Singapore Travel Guide
Business travelers will find an efficient workforce, openness to foreign investment and a superb infrastructure in Asia’s powerhouse city-state.
“If you hear the words ‘It will be done’ in Singapore, it actually means ‘It will be done’—and probably quickly,” says American Kathy O’Brien, managing director of Red Shoe Communications. “Things just happen here. A task-oriented national mind-set, the best infrastructure in Asia and a proven track record of getting things done all amount to an efficient workplace. This is the perfect environment for a can-do person.” Singapore is the business and financial powerhouse of Southeast Asia. The city/country is a safe, clean, everything-above-board port of call in a region plagued with corruption, cronyism and questionable rule of law.
By far the most salient aspect of doing business in Singapore over recent years is the rising number of foreigners. Singapore suffers an extremely low fertility rate. To counter this, the government has allowed hundreds of thousands of foreign citizens to work in Singapore. It is not uncommon for a large office to employ foreign nationals from a dozen or more countries.
For the business traveler, this mélange of cultures can make for a dynamic—or vexing—environment. That contact with a Chinese name could be Singaporean or perhaps hail from Malaysia, Indonesia, China or Hong Kong. In recent years tens of thousands of Indian nationals have arrived. There are also large numbers of Koreans, Russians and Japanese—not to mention the traditionally large expatriate communities from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe.
The government has also sought to hedge the country’s bets by promoting investment in a range of diverse sectors. High-focus sectors include financial services, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, creative arts and aerospace.
One beneficiary of Singapore’s openness to foreign investment is publishing entrepreneur Floyd Cowan, a Canadian who in 2008 set up a lifestyle travel magazine called Asian Journeys. “It was very easy to set up my company and the magazine—far easier than I thought it would be.”
Singapore is among the world’s most wired nations, and the government has invested heavily in what it calls e-government. Virtually every interaction a company or individual can have with a government agency can be conducted online.
“It’s quite easy to do business here,” adds Cowan. “Relationships are very important, so for long-term success you need roots in the community and to gain people’s trust.”
A particularly high profile area in 2011 and 2012 has been aerospace. To promote investment in the sector, Singapore founded Seletar Aerospace Park on the site of a 1920s air base. Several international aerospace firms have established a presence at the site. In February, Rolls-Royce opened a giant factory in Seletar that will build the Trent 1000 engine for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Financial services is also booming. Singapore has some of the world’s toughest bank secrecy laws. Though it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain figures, bankers have said that substantial funds have flowed from traditional banking havens such as Switzerland into Singapore in the last few years. What is more, Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians see Singapore as a safe, secure place to park liquid assets.
The flow of people and wealth into Singapore has pushed prices sharply higher. Singapore is now one of the most expensive places in the world for expatriates. Essential items such as cars, apartments and international education have risen in cost to astronomical heights, and this could eventually hurt Singapore’s competitiveness as an investment destination.
Some customs belie the sophistication of the city and accent the distinct local flavor of business life in Singapore. Between 12:30 and 2 p.m., Singaporeans rarely say “Hello” or ask, “How are you today?” The midday greeting is a simple question: “Have you had your lunch?” If you have eaten lunch and enjoyed it, then by all means say so. Never brush off this question with something like, “I was too busy” or, even worse, state that you did not enjoy your lunch at all. Whatever you say, make sure it is positive and upbeat.
If you are flying in from abroad, bring a box of candies from your home country for sharing in the office. Always carry plenty of business cards. Receive other people’s cards with two hands, and give face by admiring the person’s name and title momentarily. Never criticize the local food, a source of pride among Singaporeans. In food courts at lunchtime, Singaporeans reserve seats with tissue packets—a custom known as choping.
After work, Singapore offers a delightful range of options for the business traveler. The opening of the Marina Bay Sands casino across from the Central Business District in April 2010 revolutionized Singapore’s waterfront. During the recent Singapore Airshow, virtually all of the major after-show parties and events were held at classy venues by the water. Aside from a range of restaurants and bars at Marina Bay Sands, Customs House and One Fullerton, there is also a broad promenade that is ideal for an after-dinner stroll.
Red Shoe’s O’Brien offers a useful tip for entertaining Singaporeans after hours: “Focus on food! Ask Singaporeans about their favorite dishes and watch them come alive. Most would prefer going for a meal to going for drinks. Be brave in trying new dishes—they’ll love you for it.”
Her favorite spot for entertaining is E at Dempsey Hill, a lush, tropical district of bars and restaurants. ”At E, you sit at the edge of the tropical forest, in a lovely café with comfort food, and you know you’renot in Kansas anymore!”
Despite its tropical atmosphere, Dempsey is but a short cab ride from the city and not typically well known among business travelers and tourists. Another popular restaurant in Dempsey is P.S. Café, which offers excellent Western food including a superb selection of cakes and pies. If you like local food, Singapore’s famous Long Beach seafood restaurant specializes in two of Singapore’s iconic dishes: chile and pepper crab.
While Singapore has modernized in recent decades, becoming Southeast Asia’s business capital, it has also retained a degree of charm. It is one of those cities that business travelers enjoy returning to again and again.
Singapore Travel Guide: Where to Eat
Rocks Urban Grill + Bar
2 Marina Blvd.
#02-01/02 The Sail @ Marina Bay; +65 6438 4404
Rocks, which serves excellent Western food and superb pizzas, is the hottest business lunch spot in the business district. You need a reservation at lunchtime, but in the evenings it is quiet and mellow—perfect for intimate discussions over good food.
Privé Restaurant and Café
2 Keppel Bay Vista Marina at Keppel Bay; +65 6776 0777
Situated beside a private marina, Privé is a great spot for drinks and dinner after work. It also has sufficient space for large office drinks-and-dinner outings.
Singapore Travel Guide: Where to Stay
The Fullerton Bay Hotel
80 Collyer Quay; +65 6333 8388
Situated on the Marina Bay waterfront, the Fullerton Bay Hotel is the heart of the Central Business District. It also has an amazing rooftop bar.
The Club Hotel
28 Ann Siang Rd.; +65 6808 2188
The Club is a funky boutique hotel located between Singapore’s Chinatown and the Central Business District.
81 Anson Rd.; +65 6224 1133
The M is a slick, modern hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the Central Business District. It is also close to the Tanjong Pagar MRT station.
Singapore’s Changi Airport: Clean, Efficient, Convenient
- Don’t worry about booking a hotel car. Airport cabs are plentiful and easy to locate.
- The Mass Rapid Transit system will get you to the city in 30 minutes, but at rush hour the train is very crowded.
- Changi’s four terminals have a range of dining and shopping options. If you forgot to buy a souvenir, you can find it at Changi.
- If you buy expensive items during your visit, be sure to keep the receipts. Non-residents are eligible for a refund of Singapore’s 7 percent goods and services (GST) tax. GST refund counters are located beyond the immigration checkpoint. Purchases made in the airports’ transit malls are GST free.
- Wi-Fi is free through the Wireless@SG program. There are also Internet kiosks dotted around the airport.
George Wang is a freelance writer in Singapore.