of expats. According to A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore, a white paper released by the National Population and Talent Division of Singapore in January 2013, the country’s population is on pace to increase 30 percent by 2030 to 6.5–6.9 million people. This increase causes concern among some Singaporeans, who worry that more foreigners will take away jobs, raise housing prices and infringe on their overall quality of life.

But the resident population is aging — the country’s first baby boomers turned 65 in 2012 — and the nation will experience a major age shift in the next few decades as more than 900,000 baby boomers exit the workforce.

“From 2020 onwards,” the paper reports, “the number of working-age citizens will decline, as older Singaporeans retiring outnumber younger ones starting work. At our current low birth rate, our citizen population will age rapidly, and also start declining from 2025, if we do not take in any new immigrants.”

Singapore is today implementing programs to prepare for the influx which could put the country near Hong Kong’s current 7 million. The nation’s rail network will expand by about 62 miles to a total length of around 174 miles by 2021. There are also plans to build additional public housing facilities, parks, green spaces and hospitals.

Detail of a sculpture at Singapore Botanic Gardens © Oleksandr Buzko | Dreamstime.com

Detail of a sculpture at Singapore Botanic Gardens © Oleksandr Buzko | Dreamstime.com

Things to do in Singapore

Singapore is often referred to as the “Garden City” or “City in a Garden” because much of its landscape is covered in green spaces, parks and gardens (many hotels even have spaces dedicated to tropical foliage). One of the best places to view greenery is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a space spanning more than 180 acres that includes several lakes, an ornamental park, a waterfall and an orchid section. Check the website for live musical performances in the gardens.

Business travelers can also take in an awe-inspiring leafy attraction in the new Gardens by the Bay, located directly across from Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, the city’s newest and largest meetings facility. The focal point of the attraction is its Supertree Grove, which consists of multiple 16-story manufactured trees that provide shade for the flora and fauna below and light up at night. The park, spanning 250 acres and costing some $1 billion, is one of Singapore’s premier attractions.

Over on Sentosa Island, visitors can view ocean life at the new S.E.A. Aquarium, opened in late 2012 inside Resorts World Sentosa, an integrated resort. This is the hottest ticket in town. It is the world’s largest aquarium and includes 100,000 animals, 800 marine species and 12 million gallons of water.

Shopping at Resorts World Sentosa © Tonny Anwar | Dreamstime.com

Shopping at Resorts World Sentosa © Tonny Anwar | Dreamstime.com

Back in Singapore, near the Dhoby Ghaut rail station, sits the National Museum of Singapore, a structure boasting impressive Neoclassical architecture. It is the oldest museum in the country, having opened in 1887 by Sir Stamford Raffles as the Raffles Library and Museum. The building went through a wide-scale renovation in 2006 and is today a must-see for visitors, displaying a variety of national and regional artifacts and interactive exhibits.

Also in central Singapore is the Singapore Flyer, a fancy version of a Ferris wheel that has changed the city’s skyline since it debuted in spring 2008. The Flyer measures 541 feet high, making it the tallest observation wheel in the world. Visitors can experience the Flyer on board fixed capsules attached to the wheel. Each capsule carries 28 people and takes 32 minutes to make a compete circle, offering breathtaking views of the city from every angle. On a clear day, “flyers” can even see parts of Malaysia and Indonesia from inside the capsule. The Flyer terminal contains several restaurants for before- or after-ride snacks.

The Singapore Flyer as seen from Retail Terminal © Soon Wee Meng | Dreamstime.com

The Singapore Flyer as seen from Retail
Terminal © Soon Wee Meng | Dreamstime.com

CHECKING IN WITH SCOTT SWANK

General Manager, Pan Pacific Singapore

What draws business travelers to Singapore?

Singapore has changed tremendously in the 22 years since I moved here. Today, three things primarily attract business travelers. The first is that we are continuously ranked one of the best meetings destinations in the world. We have excellent facilities for conventions. Second, we’ve become well entrenched in the global services sector with thriving industries such as finance, hospitality, medicine and logistics, to name a few. Third, our strategic location makes us ideal for doing business. We are smack-dab in the middle of Asia; it is very easy to meet here and use Singapore as a jumping-off point to go to other places in the region.

