STB hopeful Orchard’s revamp will pay off despite economic downturn

Few tourists visiting Singapore will give Orchard Road a miss.

The island’s main shopping and entertainment strip has been going through a multi-million-dollar makeover.

In order to pit the central shopping belt against bigger names like London’s Oxford Street, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) gave the district a US$26.7 million makeover in April 2008.

From building rest areas known as Green Rooms to re-lining tiles from Tanglin to Ngee Ann City, the ten-month project is moving at a fast and furious pace.

But with financial uncertainty creeping in recently, has the revamp been made at a wrong time?

Andrew Phua, director, Tourism, Shopping and Dining, STB, said: “Our timing has always been planned many years ahead and we are slated for completion by February 2009. In fact, it was very welcomed by many private developers as well, and many are jumping on the bandwagon.”

One of them is Royal Brothers Group which injected US$10 million to rejuvenate Cuppage Terrace – a strip of 14 shophouses.

Some outlets like ten-year-old Japanese Restaurant Tamaya had to shut its doors for four months during the makeover. But its owner did not mind.

Oh Ichikawa, managing director, Tamaya, said: “Actually we see a lot of new faces already. A lot of tourists and locals also. Of course, all the regular customers have also come back.”

Middle Eastern restaurant, kazbar, said bad times have drawn more people out to de-stress.

John Paul Ford, general manager of kazbar, said: “I’m not necessarily concerned about economic downturn. It will impact business a little bit, but you’ll see that people need to go out. People want to go out.”

But the tourism industry in Singapore is slowing down. Visitor arrivals have dipped 7 per cent since June and the country may even fall short of its 10.8 million travellers target this year.

Nonetheless, the STB is hopeful.

“We are strengthening our efforts in tourism spending and we should be on track. We are cautiously optimistic of S$15.5 billion in tourism receipts,” said Mr Phua.

While consumers are careful not to blow unnecessary cash during hard times, Singaporeans are still queuing up at food outlets and restaurants.

Retailers are expected to go all out with special promotions and discounts during the upcoming year-end festive season.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 26 Oct 2008

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