For all its cosmopolitan trappings, Singapore remains, at heart, a tropical island. The city planners determinedly preserved gennery and the high groves of concrete and glass, and for a complete escape from urban bustle there still remain patches of the jungle and mangroves that covered the island when Sir Stamford Raffles first established a trading outpost here in 1819.
His outpost became the city we see today. Can nature truly survive in one of the most densely populated countries on Earth? It must. Singapore’s health and well-being depend on it. The country has acknowledged that truth for decades and made efforts to preserve habitats.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, on the island’s northern coast, is one of the most important of these natural remnants. Protecting an area of 320 acres, it offers a vital stopover for migratory birds and a home for otters, snakes and even saltwater crocodiles.
The largest remaining patch of jungle lies in the center of the island, enfolding the city’s main reservoirs and for decades the location of Singapore Zoo and its Night Safari, now part of an ambitious project to create a unified natural attraction, Mandai Park. In 2019 a forested wildlife bridge was constructed to connect patches of rainforest previously separated by a highway. Other elements of the Mandai project will include a new bird park, a rainforest park and aerial walkways. After completion in 2023, this new eco-tourism hub is expected to attract 10 million visitors each year.
Occupying an island half the size of greater Los Angeles, Singapore has always known environmental issues can’t be sidelined; they must be faced. Sustainability remains at the fore of every planning decision, resulting in a city ranked among the most sustainable in Asia and the world.
In 2019 Singapore introduced a carbon tax with the aim of reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency. All companies that produce more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases now pay a tax of S$5 per ton, with the revenue invested in green projects. Initially the tax will raise electricity prices for all Singaporeans, though improved energy usage will offset the rise.
One seemingly unavoidable consequence of inhabiting a small island is that Singapore must import more than 90 percent of its food. The carbon footprint of importing produce from neighboring Malaysia and beyond proves significant. But in typical Singapore style, innovative solutions will tackle that issue.
Urban farming is one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors. Some of these farms utilize slivers of land or even rooftops, while others employ high-tech methods to grow produce indoors on an industrial scale. Sustenir Agriculture, one of the pioneers of this new industry, grows kale and other greens in a climate-controlled, multifloor building.
Back in the 19th century, Sir Stamford Raffles identified Singapore as perfectly situated to be a major international trading hub, and so it has proved. But how to be a linchpin of international transport routes and also be sustainable? That’s a challenge Singapore currently addresses.
On the southwestern corner of the island, work is underway on the $20 billion Tuas Mega Port, opening in phases between this year and 2040. Fully automated, the port will be as energy-efficient as possible. According to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the ultimate aim is nothing less than to “rethink the future of shipping.”
Singapore proves one of the few places that fulfill the science fiction vision of the 21st century many of us had in childhood. The 160-foot manmade supertrees in the downtown Gardens by the Bay are indicative of that. At night especially, spectacularly illuminated with colorful, solar-powered, LED lights, the trees immerse visitors in an otherworldly scene straight out of Star Trek.
Some of the country’s other innovations, though more prosaic, are equally cutting-edge. With living space at a premium, Singapore unveiled an Underground Master Plan in 2018. Initially it will develop a new network of common services tunnels, efficiently channeling water and waste as well as power and communication cables beneath the streets. In the longer term, the city will relocate more of the road and rail infrastructure underground, using natural caverns as storage facilities and even as reservoirs.
Meanwhile, services utilize the air above the city. Singapore Skyways, a project owned by Airbus, already employs automated drones in a parcel delivery system. The drones currently shuttle items between shore and the many ships anchored off Singapore. Ultimately, they’ll be used for deliveries in and around the city and even as passenger taxis. The future starts in Singapore.
CHECKING IN WITH CHRISTIAN WESTBELD
General manager, Raffles Hotel Singapore
In mid-2019 Raffles Singapore debuted the results of a two-year restoration. How did the hotel renovate while also paying homage to its iconic history?
