Singapore’s Tourist Trade

img040Chinatown Tour – Curious tourists looking at a finished product in a coffin shop in 1958

It is interesting and amusing to blog about Singapore’s tourist trade in the past.  I bounced on this archived photo in 1958 (above) with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.   I believe the photo was taken at a coffin shop in Sago Lane (Chinatown) and a popular tourist attraction at that time.  Of course, these coffin shops have been demolished.

budhisttempleThe Buddha Tooth Relic Temple now was built on the former Sago Lane.

Tourist trade is the best revenue earner for every country and it brings benefits for the peoples.  Some people may criticise the government to spend so much money every year to build and develop the interesting places which tourists are attracted … such as Gardens by the Bay, Changi Jewel, etc.

Sarong Island

The official opening of Pulau Sarong (Sarong Island), Singapore’s first tourist isle was marked by a dinner and show for invited guests only.  The owner, Mrs Christina Stone (standing) said that the five-acre isle, just off Pulau Blakang Mati, was catering to tourists.  Photo date:  21/09/1967.


A former blog about Sarong Island to share.

Tourists travel in sea vessels and land at Singapore Harbour


Tourist Attractions in the Past




Breakfast at the Zoo with Ah Meng

Tourists posing with Ah Meng, the orang utan during breakfast time at the Singapore Zoo.  c 1988


Tourist guide with tourists for sight-seeing


The Tourist comes to Singapore

The amusing cartoon published in The Straits Times 83 years ago.  These illustrations depict the scenes which the tourists could see at witness in Singapore over 8 decades ago.
Source:  Straits Times, 4 July, 1937


Source:  Straits Times, 11 July 1937


I spoke about the production of water from the Singapore River as “smelling salt” …..


How Singapore can cash in on $ tourists

By A Special Correspondent [Source: Malaya Tribune, 21 May 1950]

It won’t be long until round-the-world tourist ships crowded with dollar spending Americans will be tying up at Singapore’s docks every three weeks.  But if Singapore is to attract them ashore from their air-conditioned cabins it will have to get to work now creating the proper atmosphere for tourism.

The American government is trying to get Americans to travel abroad even more than they do now.  It is one of the most painless methods of alleviating the Dollar Gap.  Travel restrictions have been reduced and every American from one to ninety can bring home US$500 worth of souvenirs free of duty.

The American tourist today isn’t the free spending millionaire he was once imagined to be, but a thrifty, sober citizen who has saved up enough money to see the world.  He wants to get his money’s worth.  He wants to be entertained and enjoy the trip, as who wouldn’t.  When he does, he spreads the word and he is followed by many more.

Singapore has certain great advantages in this regard.  At the risk of disdainful disbelief, it can be stated that prices here are on the average cheaper than in the United States (with the exception of occasional items like cinemas – a foam rubber seat at New York’s finest theatre complete with first-run films, stage show and symphony orchestra isn’t any more, even in terms of pre-devaluation currency, than a smoky Singapore showhouse).  There isn’t a cleaner or a more orderly major city in Asia.  The climate is hot – but nothing compared to a U.S. city in summer.  The island has a surprising variety of scenery for its size.  Where else can one see Asia’s many races at one swoop?

One can’t go around the world on the standard shipping routes without stopping at Singapore.  Geographically, it is a convenient centre to explore South-East Asia in a hurry.  The food is adequate and plentiful, the water potable, health excellent.  And if the police continue their ccommunists, Singapore will continue to be an oasis of peace in a turbulent region.

Singapore isn’t on the round-the-world air routes.  The writer is not sufficiently acquainted with the reasons to express an opinin, but somewhere Singapore is missing the boat by not encouraging American airlines to include it on their Pacific-Europe routes.  There is little encouragement to detour down from Bangkok enroute to Manila and Japan.

The trouble with tourism in Singapore is that it has need to be fostered and developed and advertised.  How did Hawaii ever get the trade? Or Mexico? Or Italy?  The average tourist likes to be taken by the hand – not forcibly or ostentatiously, but nevertheless, guided gently.

European countries have granted ECA dollar funds for advertising their tourist industries in America.  Singapore might be able to get some too – or use some of the dollars from its surplus of exports to America.  Most Americans think Singapore is part of China.

Singapore, for the long run, needs more modern hotels.  Running hot water, beds with springs, decent coffee – and reservations are very hard to find in Singapore these days (i.e. 1950s).

Travel upcountry is unfortunately out of the picture in the foreseeable future.  But airlines based in Singapore could attract those elusive dollars by arranging packaged all-expense tours by air to such tourist Meccas as Bangkok and Bali.  With air speed a tourist could leave ship in Singapore, fly to his goal, and rejoin his vessel in Penang.

The colony could help the unknowing tourist by listing approved stores with fixed prices in the same way the Army approves restaurants for the Forces.  One of those “two or three minor incidents” concerning the sailors in town recently was reputedly caused by a wily gem merchant passinga zircon off as a diamond.  Most tourists can’t retaliate as effectively as did the gypped sailor.

