SINGAPORE - The relaunch of Haw Par Villa as a domestic tourist destination was met with a rousing response over the weekend, with almost five times more visitors than usual.
Visitors went on free guided tours of the 76-year-old attraction, watched cultural performances and nibbled on popiahs and wanton noodles at a nostalgia-themed food bazaar.
Called Reliving Haw Par Villa, the event was part of the ongoing Tourism50 campaign by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to encourage Singaporeans to visit attractions, such as the Gan Heritage Centre in Bukit Pasoh Road and the Jamae Mosque in South Bridge Road.
Haw Par Villa saw an average of 3,000 visitors per day last weekend, up from the 700 that it usually receives daily.
The crowd was mostly made up of elderly folk and families with young children keen on looking at the colourful statues and dioramas that depict popular Chinese folktales.
Among them was Mr Daniel We, 51, and his wife, who took along their two children so that they could "understand Chinese culture".
Mr We also wanted to experience the nostalgia of returning to an attraction he had not visited in decades. Pointing to his children, who are aged below seven, he said: "The last time my wife and I were here, we were our kids' age!"
Reliving Haw Par Villa will take place again this weekend. From next month, Haw Par Villa will also host a series of art exhibitions, paid guided tours and art workshops.
Built to the tune of $1 million in 1937, Haw Par Villa was originally the front yard of the Aw brothers' home. In its heyday in the 1970s and 80s, it attracted a million people a year.
The STB bought it in 1985 and gave it an $80 million facelift, expanding it to five times its size and turning it into a ticketed theme park.
Despite the hefty investment, Haw Par Villa was not able to regain its former glory as, over the years, newer attractions - such as the Night Safari and the integrated resorts - pulled away the crowds.
But the STB is determined to keep the place afloat. It said it will "continue to seek ways to maintain its unique heritage and relevance" with new programmes, as the attraction has "great heritage values" and "holds many happy memories for local residents".
It also emphasised the importance of local support, because "the support and passion from Singaporeans form the core for conservation of such places steeped in heritage and history".
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