Singapore: Last week, Singapore witnessed the Formula One (F1) circus rolling into town for the 14th time.
Along with the world-famous drivers and their girlfriends, there were other celebrities, fans, spectators and tourists thronging the Marina Bay Street Circuit and other parts of Singapore, soaking in the atmosphere. Plus, a large number of business executives.
Undeterred by the doubling, and in some cases tripling of hotel rates, organises of over 28 MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) events are taking advantage of the carnival vibes to hold their events during the same week as the Grand Prix. This is up from the 25 events held last year.
Returning events include the Forbes Global CEO Conference, Token2049 (a crypto event), Seafood Expo Asia and the Milken Institute Asia Summit. Coming to Singapore for the first time are the Pop Toy Show (pop culture-related toys, collectables, and merchandise event), and the inaugural Ethereum Singapore.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) expects that the MICE programmes running alongside the F1 Grand Prix will attract attendees from markets such as the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and India.
Although the number of spectators over the three days of this year’s Grand Prix has fallen to around 250,000 from last year’s record high of 302,000 (partially because of a loss of 17,000 seats due to the closure of the Bay Grandstand for redevelopment) and television audiences has slipped around 10 per cent from the average of 90 million that watched the race in its inaugural years, the Grand Prix is still very much the highlight and flagship event on STB’s calendar.
The Singapore F1 is raced at night through a floodlit street circuit and showcases the Singapore’s skyline in spectacular fashion with brightly lit buildings illuminating the city like a Christmas tree. It still retains much of the glamour, buzz and excitement it created in its early days, which not only attracts sports fans but also music and movie stars and other celebrities to the island, as well as wealthy businessmen who come for the MICE events.
“The Singapore Grand Prix has been a pioneer in terms of blending the excitement of racing with entertainment,” Ong Ling Lee, STB Executive Director of Sports & Wellness, told ESPN last year. “Over the years it has established itself as one of the top races on the calendar that people look forward to, from both a racing and off-track entertainment point-of-view. It’s still one of the factors which sets it apart. We remain confident that the race will continue to be a favourite in years to come.”
The F1 Grand Prix has also helped elevate the Singapore brand, promoted the island as a tourist destination among foreigners, and increased the number of visitors to the city-state.
In 2008, the first year of the Grand Prix, a total of 10.1 million visitors came to Singapore. In 2019, the last pre-COVID year, Singapore received 19.12 million visitors.
This year, as at the end of August, Singapore received 9.01 million international visitors. Projected over 12 months, 13.5 million foreigners would have visited Singapore by the end of the year which will be about 70.7 percent of the 2019 figure.
Based on STB figures till August this year, Indonesia leads the source country for tourist arrivals to Singapore with 1.52 million visitors. China residents form the second largest group with 878,000 visitors, with 713,800 visitors, Malaysia is placed third, and India is fourth with 711,900 visitors, a jump of 88 percent from last year. The number of Indian residents that visited Singapore from January till August in 2022 was 378,500.
Tourism accounts for around four per cent of Singapore GDP.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the MICE industry supported more than 34,000 jobs with an economic value-add of USD 2.8 billion, accounting for about a quarter of the tourism receipts. That it receives a boost from the F1 Grand Prix adds to the cost justification of hosting the race.
Singapore pays about USD 100 million to host the event. The Singapore government funds about 60 per cent of the total cost with the other 40 per cent coming from private enterprises including sponsors and hotels.
However, the STB feels the costs is well worth it.
STB’s Ms Ong added, “Since its debut in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix has generated significant economic benefits, including SGD 1.5 billion (USD 1.1 billion) in tourism receipts.”
“It has remained a strong draw for international visitors, with more than 40 per cent of total racegoers foreign visitors. It has also provided employment and training opportunities to locals, with approximately 30,000 staff, contractors and stakeholders accredited to work the event annually. Local businesses involved in race preparations and operations have also reaped economic benefits, while gaining exposure.”
Singapore’s tourism-related businesses also support the new seven-year F1 agreement which started in 2022.
Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA), feels that the event is “catalytic” as attention from the rest of the world will directly benefit the whole tourism industry.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia last year, he said, “(With) the number of eyeballs globally glued to the F1 race, Singapore’s seven-year contract locks both Singapore and the Grand Prix as the premier must-see, must-experience and must-visit race in Southeast Asia.”
Cheong added that the timing of the F1 race in September is “very strategic”.
“F1 will kickstart the year-end holiday season, with the Indian travel season in October-November, then winter holidays in December, and finally the Lunar New Year holidays in January-February,” he said.