The docks need dressing up.  Admittedly, there has been much more serious work of reconstruction to do since 1945 but the time has come when efforts could be made to make the Singapore Harbour Board area more attractive.  A van from the Tourist Bureau-to-be could meet ships, pass out booklets explaining the town, provide telephones and taxis, distribute free samples of Singapore products.

Singapore’s industries could be made into tourist drawing cards.  Every visitor would like to have the thrill of snapping a piece of latex right on the rubber tree; seeing how rubber is processed; visiting a pineapple cannery; eating a coconut freshly picked.

There is big money in  tourism.  Singapore to be out getting more of it.


 The impact of the tourist flood on a developing country

[Source:  The Straits Times, 7 June 1979]

In 1978, more than two million visitors came to Singapore, nearly one for every Singaporean, man, woman and child.  The number of tourists had doubled in the half decade since it hit one million in 1973.  What problems will this human flood bring in its train?  PETER STALKER looks at how it is affecting India, in a special report marking the UN Environment Programme’s World Environment Day.

The flow of tourists around the world is assuming dramatic proportions.  Trains and boats and planes disgorged some 243 million international passengers in 1977 and the number is now growing at 1 per cents a year.

And as ever more exotic horizons are opening up for the determined traveller, many of those who live on those horizons eagerly await the arrival of thicker and thicker wallets.

Tourism is indeed big business.  It now accounts for 5 per cent of international trade – US$50 billion (S$110 billion) a year.  But this year’s “State of the World Environment” report from the UN Environment Programme rings alarm bells on the potential impact, socialand physical, of this massive migration, particularly for developing countries.

How will the onrush of conspicuous wealth – the clothes, the cameras and the money – affect desperately poor societies like India?  How will ancient monuments that have lain undisturbed for centuries stand up to the buffeting of jumbo jet-loads of fast-moving humanity?

There are people in India who neither know nor care about such things, and take pains to place themselves in the firing line.  For US$6 a month 20-year-old Afaq Ahmed rents a hole in the wall near the Taj Mahal, leaping out every few minutes or so to try and divert the stream of toursists:

“Just come and look!  You get carvings cheaper here than in government shop.”  Then, surrounded by his marble elephants, jars and chess sets, he haggles over the price.

“I do OK.  My father he was a shoemaker, but I prefer this.  I like to talk to people and I can make more money here.  Look, I started with just US$60, now I can earn about US$100 a month.”

And the money he earns ripples through the rest of the local economy.  Some estimates put the “tourist multiplier” at four to one, so that each dollar is effectively spent three times more after it passes through Afaq’s hands.

In fact, keeping the tourist cash in the country is one of the major headaches for those poor countries which do manage to attract foreign visitors.

Tourists expect comfort, in the hotels they stay in, the vehicles they ride in and the food they eat.  But if the original investment is made by foreign corporations, or if the things the travellers demand have to be imported, the tourist cash can disappear on the next plane back.

Certainly, when it comes to luxury hotels the Indians can do things in style.  The sleek and opulent Ashoka hotel in Delhi is a real city within a city.  Inside you could be in any country in the world.

But the real world does not go away.

The tourist in India will, when he leaves the comfort of his hotel, trip over the bodies of people sleeping rough on the streets.  And, not surprisingly, he himself will be the object of attention.

For no matter how modestly dressed, tourists shine as a beacon of wealth around which the poor will congregate.

There can also be a resentment against wealthy tourists.  The problem is that when it occurs, it is bound up with so many other issues – economic, cultural and racial – that the part the tourists themselves play is difficult to disentangle.

“Tourists won’t cause resentment here,” one wealthy Indian explained to me.  “There have always been such gross disparities between the lives of rich and poor Indians that the tourists are hardly going to add significantly to it.

“And then again the Indians are such a fatalist people.  They accept poverty and wealth as the will of God.”

That may be wishful thinking.  But it is certainly true that the ordinary Indian off the tourist track has an open-hearted acceptance of travellers of any kind, however wealthy.

As one young American girl making her way around India on a few dollars a day said:  “If it was the last piece of food that they had they would insist that you sat down and ate it with them.”

Indeed it is these jeans-clad overlanders who probably get closest to the spirit of Indian life.  If tourism has the chance to contribute to a measure of international understanding this is where it is likely to be.

Mr Sunil Roy, a former Director-General of Tourism, explained that they also bring an indirect benefit to the economy which is not often realised.

“When these young people sit down at the roadside and eat off a stall, the money goes direct to the shopkeeper and then from him to the vegetable dealer or whoever.  Whereas with the hotel money a lot of it stays on top, in salaries and administration.”

In fact, India’s attitude to low-budget tourism is likely to play a key part in the way that the tourist flood affects the environment.

The luxury hotels that have scarred the coastlines during massive building booms in Europe, with waters clogged by effluent far beyond the cvapabilities of the sewerage system are looked on with some horror.

“We don’t want mass tourism,” said Ms Anjari Metha, the Indian Government’s Additional Director-General of Tourism.  “We want people to come here who will understand the country and who won’t be a threat to the environment.”