Recognized as a national treasure among Singaporeans, Raffles Hotel Singapore offers an unparalleled experience with its perfect blend of ambience, service, charm and heritage. We worked closely with our heritage consultants and partners to ensure the renovation process was carefully researched, developed and executed to retain our iconic heritage.
The restoration introduces new experiences for our guests and local community, created to ensure the hotel remains at the epicenter of Singapore’s social and cultural scene. These experiences include the new Raffles Arcade, housing a meticulously curated selection of new-to-market, bespoke and iconic brands and a brand-new Raffles Spa.
With new enhancements, Raffles holds more of a multigenerational appeal. The look and feel of the restored Raffles is elegantly sophisticated and chic. Wonderful new furnishings, décor and art sit beautifully within the hotel’s historic spaces. The new suites, restaurants, bars and public areas have a vibrancy that will connect with today’s sophisticated traveler. The new interiors retain the original charm and heritage and combine with elements of modernity. In this sense, the suites reminisce the past while still being contemporary to meet the needs of a savvy traveler.
While building on and retaining our own concepts such as Tiffin Room, Writers Bar and Long Bar, we are pleased to introduce restaurant collaborations with Chef Anne-Sophie Pic of the three-Michelin star Maison Pic in Valence, France; venerable French Master Chef Alain Ducasse; and Chef Jereme Leung, known for his innovative Chinese cooking.
As we all know, 2020 threw a curveball at the travel industry. How has Raffles Singapore handled the pandemic?
Since starting to accept reservations post-circuit breaker in mid-July 2020, the responses have been healthy and encouraging. The incoming bookings are primarily driven by our curated staycation offers. Our uniqueness and recognition as an oasis within the city assisted us to become a preferred destination over the last months.
A highlight is our history tours, offered to guests who stay with us. In July 2020 we added extra daily slots to cater to the increase in demand. Staycations also opened up our perspective to the preferences of local guests, quite different from our international guests.
Of course, guests enjoy these moments with safe distancing in mind since the hotel adopted the Singapore-initiated SGClean campaign, as well as the ALLSafe regime as our basic hygiene and safety standards.
What do you see for the future of hospitality in Singapore as travel begins to rebound?
Singapore ranks highly amongst the safest places to live during this pandemic. Having said this, predictions for international travel to hit pre-COVID levels are expected by 2023; hence, the key focus for the coming year will be on domestic “travel” and events.
In Singapore, vaccinations are fully underway in the local community, and Raffles Hotel Singapore already has more than 75 percent of our colleagues vaccinated. Focus remains on how to safely resume international travel and what digital vaccination passport program will be moving forward. As we expect the minimum length of stay for travelers will increase, we are creating offers to enhance guests’ overall experience as we continue to engage and entertain.
With most international guests not being able to visit the hotel physically at the moment, we identified and nurtured the importance of developing virtual business tools, including virtual site inspections, 360-degree panoramic visuals of hotel spaces and facilities as well as content to highlight measures to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
Which local attractions and activities do you recommend for travelers to Singapore?
Here at Raffles, we’ve worked with our local partners to launch specially curated heritage experiences that guests may book as part of their staycation offers, such as a private museum tour to understand the intricacies of the Peranakan culture at The Intan, a bicycle tour through the civic district enveloping Raffles Hotel Singapore and more.
Gardens by the Bay remains the premier national garden and horticultural attraction in Singapore, as well as Singapore Botanic Gardens, the first and only tropical botanic garden on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Visitors may spend a day on Sentosa Island, home to exciting events; themed attractions; award-winning spas; lush rainforests; and golden, sandy beaches.
What new developments in Singapore are you most eager for?
With the easing of stricter regulations, we can begin to focus on in-person events, especially weddings and local-driven events, gradually resuming with recommended guidelines in place. We remain ready to take in overseas events once activated. We have taken the opportunity to intensify our digital infrastructure, partner communications and virtual engagement, helping to create demand and deliver valuable updates.