What has changed in the city’s business landscape over the past few years?

The biggest change has been the advent of the integrated resorts, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and Resorts World in Sentosa, both of which opened in 2010. The government in Singapore has been incredibly successful at attracting private investment to help grow the destination. When the private sector came to the government with an interest in building casinos, the government allowed it, but under the condition that each establishment would include much more than casinos.

The results have proven extraordinary. The Marina Bay Sands includes a casino, a huge shopping mall, Singapore’s largest convention center, a hotel and an arts and science museum. Resorts World Sentosa is more family-oriented with a casino, hotel, the largest aquarium in the world and even a Universal Studios theme park.

The introduction of these two entities, which has brought thousands of new hotel rooms to the city, has completely changed the business landscape here. Before, we would have cyclical boom and bust business periods in Singapore. Now things have evened out and are busy most of the time. As hoteliers, many of us were worried that the introduction of the resorts would draw business away from other hotels, but that hasn’t been the case at all. It has helped business all over Singapore.

What are the strengths of Singapore’s creative industries?

When I first arrived, there really weren’t free-standing, independent restaurants in Singapore. If you wanted to go out to dine, you’d either eat at a hawker (street food) stand, a hotel or a Chinese restaurant. That has completely changed, and today there are countless celebrity chef restaurants. Places like Clarke Quay and Boat Quay have opened up as popular places to dine and drink. The National Museum of Singapore was renovated in 2006 and is a cultural treasure, which also adds to our cultural attractions.

SINGAPORE: JUST THE FACTS

Time Zone: GMT +8
Phone Code: Country/city code: 65
Currency: Singapore dollar
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens must have a passport valid for at least six months past the date of intended departure from Singapore. No visa is required for stays up to 90 days.
Official Language: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
Key Industries: Electronics manufacturing, financial services, pharmaceutical manufacturing, ship repair, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, biotechnology, semiconductor manufacturing

SINGAPORE INFO TO GO

Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) is regularly rated one of the best in the world. Terminal 1 unveiled a major renovation in 2012 and is undergoing a new expansion plan to be completed in 2018. Construction is expected to begin late this year on a new Terminal 4, slated to open in 2017. The airport is located about 11 miles from central Singapore and provides a 24-hour shuttle ($9 adults, $6 children 12 and under) to hotels in the city center. Book a shuttle at the Ground Transport Desk in the arrivals hall. Public bus No. 36 transports visitors between terminals 1, 2 and 3 and the city ($2, about one hour).

Where to Stay in Singapore

PARKROYAL on Pickering Located near Clarke Quay, this 343-room hotel is one of Singapore’s newest properties (January 2013). The infinity pool is a must-see, as is the tropical foliage. 3 Upper Pickering Street $$$

The Quincy Hotel Ultra-minimalist and modern, The Quincy is a quick walk to retail-centric Orchard Road and offers a pool on its 12th floor with views and outdoor lounge seating. 22 Mount Elizabeth$$$

W Singapore – Sentosa Cove Follow the red carpet to your room at this year-old property on Sentosa Island, five miles from central Singapore. The hotel has a lagoon-style pool. 21 Ocean Way, Sentosa Island $$$

Restaurants in Singapore

Immigrants – The Singapore Gastrobar Chef Damian D’Silva, a veteran of the Singapore dining scene, opened Immigrants in 2012 with a focus on local flavors from a variety of ethnicities including Peranakan and Eurasian. 467 Joo Chiat Road $$

Maxwell Food Centre Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown is the most popular of the hawker centers. Mingle with locals at stalls specializing in everything from fish head soup to fresh fruit juices.Maxwell Road $

Waku Ghin The brainchild of celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda, Wake Ghin is one of the most popular fine-dining spots in Singapore since opening in 2010. Indulge in a 10-course meal of European/ Japanese delights. Marina Bay Sands $$$$

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Katie Morell specializes in feature writing, breaking news and corporate communications.