If you want to make a fast buck in Asia, hit the casino. Or at least build one. Following in the wake of Macao and Singapore, Cambodia is tipped as a new gambling hot spot.
Singapore’s plans to rebrand itself as Asia’s capital of fun are finally moving off the drawing board as engineers bolt together the trusses and stays of the Singapore Flyer, a 42-storey-tall ferris wheel.
It starts spinning next March, three years late because amusement-ride maker Melchers Project Management and marketing outfit Orient & Pacific have had a hard time convincing investors it would be as profitable as the eight-storey-shorter London Eye.
The Flyer, costing €118m, is part of a bid to expand Singapore’s tourism industry, as its manufacturing and shipping industries move to cheaper neighbouring countries. “Once you get people in for tourism or a conference – and Singapore wants to be Asia’s leading convention destination – you want them to stay and spend more, hence the casinos, shopping malls, and everything else,” says Joseph Tan, southeast Asia economist at Standard Chartered Bank.
Come 2015, the government is banking on 17 million visitors pumping S$30bn (€14.8m) annually into the economy, against S$10bn (€4.9m) earned from 9.7 million visitors in 2006.
Joining the Flyer around downtown Marina Bay by 2010 will be new botanic gardens, an art-science museum, a conference centre and the first of two casinos. But at what cost? Many traditionally conservative Singaporeans worry about gambling addiction and vice despite the government’s promises to protect society and the city state’s probity.
Still, the government is not betting entirely on fun to keep the economy humming. A DNA-inspired double-helix bridge will span the bay and act as an emblem of Singapore’s ambitions to expand its biotech industry.
While Britain’s sports tsars rest on their laurels after winning the 2012 Olympic Games for London, they might spare a thought for their South Korean counterparts, currently scrabbling to bring home not one, but three major international sporting events.
The city of Daegu is competing with Barcelona, Brisbane and Moscow to host the 2011 International Amateur Athletics World Championships; the resort of Pyeongchang is battling Salzburg and Sochi in Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics; and the port of Incheon is bidding against New Delhi for the 2014 Asian Games. Given Korea’s successful hosting of the Asian Games in 1986, the Summer Olympics in 1988 and the World Cup and the Asian Games in 2002, officials are bullish.
“Korea has an exceptional track record of successfully hosting international sporting events,” says Daegu bid committee chairman Yoo Chong-ha. Outside sources concur. “They are well organised and have good stadiums,” says news agency AFP’s Asian sports editor, Simon Parry.
Host cities receive generous central government funding for infrastructure improvements if they win, as well as event revenues: Pyeongchang anticipates €2.5bn in value added; Daegu €375m. But benefits go beyond the economic. All three events are hyping reconciliation with North Korea. At inter-Korean talks in March, a joint hosting of Pyeongchang’s bid was raised, though similar plans failed to materialise during both the 1988 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup.
Despite official talk of Korea’s “passion for sport” many wonder if they just lust after the global spotlight. Following the euphoric 2002 World Cup – when the national squad, playing to a fanatical home crowd of millions, reached the semifinals – spectator numbers at Korea League football matches hit record lows.