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Sentosa Gears Up

The Sentosa Leisure Group continues to develop the island resort with an eye to boosting tourism.

Long before an integrated casino-resort hotel opens its doors sometime in 2009 or 2010, the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Leisure Group are bustling with plans to spruce up the island and attract a bigger share of domestic and foreign tourist dollars. To accommodate all these projects, the work force will have to grow from the current 3, 000 to perhaps 10, 000.

This modestly rosy prospect was raised by Sentosa Leisure Group's chief executive Darrell Metzger at the re-opening last week of the Palawan beach, which had taken a year and S$20 million to do up. While the island's other beach, Siloso, targets the younger crowd, Palawan Beach was overhauled with families in mind. Mr Metzger affirmed that SLG approved a mix to maximize entertainment and remembrance value for families.

Accordingly, this portion of Sentosa now boasts an air-conditioned food court, the Samundar Indian restaurant, the 300-seat Palawan Amphitheatre featuring animal shows all the day long, a basement car park with 630 bays and, of all things, a beach tram. This from the same country that gave the world a monorail connecting just the two terminals of Changi airport and nothing else.

Another incongruity is the two-storey Silk Road bar and fine-dining restaurant Amara Holdings is building.

All these crammed into a narrow 1-kilometer beachfront may seem crassly commercial but they are vital because Singapore has absolutely no other natural wonders. Malaysia, Bali, the Philippines and Thailand offer more renowned beach resorts. Tourism is one of three pillars of the Singapore economy. But arrivals slowed down last year, inching up by an anemic 7% from 2004. Even the "Palawan" name is a backhanded tribute to the natural wonders and world-class diving spots available in the Philippine island-province of the same name.

Public amenities were also refurbished and augmented. Palawan Beach now features lockers for valuables, outdoor taps to wash sand off feet, and nursing rooms for mothers.

Elsewhere on the 5-square-mile island are a butterfly park, the Insect Kingdom, the Underwater World oceanarium, an artificial volcano, the laser-enhanced musical fountain, a luge that has neither snow nor ice, and The Carlsberg Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing observation tower in Asia.

As with much of the Singapore experience, the aim is obviously to give tourists more things to do, stay a bit longer and of course leave behind more dollars. SLG reports that tour groups currently spend an average of 5½ to 6 hours on Sentosa.

And just in case families or tour groups wish to spend the night rather in downtown Singapore, the number of rooms on the island is set to double from 800 to 1, 600. Coming up over the next 24 months are the $50-million Silosa Beach Resort, $60-million Amara Sentosa and $150-million The Knolls luxury resort.

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