Thursday, September 25, 2008

S'pore Counts On Night Race To Brighten Economic Gloom

Source : The Business Times, September 25, 2008


AS the economic outlook dims, Singapore is switching on floodlights to brighten its future.

The city stages Formula One's first night race this coming Sunday under the glare of 1,600 lamps that will generate four times the brightness of a regular sports stadium.

Singapore, girding for a possible recession, is paying about US$200 million over five years for the rights to host the event, tapping the glitz of the world's most-watched motor races to promote itself as something more than a financial hub.

'Singapore has always been known as a good international business centre,' S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said in an interview. 'What we want to do is also raise Singapore's profile as a global city with great lifestyle, buzz, vibrancy.'

The race is the latest attraction for the South-east Asian city, including two casino resorts and the first Youth Olympic Games in the next thee years. The world's biggest ferris wheel - the Singapore Flyer - opened this year, towering over the pit lanes that will teem with the mechanics and drivers of Ferrari, McLaren and BMW.

Hosting major sports events is part of Singapore's strategy to diversify the economy from its traditional manufacturing base and to attract tourists, economists say. The F1 effect will be felt over years and won't be measured by the experience of this weekend's race alone.

'Singapore wants to become a global city and events like these are needed to make it one,' said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB-GK Securities Pte in Singapore. 'The F1 race is just another piece in a big jigsaw puzzle.'

The arrival of F1 pacesetter Lewis Hamilton and world champion Kimi Raikkonen coincides with one of the closest championships - and a financial slowdown that's pushed Singapore to cut its growth forecast to between 4 per cent and 5 per cent this year from the 7.7 per cent pace in 2007.

'The financial turmoil throws up quite a lot of uncertainty, but tickets have sold out,' said Vishnu Varathan, a regional economist at Forecast Singapore. 'Retailers will probably see more restrained spending.'

Mr Iswaran expects Formula One to deliver $100 million of extra tourism revenue, with about half the 100,000 people involved in the Grand Prix flying in from overseas.

The closeness of the F1 title race - McLaren driver Hamilton leads Ferrari's Felipe Massa by one point with five of 18 races to go - may intensify the spotlight on Singapore.

'Just like the Beijing Olympics, all eyes will be on Singapore,' said Michelle Denise Wan, a spokeswoman for the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Marina Bay area, where rooms sold out by July even with a minimum four-night stay.

Not everyone is getting a slice of the windfall, including some retailers closest to the action. Road closures and entry restrictions to the race area has Melvin Yap considering shutting his watch store in Millenia Walk.

'Things are going to be really bad,' said Mr Yap, sales director at Precious Time. 'Our regular shoppers won't be coming here.'

Formula One, with about 150 million viewers per race, is becoming the sport of choice for cash-rich nations. Bahrain added a Grand Prix in 2004, while Abu Dhabi is paying a record US$45 million for rights to host its first race next year, according to Formula Money, which tracks the sport's finances. South Korea and India will add F1 races in 2010. -- Bloomberg

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