Many destinations or small towns aren't prepared for waves of tourism after a box office hit makes travelers want to visit, but not Singapore. The island nation has been expanding its airport, hotels, stopover program, and luxury offerings for years as it waited for its turn in the spotlight with U.S. travelers.
Travelers were already flocking to Singapore in record numbers in recent years. But the debut of “Crazy Rich Asians” this weekend is giving millions of potential new visitors a big screen glimpse of a vacation for the rich and famous in the tiny island nation.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” the film based on the 2013 novel by Singaporean-American Kevin Kwan, delivered $34 million in box office sales in its first five days in theaters. The impressive debut made it the number one film, which features popular Asian-American actresses such as Constance Wu and Ken Jeong.
But the lead supporting role is undoubtedly Singapore itself, which had 12 attractions, such as Marina Bay Sands, and 12 Singapore-based cast members featured throughout the film. The city’s airport alone is a destination fit for Hollywood royalty and is a symbol of Singapore’s growth as a luxury travel brand.
The movie’s timing is ideal for the destination, as Singapore Airlines is set to restart non-stop flights between New York and Singapore later this year. The flight will be the first non-stop service between both cities since 2013 and the third non-stop flight from a U.S. city (Singapore Airlines currently has a daily non-stop flight and a daily flight via Hong Kong from San Francisco and United flies non-stop from Los Angeles). Starting October 11, Singapore Airlines will launch a daily flight from Newark to Singapore using ultra-long-range Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Travel time will be nearly 19 hours and the flight covers about 9,000 miles.
Singapore Airlines already flies from New York’s JFK Airport via Frankfurt and also flies from Los Angeles and Houston.
Flights in general to Southeast Asia are also becoming more affordable from North America. A quick Google flights search for flights from Los Angeles and New York to Singapore yielded results for under $1000.
Travelzoo and Singapore Tourism Board, the island’s destination marketing organization, are currently running a deal for airfare, accommodations, and activities for nine nights starting at $1,699 from seven U.S. cities to capitalize on the movie’s success. Singapore Tourism Board also did screenings for the movie in the past month and has been promoting the movie and its Singapore connection on its social media channels.
U.S. arrivals to Singapore grew nearly 14 percent year-over-year for January to June. The United States isn’t Singapore’s fastest growing market as Asian and European markets such as India and France grew at greater clips during the first half of 2018. But North America is the second fastest-growing region for Singapore, after South Asia, at 14.5 percent when Canada is added to the mix (up 23 percent year-over-year).
The U.S. market for Singapore is about 70 percent leisure and 35 percent business, according to estimates Singapore Tourism Board, provided earlier this year. Singapore Tourism Board has also noted that business travel and meetings and events have been a big boost to U.S. growth in the last year.
Bruce Turkel, founder of Turkel Brands, a global brand consultancy, and author of five books on branding, said Singapore has likely already cashed in on the movie from a branding perspective. Turkel helped Miami brand itself as a destination when “Miami Vice” was on the air, and points out how the show also showed the glitz and glamor of the city to balance out the drugs and crime.
“If I just saw the movie and I loved it, I walk out of the theater and the first thing I’ll do is pull out my phone and look up Singapore,” he said. “And if Singapore has done its job properly, I’ll probably end up on the destination marketing organization’s website (Singapore Tourism Board has Crazy Rich Asian experiences featured on its homepage). The tourism board will know by search traffic and by analyzing Google searches.”
Turkel doesn’t feel the movie portrayed Singapore as a place that’s too exclusive for travelers who don’t live crazy rich lifestyles at home. “Do people say they can’t go to Beverly Hills because they can’t afford it?” he said. “No. It’s kind of like a catalog, you go to check it out. And in a lot of ways you get to show off in what’s your catalog. Can I afford that lifestyle? No. Can I experience that lifestyle? Yes.”
The “Crazy Rich Asians” plot also mirrors a trend of younger U.S. travelers having an interest in Singapore, as the film features a young Singaporean-American man bringing his American-born girlfriend to the island for a friend’s wedding.
“U.S. leisure travelers who visit Singapore tend to be younger and that has recalibrated how we look at this market with flexibility and dynamic collaborations with airlines,” said Kershing Goh, regional director of the Americas for Singapore Tourism Board earlier this year.
The historic Trump-Kim summit in June also put Singapore in the limelight for a few news cycles, but many travelers would probably prefer to think of the destination as an extravagant metropolis with nightlife, fashion, and mouth-watering food to boot.
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Photo Credit: Marina Bay Sands is one of the feature locations in the film "Crazy Rich Asians." Mac Qin / Skift