Saturday, August 9, 2008

No Better Time To Be In Singapore

Source : The Business Times, August 9, 2008

How well Singapore delivers on the ongoing iconic projects will influence its ability to attract more investments and events

THE nation may be celebrating its 43rd birthday today, but for many Singaporeans, National Day came exceptionally early this year - nearly six months ago on February 21, to be exact.

On that day, thousands thronged City Hall as they became part of history when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - in a 'live' satellite feed from Switzerland - announced to the world that the Republic would be the host of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010.

The euphoria that ensued afterwards was unlike anything I had seen before. Watching the festivities unfold on TV, I saw the Padang explode with joy as Singaporeans young and old - most clad in red and white - jumped and hugged one another, never mind if they were total strangers.

The BT newsroom, meanwhile, was all hushed as nearly everyone left their desks and crowded around the TVs, only to erupt in cheers as the good news was announced.

The celebrations, singing, dancing and fireworks that lasted long into the night could give any National Day Parade a run for its money. It's hard to describe the cocktail of emotions that I was feeling in the moments that followed the birth of the YOG as Singapore's newest icon.

Pride, for being chosen as the first host of such a prestigious event. Relief, for finally seeing off the tough challenge of fellow finalist Russia and nine other countries. Satisfaction, in knowing that the seven months of hard work of all involved in the bid process had been duly rewarded.

But then came the first chink in the armour. Last Saturday, in a surprise announcement, the YOG organising committee said that the highly anticipated Games village would no longer be housed at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) upcoming University Town campus in Clementi.

Instead, the village will now be relocated to the Nanyang Technological University off Jalan Bahar, in a bid to save costs due to rising construction and fuel prices. It's a blow, to say the least, to have to go back on the assurances made just weeks ago that the original village plan was on track. To have to resort to making such an about-turn, barely six months after clinching the hosting rights, did little for our image and adds to the pressure for us being the very first hosts of the YOG.

What Singaporeans now want to hear and see is a unified 'can-do' spirit, that we can bounce back from any setback and prove that we can more than hold our own against our more experienced counterparts in putting together a world-class sporting event.

For many of us, being part of the YOG will be as close as we can get to embracing and feeling the Olympic spirit first-hand, seeing as how the Republic is unlikely to ever get the chance to host the Summer Games. Already, hundreds of volunteers have put their names in the hat, willing to contribute to the organising and execution of the two-week event in one form or another.

The YOG is but just one on a growing list of new Singapore icons over the past year or so that have helped put Singapore on the world map. Coincidentally, also in February this year, the Republic made headlines when the world's largest observation wheel, the 165m-high, $240-million Singapore Flyer made its maiden flight.

Some 700 lucky people became the first in history to go up and take in the sights of Marina Bay. Just last week, the Flyer management reported that over a million people have visited the Flyer, putting it on track to achieve its target of 2.5 million visitors in the first year.

However, there have been some grumbles that ticket prices are out of reach for many families, costing over $100 for a family of two adults and two children for a single flight.

On its part, the Flyer management has gone some way to reach out to the less fortunate and disabled by arranging special visits for them to enjoy the attraction. Tourists, meanwhile, make up half of all its visitors so far. The Flyer is also one of the top weapons in the Singapore Tourism Board's arsenal to help reach the goal of bringing in 17 million tourists by 2015.

But perhaps no single event has generated more buzz this year than the upcoming Formula One next month, which has captured the world's attention for being the first race to be held at night.

All this, and there's still the small matter of the opening of even more iconic structures - Gardens By The Bay and the two upcoming Marina Bay and Resorts World integrated resorts by 2010.

We also cannot afford to ignore the multi-million dollar makeover that Singapore's most famous shopping belt is undergoing - with new walkways, malls refurbishing their exteriors, more al fresco dining options and daily midnight movies - to help make Orchard Road build its reputation as the equivalent of the Champs-elysees in Paris or New York's 5th Avenue.

Orchard Road is also gearing up for the opening of its latest crown jewel next year - the iconic Ion Orchard, the first major retail development there in over a decade, and one that will redefine the retail landscape.

Even in this economic downturn, local retailers are already champing at the bit to secure prime units at the 40,000 sq ft mega-mall to capture the attention of shoppers. It's safe to say that there's no better time to be in Singapore than the present, with so much to look forward to in the next couple of years.

This is a crucial period for the Republic, as this is the first time in recent memory that the eyes of the world will be on us as these large-scale and world-class projects and events gear up for their opening, and in quick succession too. How well we deliver on them will undoubtedly influence the country's ability to attract more investments and global events to these shores in future.

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