I’m just back from Singapore. More specifically, I’m just back from Resorts World Sentosa. Which is to say that I’ll be describing what it felt like to see a tiny country in the making. Okay, I’m exaggerating — but not that much. Resorts World, which launched in January on the pleasure island of Sentosa off Singapore, has cost the Genting Group US $4.7 billion or about Rs 21,600 crore. If that makes no sense to you, never mind, but it might help to know that Singapore’s 2008 GDP was US $182 billion.

If you’ve been reading the papers — or at least kept track of travel agents’ ads — you’ll already know that the ‘integrated resort’ spread over 121 acres, which will offer you the ‘world’s largest marine life park’ (coming up), the ‘world’s largest animatronic performance’ (ditto), ‘Asia’s largest column-free ballroom’ (ready), and which purports to be the ‘ultimate family destination’ (sure!), is the Next Big Thing in the tourism industry.

When our gang of 15-odd journos visited in early February, four of the six hotels were receiving visitors (Festive Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Hotel Michael and Crockford Tower; Equarius and Spa Villas will open in Phase 2). The rides at the Universal Studios theme park — featuring the world’s tallest ‘duelling roller coasters’, the first sci-fi zone and the biggest collection of DreamWorks attractions — whizzed overhead and droned around us in safety test runs. The casino — strict Singapore’s first — was glitteringly ready but not formally open. (It eventually opened on February 14, Chinese New Year’s Day, hosting some 75,000 visitors and earning, news reports later claimed, several million dollars in its first few days.)

It’s easy to get carried away by the PR spiel — and there’s a lot of it over our two days, in the form of resort representative talk, tour guide lecture, press material, speeches by officials. Big money can, after all, buy the biggest names in the business: revered architect Michael Graves designed the complex and has a hotel dedicated to him; big-name glass artist Dale Chihuly’s grandiose works are scattered casually across the place; Joel Robuchon will introduce his culinary multinational business shortly; celebrity chef Susur Lee will have a speciality restaurant; ESPA, the spa world’s poshest operator, will open a retreat…

The last time I attended a preview of a project anywhere near as comparable — the Las Vegas Sands Corp’s massive ‘Cotai Strip’ development of Macau in 2007 — I came away awed by the scale (of investment, ambition and engineering) but also grappling with a sense of unrealness, of the impossibility of purpose. (As it turned out, that project foundered in the recession, and is still far from complete.) But Resorts World feels different: a genuine family holiday destination rather than an intimidatingly starry, merely outrageously expensive showpiece. Perhaps it’s the resort’s Director of Sales telling us about the road shows with Indian agents and the imminent tie-ups with Jet Airways; perhaps it’s the Indian food at a Universal Studios’ dining outlet; perhaps it’s the clever design at the Festive Hotel where I’m staying, with loft spaces for children and expandable couches in all rooms. Whatever, it all comes together as a believable, viable package. Which makes me think that I might know what you’re doing this summer.




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