Continual effort needed to keep S'pore's tourism edge: PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Singapore's reputation as a top tourism destination did not happen by chance, but rather through years of hard work, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Friday.

With many other cities around the world investing heavily to attract more visitors, Singapore, too, must continue to raise its game by improving the tourism experience and upgrading the sector as a whole.

He noted how in the space of 50 years, the Republic now welcomes more than 15 million visitors each year, up from just 90,000 in 1964.

They come because of the country's "world-class facilities and events" such as the two integrated resorts, the annual Formula One night race and the Gardens By The Bay attraction.

"That's how we keep Singapore as a must-see destination, but the task is never done. We have to continually refresh our attractions and events," said Mr Lee at the official opening of River Safari, the first river-themed wildlife park in Asia.

Travellers these days are becomingly increasingly spoilt for choice, and many do not just come to see iconic buildings or infrastructure. Rather, said Mr Lee, they want "different and unique experiences" that are customised to their interests.

"We have to complement our hardware with good software, to create an unforgettable experience which makes you want to come back for more visits," he told the 300 guests in attendance at the event.

In his speech, Mr Lee called on companies to play their part by providing more interesting and varied options to cater to discerning travellers, while workers have to deliver a higher level of service to meet greater expectations.

The government, meanwhile, will support these efforts fully, the prime minister said. Nearly $1 billion has been injected into a Tourism Development Fund to develop new tourism concepts, pay for new leisure and business events and upgrade the industry as a whole.

But tourism is not only about money, said Mr Lee, stressing that the human touch is just as important.

"Tourism is a high-touch industry. Although technology can help overcome our manpower constraints, it can never fully replace the warmth of people-to-people interaction," he said.

He shared that the Ministry of Trade and Industry was already looking into how the government could do more to give workers here the necessary "skills, knowledge, graces and courtesies" to do well in the sector.

"Fun is serious business in Singapore. I encourage companies and workers to join us on this shared endeavour, and take full advantage of our schemes to transform our tourism landscape," he said.

Later in the day, Mr Lee and his wife Ho Ching spent time touring the River Safari, the fourth park under the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) group.

They were joined by other VIPs including Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S Iswaran, Singapore Tourism Board chief Lionel Yeo, WRS chairman Claire Chiang and several diplomats.

The $160 million attraction in Mandai is home to Singapore's two giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia. To date, more than 1.1 million people have visited the 12 ha park, which features 6,000 different animal specimens.

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