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SINGAPORE TOURISM

Jurong tourism site set to tax developers' creativity

Project'll need to have something special given that it's smaller than the IRs and would be up against regional theme parks

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The government announced on Tuesday that the now-vacant seven-hectare site next to Chinese Gardens will be the location for a hotel, attractions, eateries and shops by 2026.

Singapore

THINKING out of the box will be imperative for developers eyeing the new Jurong Lake District (JLD) tourism development project.

The site will have to stand out from among the S$9 billion expansion to be made to the integrated resorts (IRs) and the growing number of theme parks in the region, industry watchers said.

The government announced on Tuesday that the now-vacant seven-hectare site next to Chinese Gardens will be the location for a hotel, attractions, eateries and shops by 2026.

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The need for novel development ideas is clear when one compares the seven-ha size to that of Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, which take up 15.5 ha and 49 ha - two and seven times bigger respectively.

An expression of interest (EOI) exercise by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will close in November.

STB chief executive Keith Tan said at a media briefing that the project will be deeply integrated into the neighbouring future Science Centre and Jurong Lake Gardens.

"There will be many things to do in that area, worthy of a one- or two-night stay in a hotel that we hope will be developed there."

Colliers' executive director for valuation and advisory services Govinda Singh said: "Doing another Jewel or Harbourfront is not going to work. You need to to give people another reason to go out west."

Some suggestions by Colliers include an eco-friendly resort in line with the Jurong Lake Gardens, or a mega mall with indoor entertainment facilities like theme parks.

Interest in the site could come from China developers like Vanke and Fosun and the local big boys. They would likely have to see this project as a long-term play, he said.

The project promises to up the game for tourism in the west. Cushman & Wakefield's senior director and head of research Christine Li said that in 2008, the Master Plan had earmarked Jurong as a family-oriented entertainment cluster with edutainment and gardens. She said: "It's no longer feasible to just add physical attractions because with easy access to technology, people need a stronger reason to visit the places."

Her ideas include something similar to Googleplex or Amazon's Spheres, the corporate headquarters of Google and Amazon which have become attractions in themselves.

A veteran hotelier put it to The Business Times this way: "In the coming decades, we need to seriously focus on quality tourism, not the business transients who are here for a day or the leisure transients who simply sight-see but don't spend very much.... We will have to think quite radically different."

The Jurong tourism project also raises questions around the development of the JLD, given the deferment of the High-Speed-Rail (HSR) project.

The HSR, conceived as a rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, was widely expected to boost the fortunes of the 360-ha JLD.

Asked about the HSR at the media briefing, STB's Mr Tan said: "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't happen, we think there's still viability in the area. Our tourism projects are not dependent on whether HSR comes about or not."

Alan Cheong, head of research and consultancy for Savills Singapore, described the mega-tourism project as "the optimal course of action to pursue, given the hiccups going on for the HSR".

He said tourism in Jurong would not be as dependent on the fate of the HSR as commercial or technology related land uses in the area would be.

But Mr Singh of Colliers said the project's success rests on several factors materialising - including the HSR, improvement in MRT connectivity and the addition of the residential and office components outlined in the Master Plan.

Ms Li said: "The delay in the HSR makes the attractions less accessible than other first-tier attractions in Jewel Changi Airport and Resorts World Sentosa."

READ MORE: 7-ha Jurong tourism playground among moves to fend off rivals