The local dining scene developed tremendously in the last five years and continues to flourish. At the recently announced Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, eight local establishments made it to the list!
Millions of people have been to Singapore without having been to Singapore. How is that possible? The answer lies at Changi Airport, 12 miles northeast of downtown. Day and night, airliners arrive and depart from an airport consistently voted the best in the world. Singapore Changi Airport exists as a destination in its own right.
In 2019 the airport unveiled Jewel, a $1.3 billion “Lifestyle Hub” featuring an indoor rainforest, a seven-story circular waterfall descending from a funnel in the glass roof, a glass- floored walkway, mazes and a children’s playground. Transit passengers (after passing through security) mingle with day- tripping Singaporeans for whom the site has become a popular recreation spot.
Airports are not renowned for environmental credentials, but Singapore Changi employs numerous initiatives to help mitigate its impact. The design uses natural light productively to reduce electricity consumption, many outdoor surfaces incorporate recycled concrete, and the facility converts its food waste into water. As air transport becomes increasingly controversial, Singapore likely will lead the way in looking for solutions.
In downtown Singapore a lack of space long presented one of the most pressing problems. In 1992 the completion of an ambitious land reclamation scheme gave the city a new 890-acre district, Marina Bay. One of the first developments there, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with three towers bridged by outdoor observation decks, already touts its status as one of the 21st century’s iconic buildings.
Close by, the 18 supertrees in the Gardens by the Bay contribute another fixture of Singapore’s futuristic skyline. In December 2019 an observatory opened in the largest of the supertrees, providing visitors with stunning views from 165 feet up.
For all its modernity, Singapore hasn’t forgotten its origins. The Colonial District, centered on the Padang, a grassy sports field, still preserves a number of red-roofed, white-columned buildings from the British colonial period. Nearby, beside the Singapore River with the skyscrapers of the Central Business District for a backdrop, stands the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, the man who arrived on this mosquito-infested tropical island and imagined a city.
The epitome of colonial style since 1887, Singapore’s most famous hotel reopened in 2019 after a two-year renovation. The upgrade retains the unique Raffles ambience.
1 Beach Road
The St. Regis Singapore
Art, luxury and elegant accommodations merge with award-winning culinary delights, signature butler service and a convenient location at this 5-star property.
29 Tanglin Road
The Warehouse Hotel
A 19th-century riverside spice warehouse (godown in local parlance) reinvented as a chic, 37-room hotel offers an inspired blend of industrial heritage and modern Singaporean design.
320 Havelock Road
328 Katong Laksa
You’ll find many places in Singapore where you can try laksa, a spicy noodle soup, but this no-frills eatery is widely regarded the best. Several 328 Katong Laksa locations are around the city.
216 E. Coast Road
This modest but popular restaurant tells the story of Singapore’s multiethnic heritage through food with a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European influences. Folklore reopens June 2021.
Destination Hotel, 700 Beach Road
A special-occasion restaurant overseen by Björn Frantzén, Sweden’s first 3-Michelin-starred chef, serves spectacular food … but at a price: about $350 per person for the set menu.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road
JUST THE FACTS
Time zone: GMT +8
Phone code: 65
Currency: Singapore dollar
Key industries: Banking, financial services, biotechnology, petrochemicals, construction, tourism
INFO TO GO
International flights arrive at Singapore Changi Airport, located approximately 12 miles northeast of downtown. Mass Rapid Transit, the city’s highly efficient metro system, offers the least expensive transport to the city. Purchase single- or multi-ride tickets at the station. Taxi fares to downtown range $20–40.
COMING AND GOING
All U.S. citizens require a passport valid for at least six months beyond the last day of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of less than 90 days. Regular visitors (more than three past visits within a year) can apply for the Singapore-United States Trusted Traveler Program to accelerate clearance through immigration.
English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin. English is the main language of education, administration and business.
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