Construction will start by year-end on the long-awaited redevelopment of resort island Sentosa and nearby Pulau Brani, in a blueprint unveiled by national planners on Friday.
The Sentosa-Brani Master Plan will be rolled out in phases over the next two to three decades, Quek Swee Kuan, chief executive of government agency Sentosa Development Corp (SDC), told a briefing.
The plan is expected to bring in a “considerable” increase in the number of visitors to the island, up from 19 million a year now.
The redeveloped islands will feature five distinct zones, dubbed Vibrant Cluster, Island Heart, Waterfront, Ridgeline and Beachfront.
Each zone is expected to deliver its own experience, such as nature and heritage trails, adventure attractions, eco-resorts, water shows and beach events.
In the first phase, the iconic 37 m Merlion tower will make way for a “Sentosa Sensoryscape” connecting Resorts World Sentosa and the island’s southern beaches. The linkway is slated for completion in 2022, with a price tag of S$90 million.
The master plan was first outlined by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at his National Day Rally in August, with Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat launching a fuller plan on Friday.
“What we are concerned about is actually our tourism appeal going down. If you don’t invest or rejuvenate . . . then you are at risk of losing your attractiveness compared to other cities,” Mr Chee told reporters after the launch.
“That’s really our strategy for the tourism industry as a whole, including Sentosa.”
With tourism making up 4 per cent of the economy, Singapore is “forced to think out of the box” to stay ahead of destinations such as Macau and Japan, CIMB economist Song Seng Wun told The Business Times.
“When we do it well, others would copy it,” he said, citing the two Asia-Pacific markets’ adoption of the integrated resort (IR) model. “It’s about how we keep it new and exciting.”
Tourism industry veteran Janet Tan-Collis, the immediate past president of the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers, called the potential of the new development “phenomenal”, adding that it creates opportunities for new types of events on the beach and other parts of the island.
Besides the Merlion tower, which was built in 1995 at a cost of S$8 million, other tourist attractions and food and beverage offerings in the vicinity will be permanently closed between Oct 21 and Nov 4 as construction begins.
But Carrie Kwik, executive director of attractions, entertainment and tourism concept development at the Singapore Tourism Board, said that despite the closures, “we are confident that both locals and visitors will have more to look forward to on Sentosa in the coming years when the five distinct zones are completed”.
Beyond the islands of Sentosa and Pulau Brani, Mr Chee said, policymakers have short- to medium-term plans for the Southern Islands to “enhance the value of something that is very precious to us – for eco-tourism and for families to visit and learn more about a part of Singapore”.
However, he also noted that they do not want to “jump too far ahead to restrict our options for the future of the Southern Islands”, so that future generations can decide what to do with them.
Singapore’s territory includes 62 smaller islands such as St John’s Island, Lazarus Island, Kusu Island, Sisters’ Islands and Pulau Hantu.
There is already a host of ongoing projects in the tourism sector.
Mandai is set to become an eco-tourism hub by 2023; the Jurong Lake District will have a lifestyle tourism project by 2026; and the IR operators have pledged to invest S$9 billion into new areas such as a fourth Marina Bay Sands tower and an expanded Universal Studios Singapore theme park.
Also, Changi Airport, which just opened its Jewel mega-mall, will get a huge Terminal 5 by around 2030.
But rather than a case of too many cooks, Mr Song held that “we don’t do things in isolation – it’s always long-term planning in a holistic manner”, adding: “We are small and wealthy enough to calibrate our spending to target specific markets.”
Citing the initiatives and attractions lined up for the next decade as a boost to the industry, Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association, also stressed that Singapore needs “to constantly rejuvenate its offering of attractions to stay ahead as a premier destination”.