Last week at the annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference, we caught up with Neeta Lachmandas, assistant chief executive of Singapore Tourism Board, to learn about the new 300,000-sf Marina Bay Cruise Centre and other group attractions in Singapore. The strikingly modern facility opened in October 2012.
Prevue: What’s new in the world of cruising in Singapore?
Neeta Lachmandas: There’s a new terminal located in Marina Bay allowing us to host some of the world’s largest ships. The new terminal can double up as exhibition space. Last year we had Cruise Shipping Asia at the terminal. It’s very convenient for groups to do meetings at the terminal and then jump right on a ship and enjoy their cruise.
The area is what we like to call the “New Downtown” where all the action is. Marina Bay Cruise Centre is located near shopping, the Sky Park where you can see three islands, the Singapore Flyer and many restaurants. With both terminals, we are able to host twice as many ships. The cruise center is also near Sentosa Island, a very popular spot for visitors.
What type of excursions are groups participating in once docked?
There are various packages that are culinary based or take place around the shopping areas, and also those that involve the 28 UNESCO world heritage sites. Groups also like to roam the surrounding neighborhoods like Chinatown. We are always trying to find out what groups want to do so that we can customize a special program for them.
What’s great about cruising in Singapore is that groups can enjoy the classic watersports and activities that those do in the Caribbean, but there’s so much more. You can experience a variety of Asian cultures in a very short amount of time. In a day you can see Komodo Dragons in Indonesia and then be in a meeting on the ship. We are seeing a lot more meeting space on the ships in Singapore and many groups are doing charters.
What ports of call are groups visiting?
We want Southeast Asia to be the Caribbean of Asia. Indonesia is an archipelago with 17,000 islands surrounded by water. There are so many places to visit with huge shorelines. For instance, we have easy access to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Bali and other destinations in the region. There is a lot of potential for Singapore to be a hub for the cruise market.
What popular cruise lines are in Singapore?
Royal Caribbean has been in Singapore for many years, but we are seeing more cruise lines interested in operating in Asia. Carnival is setting up their regional headquarters in May at the port and Silver Sea’s has a sales office in Singapore. It’s easier for big brand cruise liners to have a port near where they are positioning their ships. It keeps growing.
Can you tell us about the evolving infrastructure in Singapore?
Essentially, there’s a huge advancement in tourism products. For example, the new Universal Studios and Marine Life Park have both opened. A very special place to visit in Singapore right now is Gardens by the Bay, a new downtown conservatory. It’s open to the public but it’s also a great facility for meetings and events. Jennifer Lopez played in the concert venue and it can hold about 1,000 standing. The venue is very beautiful and hosts about 5,000.
What new hotel properties are popping up?
All of the major hotel brands are in Singapore. There are 52,000 hotel rooms in the city. The Westin Singapore will reopen in November and they are all updating and renovating constantly. There are many hotels to choose from, some are old historic buildings. The Fullerton Hotel is an old post office that has been transformed into a cool hotel. It’s very impressive.
What is the #1 thing to eat in Singapore?
When visiting Singapore, you must try chili crabs and Tiger beer, but the real question is what not to try!
What can you tell us about sustainability?
We were green before green was fashionable. We became an independent country in 1965 and we always focused on our environment. There has always been care and effort put in to ensure that the city is shaded and that there are gardens and green public spaces. The island is only about 700,000 square kilometers [270 square miles]. Most of the island is not urban, it’s green and small. It’s in our DNA in Singapore that we are conscious of our living environment. We want to have a good quality of life here.
What’s a unique spot for groups to have an event?
Singapore is a constantly evolving city. There’s always a new itinerary to experience. The Singapore Zoo has an indoor meeting space for 35 people with two large panda bears on display. The zoo is also opening a night safari for groups to visit after a full-day of activity and they have added a river safari, featuring replicas of the seven major rivers of the world.
Herbalife recently had a group of 17,000 at one time. The three main venues, Marina Bay Sans, Suntec Singapore and Singapore Expo were all used to create a very experiential event for such a large group. About 55% of our visitors a repeats, they come back with their families after visiting for a meeting.