Why Singapore is called the Garden City became immediately clear once I was on the road that took me from spotless, modern Changi Airport to my hotel, the Pan Pacific Singapore. Trees lining both sides of the East Coast Parkway form a graceful canopy overhead, and pots of manicured, flowering pink shrubs border the roadway. It’s like a long, cultivated garden — not the kind of wild vegetation I’d expected to find in this tropical island, and hardly the concrete jungle I’d imagined such a small, populous, and rapidly developed destination easily could become.
In fact, the 250-plus-square-mile island city-state is full of surprises and contrasts. It’s a cultural melting pot, an international business center, a busy trade port, and a crossroads where East meets West.
ISLAND IN THE STREAM
My visit, from June 28 to July 3, was sponsored by the Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau, a division of the Singapore Tourism Board, and included a few site visits as well as the one-and-a-half-day PCMA Meetings Forum Singapore, which was followed by the SACEOS (Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers) MICE Forum.
Soon after settling in at the newly renovated Pan Pacific Singapore, a spacious, 38-floor, 790-room property in the city’s Marina Centre, I joined several of my PCMA colleagues, our Forum presenters, and our Singapore Tourism hosts for a cultural tour of Singapore’s lively ethnic neighborhoods. As we walked and drove through the mishmash of markets and architecture in Little India, Chinatown, and Kampong Glam, the effect was colorful rather than jarring, and underscored the diversity of Singapore’s 5.5 million residents. We found shelter from the sun at one of the city’s many hawker (street-food) stalls, and although it was as hot and humid as you would expect in Southeast Asia, a glass of hot ginger tea both soothed and revived me.
We ate that evening at Pan Pacific’s Hai Tien Lo, an elegantly casual restaurant that gives traditional Cantonese cuisine a modern twist, and can serve 164 guests.
A SENSE OF HISTORY AND PLACE
The next morning, our hosts took our PCMA group to Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority’s City Gallery. An architectural model of Singapore, one of the largest in the world, told the story of its physical transformation and brought us up to present day — and to this year’s celebration of the former British territory’s 50 years of independence.
A standout of that transformation is Gardens by the Bay, built on 250 acres of reclaimed land, and next on our itinerary. The park takes a high-tech approach to nature, featuring two massive cooled conservatories and Supertrees Grove — soaring tree-like structures that dominate the landscape and perform environmental functions, like harnessing solar energy. I walked gingerly along the elevated walkway between two of the Supertrees and was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Gardens and beyond.
That evening, we sampled the buffet served at StraitsKitchen at the Grand Hyatt — a halal-certified theater kitchen offering local favorites such as satay, laksa, and ice cream made with durian (a foul-smelling fruit that is an inexplicable local delicacy). A few of us decided to walk home to the hotel, hoping to offset our many return trips to the buffet.
PCMA SINGAPORE MEETINGS FORUM
The next morning, about 60 local association executives arrived at the Pan Pacific to learn about two topics key to successful meetings: meeting design and sponsorship. The discussion on sponsorship programs was highly interactive, with small groups pitching activation ideas.
This was the second year that PCMA has designed the Forum, and Michelle Crowley, PCMA’s director of global development, was excited to build on the 2014 program. “This year, we created more education with deeper discussions, hands-on case studies, and group work,” she said. The feedback from Singaporean and regional association executives has been “extremely positive,” said Crowley, who is looking forward to working with “our great local partners to expand the program in 2016.”
MORE POINTS OF INTEREST
Other venues I visited during my Singapore trip included:
Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre Connected via skybridge to the Pan Pacific hotel, the center reopened in 2013 after a S$184-million renovation. It offers 452,000-plus square feet of flexible, high-tech meeting space across three levels, a 6,000-seat state-of-the-art auditorium, and free high-speed, venue-wide Wi-Fi for up to 6,000 delegates, and is capable of serving 10,000 meals daily. Groups get the biggest welcome on the planet on the center’s ground floor thanks to the world’s largest HD video wall, measuring more than 49 feet high and 197 feet wide.
Marina Bay Sands The SACEOS MICE Forum filled only a small portion of this casino-resort’s 1.3-million-square-foot convention center. Developed by Las Vegas Sands, the ultra-modern, 2,561-room property opened five years ago with a luxury mall, two theaters, an ice-skating rink, and seven celebrity-chef restaurants. Its three towers are topped by a cantilevered SkyPark and an awe-inspiring infinity pool. For lunch one day, our group was whisked up to the Sky on 57, at the top of Tower One. I divided my attention between breathtaking views of the sparkling marina and city and the lovely plate before me — a traditional Singapore dish of poached chicken, Asian greens, and fragrant rice.
Resorts World Sentosa On the island of Sentosa, off Singapore’s southern coast, this integrated, new resort offers such attractions as a casino, Universal Studios theme park, a water park, and the world’s largest aquarium, S.E.A. Aquarium. For groups, there are six world-class hotels and Resorts World Convention Centre, which boasts a 65,000-square-foot ballroom and 32,000-plus square feet of function space. The resort can host more than 36,000 delegates at one time with 37 function rooms and more than 20 unique venues. Among those are outdoor spaces along the beautiful beach, where the SACEOS MICE Forum’s gala dinner was held.