Ang Swee Hoon, For The Straits Times

Do F1 benefits roll on after race week?

The Singapore Grand Prix can be a shot in the arm for tourism, especially with tourist arrivals here slipping. But does it generate further revenue after the race weekend? And does it brand the nation as "fun and bold"?
The Singapore Grand Prix can be a shot in the arm for tourism, especially with tourist arrivals here slipping. But does it generate further revenue after the race weekend? And does it brand the nation as "fun and bold"?ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Tjis year, Singapore hosted the Formula One (F1) for the seventh time, with Singapore Airlines taking over from SingTel as main sponsor for two years. But is this strategic tie-up - hosting the F1 in Singapore - ideal for the country as a whole?

This iconic tourist event, which came at a total cost of $150 million for the first five years, was brought in to brand the nation as "fun and bold" and give a boost to tourism - a sector which accounts for 4 per cent of Singapore's economic output.

Some 40 per cent of the racegoers come from overseas, including those who travel here to take part in conventions scheduled to coincide with the Singapore Grand Prix.

Since 2008, when the night race was launched in Singapore, an estimated 250,000 tourists have visited the country each year during the race weekend, bringing in incremental tourist receipts of more than $100 million per year.

This is more than the estimated $30 million it costs Singapore to host the event each year.Some experts expect costs to fall by 15 per cent to 20 per cent as organisers learn to run the event more efficiently and can reuse some of the structures for the race.

The Grand Prix can be a shot in the arm for tourism, especially in a year of aircraft tragedies and regional political unrest, which has seen tourist arrivals here slipping 2.8 per cent year-on-year to 7.5 million in the first six months.

Beyond the race weekend itself, does the F1 give tourism a boost? Do people who come to Singapore to attend the event return in the year? Do some, among the hundreds of millions who watch it on television in their home countries, feel the lure of Singapore and holiday here?

In short, does it generate further revenue in the weeks and months after the event?

There isn't a lot of data to answer this.

One Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study in 2012 found that some 10 per cent of the high-net-worth people who watched the broadcast of the night race said they were more likely to travel to Singapore. Do they actually do so?

A more comprehensive study that includes this lagged effect will provide a more complete picture of the returns Singapore gets from this event.

Studies can also be conducted to determine when the incremental revenue from F1 starts to dip. These can assist the Singapore Tourism Board in its planning to encourage tourists to further increase their stay and spending here.

Beyond financial returns, the F1 was brought in to add more buzz to Singapore's image. How much has this perception changed, given that impressions do not change overnight?

The BCG study found that 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the same high-net-worth people who watched the night race broadcast had an improved impression and awareness of Singapore.

As one of the objectives of bringing in the Grand Prix is to reposition Singapore as a fun and bold city, annual tracking studies need to be conducted to assess whether the perceptions of Singapore on these two dimensions have indeed improved, not only immediately after the event, but also over time.

Ideally, perceptions of Singapore prior to the launch of the Grand Prix here in 2008 would serve as the benchmark.

Short of having those pre-Grand Prix numbers, researchers will have to rely on the incremental gains that the F1 adds to the fun and bold factor each year. It may well be that, over time, there will be a ceiling where the Grand Prix is no longer as effective as it was in enhancing Singapore's image.

This may highlight a possible effect fatigue.

In another 2012 study, BCG found that 70 per cent to 90 per cent of foreign business owners and the top management of mid-sized companies had improved perceptions of Singapore because of the F1.

Some 5 per cent to 10 per cent of them expressed interest in investing and doing business here.

The Paddock Club and the various pre- and post-parties at the Grand Prix, where the rich and famous hobnob, would also see networking resulting in business deals signed.

While it is difficult to imagine that seeing an F1 race would prompt a business concern to be interested in investing in Singapore, studies should be conducted to isolate the F1 impact on business investments.

Besides the impact of the Grand Prix on tourism and image, Singapore also needs to consider the impact on local businesses. Are the economic gains experienced by hotels and Orchard Road retailers at the expense of businesses located at the heart of where the race is?

Businesses around the circuit suffer when road closures block access to their establishments. Sadly, some of these are small local businesses. Retailers at Suntec City mall reported experiencing at least a 20 per cent drop in business this year during the F1 week.

But if indeed the Grand Prix brings in more tourists even after the event is over, this will more than make up for the lost sales. Again, studies can be commissioned to investigate whether this is the case.

Apart from Singapore Airlines the sponsor, other Singapore businesses also gain from the F1 glitz. Several building owners have capitalised on the opportunity for free advertising by having their brand names emblazoned boldly on their buildings, with the TV cameras panning across the skyline ever so frequently during the two-hour race.

While the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands have been featured prominently, so have One Fullerton and several other financial institutions in the nearby business district.

These firms enjoy free advertising - and multiple exposure - internationally, together with Singapore's skyline. The organisers have done an excellent job in retrofitting the iconic Theatres on the Bay, skyscrapers and heritage structures such as the Anderson Bridge with spectacular lighting effects.

All in, the Grand Prix tie-up does seem financially beneficial, though this can be fine-tuned for a more complete assessment.

On the non-financial considerations, such as repositioning the city as fun and bold, Singapore needs to take a hard look at whether engaging in one marquee event by itself is sufficient to change this positioning and whether repositioning should also start with local businesses and the people - and not just with the events it brings in.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore Business School.