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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Singapore’s latest icon opens

The 340-metre long Skypark sitting 60 stories high on three Marina Bay Sands Singapore hotel towers looking like cricket stumps. The rooftop strip is regarded as one of the world’s largest cantilevers. — Bernama

The Lion City is betting on the success of the Marina Bay Sands as it aspires to be a global entertainment hub

The Marina Bays Sands integrated resort represents a new icon for Singapore.

Throngs of locals as well as foreigners have been heading towards the hotel since its opening two months ago.

The resort’s owners are hopeful that Marina Bays Sands will be a hit in the region for classy entertainment.

As for the Singapore government, it hopes to change the city-state’s rigid lifestlye image to that of a hip tourist destination.

There is a lot at stake here.

The Singapore government has been striving to keep the country’s economy vibrant.

The economic journey from an that of original equipment manufacturing base and financial centre to leisure industry hub has been fraught with risks and challenges.

The government has made a huge bet by allowing casinos to operate in the Lion City.

Entertainment and gaming chain Las Vegas Sands Corp, which competed with 19 other operators in the 2004 bid for the right to develop two integrated resorts in Singapore, had to navigate through many regulatory hurdles.

For example, the government had imposed regulations that the casino should not be the centre of the establishment nor should it take up too much floor space.

The Casino Regulatory Authority was formed to handle all dealings with casinos.

A daily entry levy of S$100 is imposed on all citizens and permanent residents.

Together with the Sands, the government had also imposed a casino exclusion programme to stop people with gaming-related problems from entering.

The Sands reciprocated by allocating 3% of floor space to gaming activities in its vast 51-acre resort.

It proposed to build an integrated resort with features such as a world-class shopping centre, an international theatre and concert hall, museums and world class dining. The 1.3 million sq ft of MICE (meeting, incentives, conference and exhibition) facilities are also meant to meet Singapore’s requirements. Sands chairman and chief executive officer Sheldon G. Adelson, in an interview with StarBizWeek, says South Asia is a perfect place for an integrated resort, and Singapore is the most suitable spot to expand Sands’ business.

“The Asian people have a high propensity to gamble,” he notes.

He knows this well, having directly participated in Macau’s booming gaming and entertainment industry. Through its majority-owned subsidiary Sands China Ltd, the company owns a collection of properties in Macau, including The Venetian Macao, Four Seasons Hotel Macao and the Four Seasons-branded serviced apartments at its Cotai Strip development, as well as the Sands Macao on the Macau peninsula.

The company is currently constructing a 6,400-room complex at the Cotai Strip, which will feature the Shangri-La, Traders, Sheraton, and St Regis hotel brands. Adelson adds that Singapore is an ideal city-state to invest in because Singapore is known internationally as a clean government.

Getting a gaming licence in Singapore is the toughest regulatory process he had ever gone through, Adelson says.

“They do a complete background check on you. It is not easy. Many people like to keep themselves private. But what is good when dealing with Singapore is that everything is transparent. They want to succeed. I want to succeed. And they will help me succeed,” he says.

In order to win the bid, Adelson appointed world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie to design the Marina Bay Sands on a 15.4 ha site.

It was built at a total cost of US$5.7bil. The complex comprises a 2,560-room hotel in three towers and a skypark spanning 107,000 sq ft that connects the towers ot the top. The skypark, replicating a sea vessel, accommodates a public observatory deck, jogging paths, gardens, restaurants, lounges, and an infinity pool.

“We are builders of an integrated resort. We are not just into casino ownership. It will be a benchmark for future entertainment sites internationally. I am open to new partnerships anywhere in the world that want to boost tourism as long as there are clear guidelines and transparency,” stresses Adelson.

But it remains to be seen if Singapore has made the right step in allowing the gaming industry to set up shop in the country. The numbers show that visitor traffic has stepped up since the Marina Bay Sands opening, with 500,000 visitors each month in the last two months.

But can the numbers hold, especially taking into consideration that the Sands opened during the summer holidays, and that the target markets of Indonesia and Malaysia do find the currency exchange rates with the Singapore dollar daunting.

By The Star

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