Malls gear up for F1, but retailers still cautious

Never mind that 100,000 spectators are expected to descend on the Marina Bay area. Even all-out efforts by the management of shopping centres to tap the crowds have yet to dispel the lingering doubts of retailers that their cash tills will be ringing during Singapore’s inaugural Formula 1 race at the end of the month.

Some retail tenants still think that Singapore’s tourism event of the year on Sept 28 is more likely to put the brakes on business.

“During that period, everyone that comes here will be so excited about watching F1 ‘live’ for the first time,” said a sales assistant of a shoe store in Suntec City who declined to be named. “I’m not very confident that the discounts we’re offering will be enough to distract them.”

Why the diffidence?

On Thursday, this newspaper reported how local businesses might be inexperienced in capitalising on such a big-time event and cautious about incurring extra costs.

But big plans are in store for the malls, their building managers have indicated recently — plans which, in the case of Marina Square for example, have been communicated to retailers since June, Marina Centre Holdings senior manager (advertising and promotions) Tan Swee Lin told Today.

Marina Square, one of those located along the race circuit, will be extending opening hours till midnight during the race weekend and offering special discounts and promotions at stores and restaurants for shoppers and F1 ticket-holders, starting Sept 19. Other activities such as F1 race-car building contests and car-racing games will also be held to create a buzz in the countdown to flag-off.

Yet, for example, the boss of a clothing store at Marina Square is paying little attention to the mall’s activities and pre-race events.

He said: “I don’t think all these games and events will boost my sales. I’m depending on the tourists to do enough shopping so that I won’t make a loss, because regular Singaporean shoppers may stay away during the race.”

Ms Tan believes that some tenants are still concerned about access to the area, mainly because of the road closures.

“They’re worried that shoppers are not able to come to the area to shop as conveniently as possible. People do have to know when’s the best time to come,” she said.

On the race days, from Sept 26 to 28, free, bridging bus services between the Marina and Suntec area and the two MRT stations of City Hall and Bugis will run until 7pm.

Some retailers only have the experience of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in 2006 to go by — when business in the area took a downturn.

Tenants at Esplanade Mall are also keeping their fingers crossed that their sales will not dip because the mall is off-access to the general public over the race weekend.

Still, Ms Tan believes most of them would agree that the F1 race and the crowds it will bring — including an expected 50,000 tourists — are going to be different. “It’s going to be exciting. I’m sure tenants are going to get excited,” she said.

Restaurateurs seem to be more optimistic than most. One restaurant manager at Marina Square told Today: “People have to eat, no matter what. I’m quite sure any discounts we give will be covered by the increased traffic volume.”

Source : Today – 8 Sep 2008

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