She argued that in any case it wouldn’t be practical to deal with people en masses.  Japanese tourists for example, who want to look at Buddhist shrines, “will often find they are in isolated spots with no facilities for tourists at all.”

She took me over to a model in the corner of her office.  “This is the kind of tourist village we need to build.  It will use local technology for simple buildings, maybe bio-gas for heating and light.”

It is hoped that the tourists will take things as they find them and accept the local standards.  “And maybe,” she added, “The local people can also take their cue and use some of the ideas here to improve their own homes.”  –  UN Environment Programme.


What our tourists complain about …  And how the STPB acts

By Judith Hale

[Source:  New Nation, 7 November 1980]

Acting on complaints is one of several ways the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board can safeguard tourist interests.  And it is important to protect thier ingerests as revenue from tourism is too important for Singapore to lose.  Find out how the STPB goes about doing this.

One tourist complained about a tour guide who had brought two “female impersonators” to perform an illegal show in a hotel room. (See picture above).

An Arab gentleman felt he was discriminated against because a bus driver and hotel porters refusted to help him carry his luggage.

A Britisher, brought to a shop by a tout, grumbled about being made to pay for his beer after he decided not to buy anything there.

Yet another visitor complained about a Szechuan duck ordered in a restaurant which was served looking like a “deflated mess”.

Reading this you might conclude that our tourists are a troublesome lot.  To some degree, they are.

While Singaporeans who absent-mindedly leave their umbrellas somewhere would promptly forget all about them, one tourist actually bothered to complain to the board about losing hers.

The board has the unenviable task of listening, reading, recording and acting upon every single complain from tourists provided of course, thge name of the offending place or person is given.  The number of complaints amounted to 607 in 1979, up 132 from the year before but the increase is not alarming considering the jump in the number of visitors coming here.

Most of the complaints are against overcharging and non-delivery of goods rather than messy ducks.

STPB writes to the establishments named stating that a complaint has been lodged and asks for an explanation.

Over the years, it has learnt that the visitor may not always be right.

In the duck case, for instance, the board learned that the restaurant had not charged the customer for the dish.

And in the touting incident, the shopkeeper replied that the Britisher had provoked him into charging for the beer by loudly declaring in front of other customers that the goods sold in the shop were very expensive.

There was nothing more that the board could do.  While it frowns upon touting it is not empowered to prosecute any establishment which indulge in the practice.

But this is something to be working towards.  Meanwhile, the board is fairly successful in taking offending establishments to task when the complaints, especially of non-delivered or damaged goods, are genuine.

Complaints about over-charging are more difficult to resolve.  As an official pointed out: “No one forces you to buy something.  This is a free enterprise system and that’s why we always advise tourists to shop around before buying.”  Acting on complaints in one of several ways tourists are safeguarded in Singapore.

You might wonder why it is necessary to protect their interests at all since they are more or less here today and gone the next.

The reason is that Singapore’s reputation as a good place to visit has to be maintained.  If tourissts complain and nothing is done about it, word will soon spread that Singapore is an unscrupulous place and one to be bypassed if possible.

The country needs the tourism revenue too much to allow this to happen.

So apart from having a complaints bureau of sorts, STPB has also set up a compensation fund regulated by a committee chaired by the board director, Mr K. C. Yuen.

On April 1, the fund at a comfortable sum of $481,111.

This comes from travel agencies which have to pay cash contributions and furnish bank guarantees when they are licensed.

The funds are used to compensate individual travellers who are victims of fuinancial collapse or malpractices of agencies.

The third safeguard STPB has is the close monitoring of travel agencies.  Apart from prosecuting unlicensed companies and acting as agencies, the board takes a good look at their accounts before renewing their licences each year.

Checks are made on whether complaints have been made against them too.

There have been several cases of the board refusing to renew licences.  This sort of control reduces the likelihood of malpractice of financial collapse.  Another less successful attempt to protect tourists from the unscrupulous has been accepting shops as associate members.

This entitles them to display STPB signs which enhance their reputation.  However, some of the shops have not lived up to this reputation as they are repeatedly mentioned in complaints.

Perhaps, the board should cancel the associate membership of repeat offentders.  Otherwise, STPB’s endorsement via the sign, may leave victims of malpractices wondering if the board approves of the duping of tourists.

City Sightseeing Tours for Tourists



Your Singapore is waiting!  Explore and travel freely around the city with a hop-on hop-off bus.  Take a seat on the top deck of the bus and get ready to surround yourself with the intoxicating sights and sounds of Singapore.  This is a great introduction to all the best landmarks and attractions and if you choose a flexible hop-on hop-off bus tour, visitors are free to ride the buses at their own pace.  Touring Singapore independently has never been so easy!

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Tourism in Singapore then and now.

Once upon a time, coffin shops in Sago Lane.  Now, every tourist to capture a photo with the Merlion to bring back the memories of Singapore home.  They are singing this song  …..  “I left my heart in Singapore!”.



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