SINGAPORE: A revived interest in Singapore among foreign visitors and increased job opportunities for local workers are among the benefits which the S$9 billion expansion by Singapore’s two integrated resorts could bring, said industry experts.
This follows the announcement on Wednesday (Apr 3) that the additional investment by the integrated resorts will see Marina Bay Sands (MBS) add a new entertainment arena and hotel tower, while Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) will extend Universal Studios Singapore to include two new attractions - Minion Park and Super Nintendo World. The exclusivity period for MBS and RWS will also be extended to end-2030.
Speaking to CNA, Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam said that the new attractions will give tourists a reason to return to Singapore.
"The whole development is good for us," he said. "The integrated resorts have been there for a while, it needed refreshment in terms of ideas – people who have been here before will not likely be as wowed by them ... In all attractions, within eight to ten years you have to renew them. Every time visitors come back again, there must be something new."
With the new array of offerings, Singapore will also continue to be an attractive destination for tourists who are short of time, added Mr Chiam.
"We cannot ignore the fact that there will always be development in our backyard – other countries can have mega-size theme parks, for example," he said. "But we can work something to our advantage. We are a small country, tourists can come here and see these attractions within a short period of time. We actually have a role to play for those who are time-hungry. The array of attractions here covers all interests as well."
These new developments will also attract tourists in the "high-end" market who could potentially spend more money during their visits, said Mr Chiam.
Mr Kevin Wee, a senior lecturer at the School of Business Management at Nanyang Polytechnic, said that the integrated resorts' investment was also a "vote of confidence" in Singapore's tourism industry.
"When the projects are completed, the impact on tourism will be significant," said Mr Wee. "These two IRs have an established network of marketing and their branding is very strong (so) this is a vote of confidence in Singapore’s tourism industry.
"It's more of expanding what they already have and what's most important is that the whole region knows that there is something new coming up in Singapore."
Giving an example of MBS' plans to build a fourth tower which will feature about 1,000 all-suite hotel rooms, a sky roof with a swimming pool as well as a "signature restaurant", Mr Wee said that this move will create a "buzz", given how the current facility has become iconic to some visitors.
"For MBS, because it is one of the most famous buildings in the world, the very fact that something is new is a positive thing – there’s buzz that something new is coming up," he added.
However, some experts question whether the new developments could result in a less distinctive profile for Singapore.
"The positive side is it will bring more visitors, and it will refresh the brand. The question now is whether this is aligned with what Singapore should be as a destination," said Mr Kevin Cheong, who is managing partner of tourism and destination consulting practice Syntegrate.
"Does it differentiate us from other cities? I beg to differ, I don’t think it does," said Mr Cheong. "London and New York don’t have major theme parks but why are they so successful?"
A QUESTION OF WAGES
The expansions will create up to 5,000 new jobs, around two-thirds of which are expected to be filled by locals.
With some of these jobs expected to fall under the service sector, some economists say that the changes in the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) - which sets out the maximum permitted ratio of foreign workers to the total workforce that a company is allowed to hire - could have make it a challenge to fill all those vacancies.
The DRC will be reduced for the services sector in two steps: from 40 per cent to 38 per cent on Jan 1 next year, and to 35 per cent on Jan 1, 2021, it was announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget 2019 speech.
"The 5,000 jobs is a pretty large number and given the tight labour market, this could be an issue," said Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin. "Some of these jobs could be filled by those looking for a temporary job, such as students, but are these the jobs that Singaporeans want to end up working in during the long term?
"You need to get locals to get foreigners."
Currently, the integrated resorts together directly employ close to 20,000 people - more than 65 per cent of whom are locals, and also support another 40,000 jobs.
Singapore University of Social Science economist Walter Theseira pointed out a "five or six-star" level of service at some of these integrated resort offerings could lead to tourists forking out more and in turn lead to increased wage offerings to attract prospective employees.
"My view is that its always a question of wages – you offer higher wages, more money, better career conditions and you’ll get your workers," said Dr Theseira. "Having more job opportunities and options is always a good thing – you may not like what you are currently doing and even if you do, having another employer with demand for your kind of skills, that will be favourable for you in your current job. Your current employer have to treat you better, pay you more."