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Singapore brand basks in night grand prix aura

2008-09-30 16:13

SINGAPORE, Sept 29 - Singapore's ambition to become a playground for the rich and famous took a leap forward over the weekend after it staged the first-ever night-time grand prix race.

The Formula One race, which mesmerised motor racing fans with its street-circuit setting and clockwork organisation, will help the Southeast Asian city-state turn into a trendier city and could boost its private banking and tourism sectors.

To be sure, the race and the entailing retail spending will not add significantly to economic growth: Singapore's economy is expected to slide into a recession in the third quarter because of a slump in exports and manufacturing activity.

But analysts said the images of Singapore's skyline displayed on television sets across the world was fantastic marketing for the country as a liveable city for bankers and professionals. This would give foreign investors more incentive to invest in the country in the long run.

"There are intangible benefits from the free advertising," said Kit Wei Zheng, an economist at Citigroup in Singapore. "It helps to reduce the perception that Singapore is a boring and stuffy place."

Singapore, which vies with Hong Kong to be one of the key wealth management centres in Asia, is typically seen as clean and efficient with a stable government, but slightly dull.

Events such as the Formula One attract the wealthy, who buy property and invest in the country if they like what they see, Kit said. Fun cities also give talented workers an extra incentive to relocate to the country, he said.

"It should help investments from the margin," Kit said.

Faced with a declining manufacturing sector, Singapore wants to grow services such as tourism and private banking to pick up the slack. New restaurants, cocktail bars and luxury apartments are sprouting, while it is building two big casinos.

The Formula One, which drew many concerns from sceptics at the start because of the difficulties of lighting streets for racing, was praised by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone as the jewel of the grand prix. It was a sell out with 300,000 people over three days.

"The race was brilliant. The contrast of the night sky and the cars was beautiful," said Tim Main, who flew in from Britain for the race.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who handed the trophy to winner Fernando Alonso, was quoted as saying in local media the race created a "valuable buzz".

"It is a very well-known race and it definitely puts Singapore on the map," said Matthew Jansen, a tourist in Singapore, as he strolled along the Singapore River.

"People were saying to us before we left 'You are going to Singapore. Are you going to the race?'"

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