Singapore promotion: A return on investment

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SECAUCUS, N.J. -- If you think your leisure clients wouldn't be interested in going all the way to Singapore, think twice.

Literally.

The Singapore Tourist Board is giving away one free three-day return visit to Singapore every day through August 2000, when its 15-month MillenniaMania celebration comes to a close.

That means there will be 458 daily winners in all during the promotion. There will also be a grand prize drawing in which one lucky traveler will win a return visit to Singapore flying business class with 20 of his or her closest friends.

"We wanted to do something special for the millennium and we thought, 'Why not reward someone who's already been to Singapore?' " said Charles Leong, the Singapore Tourism Board's senior vice president for the Americas. He added that several U.S. travelers have won return visits since the program began early this summer.

According to Leong, Singapore is enjoying an increase in tourism after a significant drop last year caused by a dramatic economic downturn in parts of Asia and a period of civil unrest in Indonesia.

"That, unfortunately, caused concern on the part of Americans and kept them away from our region," said Leong. "Singapore, itself, remained very safe, although we were affected by the economy because it affected our neighbors. Our numbers are up for the first six months of this year, which is a good sign."

The economic decline in Asia has proved a boon for American travelers interested in visiting that part of the world. In fact, a favorable exchange rate makes travel to Singapore possible at what Leong calls "bargain prices."

He said travelers who may previously have visited Singapore for four or five nights are now able to add a few nights at another destination -- Bali for example -- for about what a visit to Singapore alone would have cost a couple of years ago.

"It's almost like a bargain outlet," he said.

Leong said participation in seminars and fam trips is essential for travel agents interested in selling Singapore. He cited the country's cuisine as an example of a key selling point that must be experienced before it can be expressed to potential visitors.

"Singapore is a multicultural country where four races come together to create a range of dishes," Leong said. "A brochure can describe the dishes, but it can't capture the aroma or the taste. There's nothing like experiencing a destination," he said. "It enables agents to explain and sell to a client."

In addition to visiting Singapore, Leong encourages travel agents to attend any of the 80-plus seminars conducted by, or in conjunction with, the Singapore Tourism Board each year.

He said it's imperative for travel agents to take the initiative and educate themselves about any destination they hope to sell. That learning process includes frequent visits to the Singapore Tourism Board Web site for up-to-the-minute news and information.

Keeping on top of new developments related to Singapore tourism is one way to overcome common misconceptions about travel to that country -- for example, that it's a "boring" destination.

"That was true 20 or so years ago," said Leong, citing the example of an acquaintance who came away with that impression after visiting Singapore in the mid-1980s. "I finally convinced him to come back and he couldn't stop talking about it," Leong said of his friend's recent return visit to Singapore.

"It changed his perception totally. There are more places to go; the nightlife has improved; we have a fantastic zoo. In fact, we have a night zoo with 1,200 species of nocturnal animals. You can walk or ride through on a train and feel like you're going through the jungle on a bright moonlit night."

While Leong acknowledged the average U.S. visitor to Singapore falls into either the "senior" or "baby boomer" demographic -- an experienced traveler with time and money to spare -- he said it's a fabulous destination for first-time visitors to Asia because it's an English-speaking country.

The Singapore Tourism Board has offices in New York (212-302-4861), Chicago (312-938-1888) and Los Angeles (213-852-1901).

Its Web address is www.stb.com.

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