Singapore may be one of the world’s smallest countries, but it frequently ranks as a top destination for international business travel, meetings and events. Business travelers who visit enjoy the great infrastructure and mobile and wireless communications technology available everywhere, the amazing variety of delicious food due to a rich mix of cultures, and the world-class hotels which are found in most parts of the city.
Singapore may be nothing more than a dot on most maps but this thriving city-state consisting of one main island and about 60 other tiny outcrops has much to offer. A first-time visitor arriving at modern Changi International Airport, then taking a taxi to the city, would be forgiven for thinking they had arrived at a modern U.S., European or international city. Stay a few days and the city’s cultural heart will be added to the mix and you will realize that this is a city with a fascinating combination of East and West.
Singapore has transformed itself into a knowledge-driven economy during the last decade. The Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau is leveraging that expertise to create, grow, and attract business events that reinforce Singapore’s reputation as a business and intellectual hub.
Plus, language isn’t a barrier because English is one of four official languages in Singapore and is spoken by most people.
Singapore is always growing and expanding, and this offers business travelers and visitors many new experiences and activities each time you visit. This, combined with world-class infrastructure, skilled workforce and strong trade links, makes Singapore a strong contender for international meetings, incentives, congresses and special events.
Singapore has at least five first-class convention centers, more than 150 hotels, and around 55,000 hotel rooms, and is my choice for conventions and meetings in the Asia-Pacific region. The great bonus is that its 5.4 million residents are friendly and English is the commonly spoken language.
While Singapore is the smallest nation in south-east Asia, the International Monetary Fund ranks it as the third wealthiest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita, thanks to its solid economy. It is also the busiest port in the world and is recognised as the top city in Asia for safety and quality of living.
Singapore’s approach to meetings and conventions is clearly successful. The city has maintained its title as Asia’s Top Convention City since 2005, according to the latest Global Rankings by the International Congress and Convention Association. The Union of International Associations rated Singapore as the Top International Meeting Country for the third time in its 2013 rankings, as well as the Top International Meeting City for the seventh consecutive year.
Hotels in Singapore
City hotels, luxury resorts, historic properties and cute boutique hotels are all available in Singapore. Most hotels offer business centers, meeting rooms, Internet access, and more. Apart from the hotels already mentioned, the following all have venues suitable for international meetings and events.
Legendary 103-room Raffles Hotel, a national monument since 1987 and still considered at the top of accommodation options, offers five venues suited to events. The 574-room Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel next to the Singapore River has numerous function rooms with natural daylight. Its column-free Grand Ballroom is able to accommodate up to 1000 people while the Waterfront Conference Centre is supported by up to 10 small breakout rooms.
One of the largest concentrations of international hotels is along Orchard Road. These include the 747-room Shangri-La Hotel with 31 meetings rooms, the largest of which seats 250 theatre style; the 393-room Marriott Hotel Singapore where the Grand Ballroom can accommodate 600 theatre style while there are 12 other meeting rooms; and the 421-room Hilton Singapore with modern conference and meeting spaces including 11 function rooms and the Grand Ballroom, which accommodates up to 550.
Other large hotels in this precinct are the 1051-room Mandarin Orchard Singapore with 10 meeting rooms, the largest of which can accommodate 1200; and the 677-room Grand Hyatt Singapore with 16 meeting rooms with a capacity of up to 700 in the largest.
Meetings and Convention Facilities in Singapore
Singapore has four main meeting and convention centres that cater to tens of thousands of delegates, and several other facilities associated with hotels that can cater for over 1000 delegates.
The SingaporeExpo is the city’s largest conference center with 10 convention and exhibition halls totaling over 100,000 square meters of space. There are also 10 Conference Halls, six Meeting Rooms and an Outdoor Open Area with more than 10,000 square metres of space. The MAX Pavilion, a multi-purpose event hall with auditorium style seating, has nine meeting rooms and eight conference spaces suitable for break-out sessions, and press rooms. Singapore EXPO’s new convention wing, MAX Atria, provides over 12,000 m2 of additional meeting space and 32 meeting rooms. Restaurants and food outlets offer Chinese, Western and Indian food.
The whole complex is located only one railway (MRT) stop or 5 minutes by car from the Changi International Airport and within walking distance of two business hotels with 564 rooms; Capri by Fraser at Changi City and Park Avenue Changi Hotels & Suites.
The Sands Expo and Convention Centre is the biggest MICE facility in the central business district of Singapore. It is part of the Marina Sands complex which includes the city’s largest hotel (2561 rooms), the most up-market shopping centre, a large casino, two theatres which play host to the world’s best entertainment, the iconic ArtScience Museum and many other facilities. The award-winning venue has a capacity for up to 45,000 delegates, and 2,000 exhibition booths in 250 meeting rooms, south-east Asia’s largest ballroom (up to 6,000 guests banquet-style, 7,000 for a staged performance or 11,000 theatre-style), and in 17,190 m2 of exhibition space and 7,670 m2 of banquet space.
Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre has 31 meeting rooms, four exhibition halls, three ballrooms, three convention halls, and one theatre for a total of nearly 40,000 m2 of hall and banquet space which can accommodate up to 10,000 people. Suntec is in the central city and is surrounded by hotels, restaurants and other facilities.
There is an adjacent underground rail station (for the MRT system) and numerous bus routes connecting to all parts of the city. The Suntec Joint Marketing Alliance, comprising the Conrad Centennial Singapore, Mandarin Oriental Singapore, Marina Mandarin Singapore, Pan Pacific Singapore Hotel, Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore, Swissotel the Stamford, and Fairmont Singapore, offers more than 5,200 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention centre.
Resorts World Sentosa Singapore is a complex situated on a small off-shore island which is connected to the main island by a road bridge, walkway, cable car and rail line. It includes six hotels, a large casino, the Universal Studios Singapore theme park, Marine Life Park, and several other attractions. Outside Resort World, but still on Sentosa Island, are further hotels, beaches and many other entertainment facilities.
The Resorts World Convention Centre has one of southeast Asia’s largest, column-free ballrooms. The spaces are ideal for meetings with up to 6,000 attendees or an more intimate environment for smaller incentive groups. At any one time over 35,000 delegates can be hosted within the facilities.
Resorts World Sentosa was named “Best Integrated Resort” in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the TTG Travel Awards which recognises the best of Asia-Pacific’s travel industry. There are 1595 rooms within the Resorts World complex and almost 1500 more outside but still on Sentosa Island.
Elsewhere, Raffles City Convention Centre offers another smaller choice within the central city. It consists of a function space of more than 6,500 m2, 27 meeting rooms, and three ballrooms. It is positioned near luxurious Raffles Hotel and it adjoins the Fairmont Singapore and Swissôtel The Stamford hotels.
Outside these convention centres, events can be held at a number of other spaces, including The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay that accommodates up to 30,000 standing people. Also here is the 500-person indoor Waterview Room and the 1,100-person Flower Field Hall. The newly opened Sports Hub with its retractable roof offers other venues such as the 6,000-seat Aquatic Centre & Leisure Water Facility and the 3,000-seat OCBC arena.
Things to See and Do in Singapore
Singapore has plenty of outdoor attractions that groups can enjoy in the year-round warm climate. Most visitors marvel at the 20,000 orchid plants on display at the Orchid Garden within the Singapore Botanic Gardens, as well as enjoy world-famous Singapore Zoo where breakfast with the orang utans is my personal favourite experience. Groups can board a traditional bumboat river cruise and travel down the Singapore River to enjoy the colonial and modern architecture and see numerous restaurants, bars and attractions to be explored when back on land.
The vibrant culture and heritage of Singapore is on show at the National Museum of Singapore, the largest and oldest museum in the country, and the Singapore Art Museum where you can explore Singapore and south-east Asian art pieces. At my personal favourite museum, the Asian Civilisations Museum, guests can see some fine artefacts and exhibits showing how Singapore’s multi-cultural society has developed from various pan-Asian cultures and civilizations.
You can also see the city’s diverse cultures on the streets. Visit Little India to buy silk saris, and enjoy great food at the Food Street in Chinatown. Malay royalty once lived in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood and today you can explore its many historic attractions, including the Malay Heritage Centre. In the Joo Chiat district, there are reminders of Peranakan culture, a blend of Chinese and Malay traditions that can be experienced through their food and fashion.
Shopping is another popular past-time. Orchard Road is often considered one of the top shopping streets in the world. It is home to high-fashion and mass-market retailers. Huge malls here and elsewhere draw locals and visitors alike.
For team building, Megazip Adventure Park on Sentosa Island has the most extreme zip wires in Asia, as well as an aerial rope course and free-fall simulator, among other adventures.
The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay complex is a star among Singapore’s arts and entertainment scene. Located on the waterfront overlooking Marina Bay are a 1,600-seat concert hall, 1,942-seat theatre, recital rooms, rehearsal studios, and several outdoor performance spaces. Esplanade has several indoor and outdoor spaces for meetings and performances, including the Roof Terrace for up to 450 guests and the fan-shaped, 245-seat Recital Studio.
River Safari is Asia’s only river themed wildlife park and it is home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium and one of the largest collections of freshwater fauna in the world. The park’s exhibits and experiences include Amazon River Quest, which takes guests down a representation of the South American river, while the Giant Panda Forest allows you to see Singapore’s favourite creatures. The adjacent Night Safari is an open-air zoo that is only open at night. It is divided into seven zones, which can be explored either on foot via four walking trails, or by tram.
I highly recommend Gardens by the Bay, a 101 hectare superpark which houses a huge collection of plants in conservatories and waterfront spaces. It is a tropical garden paradise close to the central city. One highlight is the Flower Dome, the world’s largest column less greenhouse, which replicates the cool-dry Mediterranean climate. The Heritage Gardens show Singapore’s diverse history and culture, while the OCBC Skyway, an aerial walkway 22 meters high and 1,240 meters long, has stunning Marina Bay and garden views.
