INTERVIEW WITH DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY, FACULTY OF ARTS & SOCIAL SCIENCES, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE ON 3 APRIL 2008
Why do you think the state has tried to promote Singapore as a tourist hub?
I think the reasons are pragmatic and economic. Tourists are an important source of income for Singapore. As a result of our geographic location at the centre of Southeast Asia and along major sea lanes, we become a natural stop-over point for tourists to come, spend some time here and then explore the region. Of course, with better aviation technology and flight connections, we appear to be losing that edge.
What do the aims of promoting Singapore as a tourist hub make you feel?
It’s exciting, if you enjoy meeting new people. Many years ago, academic Cherian George referred to Singapore as an ‘air-conditioned nation’. I think an argument can be made in light of our endeavours to attract more tourists and immigrants that we are more an ‘air-conditioned hotel’.
If you were to use one word to describe Singapore with regard to tourism, what would it be?
It’s buzzing. Change is a constant in Singapore, and I noticed that especially when I lived away for 5 years in England. I only returned once or twice a year and it’d amaze how there was something new to see and do. Singapore has become rather adept at reinventing itself.
When you see tourists on their tour bus taking photos of everything they see on the street, what kind of feelings and emotions do you experienced?
I try to put myself in their shoes and figure out what exactly they are trying to capture. I am not a big fan of taking photographs of what I see on streets when on holiday. I take the view the moment is to be captured and savoured in the mind, as it happens. But I guess most photographers would disagree with me on this point.
Why do you think places such as Taman Jurong and Circuit Eoad are not advertised for tourists to visit? What do you feel about the lack of advertising for these areas?
I am not sure what the question is implying. But if the question is about why neighbourhoods are not advertised for tourists to visit, I think such a mindset is changing.
There is a recognition that such neighbourhoods make the Singaporean experience a unique one and more service providers are offering tourist trips to the hinterlands or, as the then PM Goh coined it, Singapore’s heartlands.
Since Taman Jurong was raised in the question and I do live in the area, I can shed some light. Taman Jurong use to have a lot of buzz many years ago but that died with the collapse of the industrial economy in Jurong. It is no surprise that the Tang Dynasty village, which went bust, is now an eyesore in Taman Jurong.
Nonetheless, Taman Jurong is still advertised for tourists to visit since there is the Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden and Jurong Bird Park.
National development planners have also set their sights on the lake, which is found in Taman Jurong. There are major plans afoot to bring Taman Jurong back to its former glory.
Do you feel that tourists visiting Singapore will find their experience real? Real i.e. whether it really depicts what Singapore really is? Why?
There must be some element of reality which keeps drawing tourists to Singapore. But the realities we seek can be quite subjective. Some tourists like beaches. Others like massive shopping centres. A number like nature. What matters is that Singapore has tried in various ways to capture the mind-share of such tourists with varying interests and I think one can conclude that Singapore has been sustainably successful in doing so.
Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?