Taiwan tourists flock to Singapore for sightseeing fun and runs

Ms Una Yan cannot seem to get enough of Singapore. She spent three days in the Republic in February and is back again today to not only tour the island but also pound the pavement.

The 35-year-old Taiwanese, who swims and hikes every week, is taking part in the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, her first marathon overseas.

"The last time I went to Singapore was during the Chinese New Year period when many shops were closed. I felt I wanted to see more, like East Coast Park, and experience Singapore in a different way," said Ms Yan, a provision shop owner.

She is one of 50 people from Taiwan who have signed up for Singapore tour packages which include a runner's pack in this year's StanChart run, the Republic's largest running event with more than 50,000 runners a year.

While the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has long been reaching out to attract foreign sports spectators with events such as the Formula 1 race, it is now gunning for sports fans who like working up a sweat.

And it is starting in Taiwan, where the number of marathons has grown 42 per cent from 521 in 2014 to 740 last year, according to Running Biji, a popular website in Taiwan.

In recent years, there has been greater awareness in Taiwan of the benefits of running, thanks to studies published, said the local media. Running clubs and city and county governments have been promoting the activity.

A poll by Runing Biji found that 73 per cent of respondents say they run marathons overseas with the aim too of touring the place.

In July, STB tied up with Taiwanese tour agency Life Tour to organise sports-related tour packages such as the StanChart Marathon. The four-day tour includes a chance to sample local food and the "usual suspects" like Universal Studios and Marina Bay Sands.

This follows a tour by two other Taiwanese agencies which drew more than 100 Taiwanese to Singapore for the Osim Sundown Marathon in May.

STB's area director (Eastern China) Kwan Su Min told The Straits Times: "We have seen more Taiwanese marathon enthusiasts travelling to Singapore for such immersive races that showcase Singapore's vibrancy and attractiveness. Coupled with diverse shopping and entertainment offerings, they get a whole different vacation experience."

She said STB is working closely with Taiwanese travel agents to develop an array of tour packages.

Apart from Taiwan, Ms Kwan said the board is seeing strong interest from running enthusiasts in China, where there are now more running clubs and travel agents promoting trips to run in the StanChart and Sundown marathons.

Overall, STB is keen to grab a slice of the expanding global sports market pie. Consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates that the global sports market pie will cross US$90 billion (S$128 billion) by next year.

Singapore faces competition from the likes of Japan, which tourists also visit to take part in marathons. Some Taiwanese visit Okinawa or Osaka to run in marathons, said Ms Jocelyn Yeh, Life Tour's head of Special Interest Tour Department.

But Singapore's selling point is its "quality offerings in terms of food, culture and attractions", she said.

Professional runner Cliff Chiang, 28, notes that the StanChart Marathon is a Gold Label Road Race certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Mr Chiang, who has run in the Berlin Marathon and a few races in China, said: "If I want to be taken seriously in this field, I want to join races such as the one in Singapore and clock a good time." He also hopes to go round the city, which he has not visited since he was eight.

For Ms Yan, there will be no "running away" from Singapore dishes such as bak kut teh, nasi lemak and bak kwa. "After all that running, I definitely want to reward and pamper my body and tummy," she said.

This article was first published on Dec 03, 2016.
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