The world’s second largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer at 165 meters, is the height of a 42-story building. Visitors can take in panoramic views of Marina Bay, the city and beyond, as well as enjoy shops, restaurants, and various activities including a XD Theatre 6D motion ride experience and a 737 flight simulator.
Set amongst tropical greenery and a 15-minute drive from the central business district, Gillman Barracks is a colonial era structure transformed into a hub for contemporary arts. There are international galleries, excellent restaurants and the Centre for Contemporary Art.
Food, Drink and Entertainment in Singapore
Singapore has an entirely different character after dark. In the past 20 years it has thrown off its conservative face and now offers great night-time activities. The famous street food can be savoured at hawker centers such as the East Coast Park Lagoon Village, the open-air Makansutra Gluttons Bay and the spectacular Lau Pa Sat which is famous for its satay stalls. This is a highlight of any visit to Singapore and you shouldn’t leave without trying chicken rice, chilli crab, rending, and ice kachang.
Pubs are safe and can be fun. Try The Penny Black at Boat Quay which was supposedly designed and built in the United Kingdom and shipped here piece by piece. 28 HongKong Street has been named the Tenth Best Bar in the World so it must have something. It’s a deceptively simple space that is dark and airy. Level33 is located in the Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1. This craft-brewery and bar has great views from the seats on the terrace and there is a good bar and dining menu.
If you want to hit the dance floor check out Club Pangaea at Marina Bay Sands or Zouk which is made up of three clubs and a wine bar.
I always enjoy the cocktail experience at one of the many cocktail bars like popular Bar Stories (although the service is often slow) or a handcrafted beer at Brewekrz at Clarke Quay. There are stunning views across the city at Lantern at The Fullerton Bay Hotel, 1-Altitude which occupies the three topmost floors of the One Raffles Place building, or Ku De Ta at the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands. If you need to chill out I recommend Timbre, where you can enjoy live music nightly in a laid-back outdoor atmosphere.
There are three more places that I particularly enjoy.
Housed in the Hilton Hotel on Orchard Road, Iggy’s is internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s 50 best restaurants. Tiny Restaurant Andre serves French nouvelle cuisine with vibrant Mediterranean touches and is considered one of the ten top restaurants in Asia. Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar is the original home of the Singapore Sling. The casual but expensive bar features straw fans and colonial architecture, and serves up pub snacks and occasional live music.
Finally I suggest the popular dining and entertainment destination of Clarke Quay. Five blocks of restored riverside warehouses now house shops, cafes, restaurants, wine bars and clubs. It is a mix of modern and traditional, and a great place to find Chinese, Italian, Mediterranean, and local cuisine.
Guests can even shop all night, thanks to the 24-hour Mustafa Centre in Little India, which is said to have some of the lowest fixed prices in Singapore.
Logistics in Singapore
Singapore Changi Airport, located about 30 minutes from downtown, is a major flight hub for the Asia Pacific region. It is recognized as one of the best airports in the world and is wonderfully user-friendly. Changi has a capacity of 70 million passengers per year and there are flights to most of the major countries in the world by more than 100 international airlines. There are three terminals with a fourth under construction all with free Wi-Fi and each with a business center offering 24-hour service.
The airport has more than 350 retail and services outlets and 120 F&B outlets. There is a transit hotel for short term stays and the 320-room Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, connected to Terminal 3 via covered walkways, is available for longer stays.
The compact city has an inexpensive, clean, and extremely efficient public transportation system with a network of trains, light rail and buses reaching nearly any point in the city. Travel tip: If you’re visiting and not part of a formal trade show or event that includes transportation, purchasing the Singapore Tourist Pass is a good idea rather than paying cash for each public transport trip. This is a special ez-link card that offers tourists unlimited travel on Singapore’s basic bus services, MRT and LRT trains for the period that it is valid.
I find Singapore’s railway system, the MRT, a great way to get around. These air-conditioned passenger trains serve stations located all over the island and run daily from 5:30 am to 12:30 am.
There are two bus companies. SBS Bus Transit has over 257 services with 2,800 vehicles. SMRT buses run on 74 routes, including Singapore’s first night service known as SMRT NightRider. Buses cover any areas not reached by MRT, and bus stops can be found at all MRT stations.
Singapore metered taxis operate 24 hours a day throughout the city. Taxi stands can be found at the arrivals level of the airport, outside major hotels and shopping centers, and they can be hailed on streets where buses don’t operate.
Singapore’s tropical climate has no distinctive seasons with temperatures averaging 31°C maximum to 23°C minimum with only slight variations throughout the year. Monsoon season runs from November to January, during which sudden, heavy showers can occur.
For information about Singapore for meetings, contact the Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau.
For information about visiting Sinagapore, check out Len Rutledge’s e-book, Experience Singapore.
Updated. Initially published October 28, 2014.