Taking an old favourite into the future

Singapore’s Sentosa island is full of big plans – 2030 masterplan, short- and medium-term plans, new marketing plan – CEO Quek Swee Kuan talks about bringing an old favourite into the future

Quek Swee Kuan

What experience from your previous roles at Economic Development Board (EDB) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) comes in handy for you at Sentosa?
I was involved in destination branding when I was with STB. I was able to use that experience when I returned to EDB and we decided to do business branding in a bigger way. The two boards worked closely together on the whole area of nation branding.

Quek Swee Kuan

When I joined the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC, in October 2015, replacing Mike Barclay), the management team had already launched the ‘State of Fun’ tagline. So using the experience I had, I was able to work with the team to further amplify brand and step up marketing, both in the local and regional markets and increasingly now, longhaul.

How many people visit Sentosa in a year now and are they mostly locals?
Actually two-thirds are tourists and one-third locals. Our surveys show we get around 19.5 million visitors annually.

Of the two-thirds, more than 50 per cent are tourists from the region, the top five regional markets being India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China and the Philippines.

We think there is scope to grow the longhaul leisure market (in particular the UK, Germany, France and Russia), and the meetings and incentives market. Hotels on the island are really keen to have their fair share of meetings, incentives and reasonable size conferences, especially to fill a lower occupancy during weekdays.

And, indeed, with our golden beaches, two award-winning golf courses, a marina, beach clubs, five- and six-star hotels, Michelin-star dining options and many other facilities and services, we can curate unique experiences for MICE, weddings and leisure travellers (Sentosa is also eyeing to increase the number of luxury visitors to the island).

Is there a perception that Sentosa is a ’been there, done that’ attraction?
I think that’s a lesser challenge for the tourist market but is true of the local market.

On the contrary, for tourists, it’s more of a ‘if you’ve not been to Sentosa, you’ve not been to Singapore’.

The locals’ perception as ‘been there, done that’ is typical for all major attractions in Singapore. In our discussions with one another, we all face a similar challenge of how to continue to have the locals visit our attractions.

One of the factors is that the outbound market is strong and with the strong Singapore dollar, people find it attractive to make short trips to the region, especially during long weekends. But we are all keen to continue to have the local visitorship base; after all, tourists who visit a place want to see and be with the locals.

Are you satisfied with the one-third locals and two-thirds tourists ratio?
Yes, Singapore has a limited population anyway. And if STB continues to do a fantastic job, we will be receiving a lot more tourists. But we’re agnostic whether it’s tourists or locals, we just want to continue to make Sentosa attractive to both.

Who are your competitors?
Both the local players though we all work well together (the top three attractions in Singapore are Sentosa, Gardens by the Bay and Wildlife Reserves Singapore), and the regional ones, be they Legoland (in Johor, Malaysia) or Disneyland in Shanghai.

What’s on the cards with regards to attracting new developments on the island?
We want to approach development in a more considered manner. We do want to make efficient use of our land. We’ve embarked on a long-, medium- and short-term strategy.

For the longer term, we have embarked on a Sentosa 2030 masterplan. That exercise has begun; we have hired consultants (end of 2017, a consortium led by Grant Associates) to help us look at how we can develop Sentosa in the context of the greater southern waterfront – what we should have going forward, and the kind of experiences we should curate, including the hardware and areas such as events programming, connectivity and transport options.

We also want to make sure that we continue to be sustainable.

What’s the vision, or your brief to the consultants?
Sentosa is an island in a city, just like Singapore is a city in a garden. It is very accessible yet it still retains its island tranquillity and charm, and we want to preserve that. We look at it as green, blue and gold – green for the abundance of nature, blue for the water body and gold for the beaches. Our beaches are our greatest asset.

At the same time, we also want to be both a day and night destination. Currently, most people look at Sentosa as a day destination and we are enhancing our positioning and proposition as a day-to-night destination.

It’s a longer-term vision, but the planning has been embarked on in earnest.

What’s the short- and medium term plan?
In the medium term, we’re redeveloping the Merlion Gateway (a 12ha thoroughfare from Resorts World Sentosa past the Merlion Plaza and onto the beaches) to make it more seamless and attractive for guests as they walk through the precinct, both in terms connectivity and experience. For example, we want them to have an immersive experience, and we’re using technology solutions, creating photo points and establishing spaces for smaller programmes and events, for example.

We’ve hired two consultants (Axis Architects Planners as the lead consultant and Serie-Multiply Architects as the design architect) and the intention is to develop this by 2021.

In the short term, we’re looking at enhancing the guest experience and connectivity. For example, we’ve launched a public bus service – tourists and locals can take the bus (SBS 123) to island, stopping at Resorts World Sentosa or the beach. We’ve introduced a seventh train on our monorail, therefore the frequency of trains has increased.

Experience-wise, we’re looking at hardware, software, and now even a third dimension, the virtual world. We need to continue to refresh ourselves and work with island partners on this. The Surrender Chambers, for instance, has been revamped. Luge (a skyride), which has been so successful on this island, introduced two new tracks. AJ Hackett has opened, so we have bungy jump on the island; so has the Maritime Experiential Museum. Madame Tussauds has a new Marvel 4D Experience. The Merlion is being revamped – the list goes on.

In terms of software, events and programming are key and we’ve introduced everything from a Sandsation tournament to a Grill Fest, and dial up our aim to be a night destination with initiatives such as movies by the beach.

As for virtualware, we’ve introduced a new version of our app that guests can use pre-, during and post-arrival. Wi-Fi is free on the island. There are location-based promotions, for instance, and ideas for them to make the most of their visit.

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