In Singapore, novelty of F1 race begins to wear off

Kai Portmann

With just days to go before the roaring of Formula One car engines will fill the streets of Singapore again, race organizers and the city-state’s tourism industry are banking on last-minute bookings to fill seats, hotel rooms and tourist attractions during the event.

After the inaugural night race in 2008, the novelty of a F1 Grand Prix in Singapore seems to have worn off a bit.

As the economic downturn also took its toll on tourism worldwide, ticket sales and room bookings in the weeks to this year’s GP season have been sluggish compared to last year.

‘Given this year’s economic context, it is not surprising that bookings have been slower than last year’s,’ said Justin Chew, director of F1 projects at the Singapore Tourism Board.

‘In 2008, the inaugural event drew huge interest from the beginning,’ he added, noting that the buying pattern for the 2009 GP was much more typical of other F1 circuits with an increased momentum in ticket sales and hotel bookings closer to the race.

‘Traditionally second year attendances at new Formula One circuits do see some drop from the inaugural race numbers,’ said Michael Roche, executive director of race organizer Singapore GP Pte Ltd.

For 2008, he said, the company released a capacity of 80,000 tickets a day and increased it to 100,000 tickets, as the demand was overwhelming, eventually selling 300,000 tickets for the whole event.

This year, organizers expect nearly 250,000 people to enjoy the race, as they released 83,000 tickets per day for the three-day event, just under the optimal number, given the facilities at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, of 85,000.

With average prices unchanged from the 2008 Singapore night race, current sales were beating the initial forecasts for the second Grand Prix, said Roche.

‘I’m confident we are going to … get very close to 95 per cent,’ he said, adding that only loose seats and single seats were left.

Singapore’s hotels approach the GP season with much more realistic expectations compared to 2008.

After getting a lot of stick for demanding exorbitant room rates during the first Singapore GP, overall, hotels have lowered their rates this year by 30 to 50 per cent, according to the tourism board.

‘Greed made us lose our focus last year,’ said Patrick Fiat, General Manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, in an interview with the board.

‘We have definitely learnt our lesson,’ he added.

So far, Singapore’s tourism industry plummeted this year as travellers cut back on their spending because of the economic crisis.

In the first half of 2009, total room revenue of the city-state’s hotels reached 721 million Singapore dollars (509 million US dollars), down 33.2 per cent year-on-year.

‘The Formula One week is still a silver lining we can all look forward to before the year ends,’ said Aiden McAuley, general manager of Swissotel The Stamford.

One of the tourist attractions, the world’s largest giant observation wheel Singapore Flyer, hopes to cash in on its unique position at the scratch and finishing line of the race course and a view on 80 per cent of the circuit.

‘The sales of our packages have been positive and encouraging and we are anticipating another surge of bookings as the race dates draw nearer,’ said a Flyer spokesperson without giving numbers.

However, after launching package tickets costing 688 and 5,500 Singapore dollars in July, the company introduced a much cheaper package worth 288 Singapore dollars and individual day passes costing between 58 and 188 Singapore dollars, as sales had been sluggish, according to local media reports.

In Singapore’s second GP season, excitement is building up slower compared to last year, although the race organizers lined up international bands like Travis, Backstreet Boys or Chaka Khan for trackside entertainment.

‘In terms of buzz, I would say, of course, if the economic climate was more vibrant, there will clearly be a lot more buzz,’ said Singapore Trade Minister S. Iswaran.

He was confident, that the recent ‘Crashgate’ scandal involving the Renault team has not sullied Singapore’s reputation as a race venue.

‘This is really more about a particular team’s tactics, not a comment on the venue,’ said the minister.…


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