What Can Be Learnt from Singapore


When we look at economic-political models of nation-states as a mode of comparison with our own, many factors like Gross Domestic Product and economic growth, Human Development Index and social justice, political apparatus, global perception etc. become the bases of contrast. India is understood as a global superpower with a subcontinent to its name, exercising immense influence over the South Asian region. However, a simple comparison with some countries like Sri Lanka which rank higher in terms of the HDI for example, creates discomfort. Similarly, when India is compared with a political model marked by minimal corruption, a rising economy, embracing of rich multiculturalism, ranking 5th at the UN Human Development Index, having the 3rd highest GDP etc., the discomfort is bound to turn into disillusionment. Welcome to Singapore, which as the Wikipedia page suggests, “is ranked highly in education, healthcare, life expectancy, quality of life, personal safety and housing”. For a country which became sovereign only in 1965, but has one of the highest living standards in the world, to be compared with a country that was partitioned in 1947 for independence, is far-fetched. But, there are lessons to be learned from the rise and rise of Singapore, especially in its construction of the tourism sector. Due to paucity of natural resources, the country has used advanced technological innovation to create awe inspiring man-made structures. It is no wonder that about 3% of its GDP comes from tourism, and that tourists spent 24.8 billion dollars in the country in 2016. An analysis of government estimates of the tourism statistics is as follows—“The 5 per cent growth in year-to-date (YTD) Q3 2017 Tourism Receipts (TR) was on the back of higher expenditure across most major components including Shopping, Accommodation, Sightseeing, Entertainment & Gaming (SEG) and other TR components. Gazetted hotel room revenue was estimated at $2.8 billion for YTD Q3 2017, a year-on-year increase of 3.3 per cent. Average Occupancy Rate (AOR) increased by 1.4 percentage points to 85 per cent. Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) decreased by 2.5 per cent year-on-year due to a lower Average Room Rate (ARR),” (Statistics and Market Insights Overview, Singapore Tourism Board). Singapore is one of the Four Asian Tigers/Dragons, the other three being Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea for their “rapid industrialization”, “high growth rates” and “high-income economies” because of a neo-capitalist market model and state intervention. This has been made possible because of a “stable macroeconomic environment”.

The tourism industry in Singapore relies on multiple types of tourist attractions that can be placed in the categories of ecotourism, business travel, medical tourism, cultural tourism, political diplomacy etc. It markets its linguistic, religious, regional (because of the amalgamation of citizens from different parts of the world) and craft-based diversity by maintaining affordability. For instance, some of the festivals that are displays of cultural heritage commonly celebrated in the country are the Chingay Parade, Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore Garden Festival, Singapore Food Festival, Singapore Sun Festival, Singapore Jewel Festival etc., apart from hosting popular international sports events like F1 Races and the Youth Olympics, all of which generate significant revenue and improve the international status of the host country. As far as ecotourism is concerned, the country has three main zoos— Singapore Zoo, Night Safari (the world’s first nocturnal zoo) and River Safari, all of which include animal enclosures in carefully maintained natural habitats and are based on imitated habitats from different ecosystems, even those not indigenous to the region. Its efficient public transport system, and widespread usage of the relic of colonization—English, improves the accessibility of its shopping centres. This model of tourism has close involvement of the state, application of technological progress to local cultures and spaces, and attractive marketing strategies, as its founding planks.

India’s ad campaigns about Gujarat tourism or Madhya Pradesh tourism not only reflect the levels of its centralized but federal political state, but also usher in unequal economic development, letting the tourism potential of many underdeveloped regions of the country be wasted. At the same time, responsible tourism is dependent on stable socio-political systems marked by economic rise, but the inverse of this relationship can also be realized, prompting the question—can creative, responsible tourism in militancy-prone regions enable relative peace? In any case, the involvement of the local community, the attention of the central government even to states not under the control of the ruling party, prevention of mismanagement of funds, ensuring social justice, and formulating innovative tourist policies can improve local economies and favour small-scale industries to create a more socially uplifting business model.

– Contributed by Tript

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