Singapore’s bid to be an entertainment hub

The city-state that banned chewing gum and regulated the flushing of public toilets is loosening up and reinventing itself as a nightlife hub where all-night drinking and bar-top dancing are no longer taboo.

Exchanging its nanny gloves for dancing boots, the city’s freer image is already paying off as leading overseas dance clubs move in to Singapore’s expanding scene.

One industry player says the number of entertainment outlets has multiplied six-fold over the past decade. Foreign outlets have increasingly been part of that growth, with the latest arrivals — including London’s Ministry of Sound and the topless French cabaret, Crazy Horse Paris — helping to raise the city’s regional profile.

The opening of Ministry of Sound is symbolic of successful entertainment brands “looking to Singapore as an attractive destination to establish their regional presence”, says Oliver Chong, spokesperson for the Singapore Tourism Board. The Singapore branch of the British dance club opened in December after previous expansion into Australia and Denmark.

With 3 600 square metres and a capacity of 3 000, it is Singapore’s largest dance venue.

The local clubbing scene “is certainly going through a change in Singapore like never before”, says Calvin Sio, the club’s marketing manager.

“It is slowly but surely becoming a lot more vibrant,” agrees Simon Lim, managing director of Wong Sans Group, which is bringing Bangkok’s Q Bar nightclub to Singapore in April. Lim, who runs other popular dance clubs in the city-state, said the relaxation of opening hours in Singapore is attracting clubbers and bar-goers from around the region.

“Compared with the rest of Asia, Singapore seems to have the widest range of concepts and this is a good progression for the market,” Lim says.

Singapore recently loosened its restrictions, allowing some clubs to open all night as well as allowing for bar-top dancing. Bangkok, in contrast, has imposed earlier closing times.

“Legislative liberalisation and the lifting of the designated dance-floor rule have also increased the appeal of Singapore’s nightlife,” says Chong, referring to the regulation that prevented bar-top revelry.

While easing some restrictions, Singapore has remained unflinching in its stand against drugs. It has one of the world’s stiffest anti-drug laws and trafficking of more than 500g of cannabis, for example, is punishable by death.

The club scene is generally associated with Ecstasy and other party drugs but Singapore’s nightclubs are flourishing even with the city-state’s hard line against substance abuse.

Singapore’s Zouk disco was on the Mixmag 2005 list of the world’s top-ten best clubs.

But the influx of foreign rivals is posing a new challenge in a “pretty saturated” market, Zouk’s marketing manager, Tracy Philips, says. “It makes it hard to develop our own homegrown brands when franchises come in with an already established name, making it easier to appeal to audiences here,” Philips says.

Marc Dass, spokesperson for popular dance club Momo, says the entry of foreign clubs has led to “Darwinian selection”, or survival of the fittest. According to Dass, the number of entertainment outlets, including bars, has risen six-fold from about 500 in 1995. “The whole industry has been affected” by the entry of foreign clubs, he said.

Local outlets are responding well by trying to meet the challenge, Chong says. An example is Zouk’s annual ZoukOut dance party which has become a major event in the region for clubbers with a bill of top deejays. Last year’s ZoukOut drew a record crowd of 18 000 and Chong says Zouk has “put Singapore on the global party scene”.

The club has been around for 14 years and now has a sister club in Kuala Lumpur. A similar sister club was opened in Jakarta by Momo, Dass told Agence France-Presse.

There are plans to further expand the Singapore nightlife scene with an injection of more than $37-million from the private sector, Chong says. A key component of that investment will by the city’s first two casino resorts, combining gaming, entertainment, convention and other facilities.

Singapore lifted a four-decade ban on casino gambling last year and plans to open its first “integrated resort” in 2009. The city hopes this and other moves will boost its tourism appeal and triple tourism receipts to $19-billion by 2015.

“In this game, having money is not enough, you have to be creative to survive,” says the Q Bar’s Lim. — AFP

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