Mega-events @ Marina Bay: Clear winners and losers

If you have not realised it by now, Singapore has a new national asset.

What made the recent F1 race and the inaugural Youth Olympics Games stand out as a truly memorable experience for participants and spectators alike was not how efficiently the events were organised. Singapore has made efficiency its trademark for many years now, so that was to be expected.

Rather, it was the location of the events – Marina Bay. As a venue, it provided a visual spectacle of the Singapore skyline, which served as a beautiful backdrop to the world-class proceedings held in the area.

Even before the third edition of the Singapore GP got under way, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was so impressed after touring the pit building and circuit that he said he wanted the Singapore race to stay on the calendar for 20 years. After the race, no one could disagree with him: The lasting impression of the Singapore skyline had a lot to do with it.

As noted by locals and foreign visitors alike, there is now a palpable buzz surrounding every event hosted in the Marina Bay area. It has been that way since the opening of the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. It was as if the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle was finally put in place to create this sense of excitement.

The Marina Bay is now a national asset which will be tapped more frequently by the hosting of more high-profile international events in the area.

There have always been clear winners – from hotels, food and beverage outlets and retailers along Orchard Road to other tourist attractions elsewhere in Singapore. What the organisers of these events may not want to be reminded of is that there are clear losers as well.

The security precautions and many road closures that came with every major event hurt the businesses of shops, eateries and offices in the area, such as those in Suntec City and Marina Square. Retailers and eateries in the affected areas reported drops in sales as high as 80 per cent. At the same time, office tenants did not dare schedule appointments where they or their visitors needed to commute to and from offices in the area.

Their woes have been so widely publicised since Day One that it is a surprise that no permanent solution has yet been found.

It is easy to advise affected retailers in the area of the need to do their own promotions, but when customers are inconvenienced by cordoned-off areas and are made to take a longer route, many simply avoid visiting the area altogether. And all it takes is for one to get caught in a traffic jam for an hour or more to remember never to schedule something similar for a long time to come.

As the Marina Bay venue clearly contributes to the success of events held there, we can expect even more to be held. And what was previously a mere inconvenience may soon become a big problem. A loss of takings for a week may rise to 12 weeks while business meetings in the area will be harder to arrange.

What use is a prime location without easy accessibility? Once an infrequent inconvenience becomes a regular one, rentals and property values will be affected.

A permanent and more comprehensive solution needs to be found. More overhead links between buildings may be needed. Road dividers along certain sections of roads need not be permanent. This will allow roads to be re-configured more easily for the duration of an event to facilitate traffic flow. The authorities could also consider building small sections of roads complete with traffic signals – for easy entry and exit – to be activated only when necessary.

To be a truly national asset, every Singaporean has to benefit from it. At the moment, a small but not insignificant section of the total population has more to lose than gain.

By Colin Tan, Head, Research & Consultancy, at Chesterton Suntec International.

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