SINGAPORE - Singapore's premier shopping belt, Orchard Road, could become fully pedestrianised as part of bold plans to transform the precinct into a distinctive shopping and lifestyle destination, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said on Thursday (April 13).
Speaking at a tourism industry conference, he said government agencies such as Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Land Transport Authority are working with the private sector to make Orchard Road more pedestrian-friendly and conducive for street-level activities and fully pedestrianising Orchard Road is one of the options they are exploring in the longer term.
But for a start, the agencies are considering a road reduction programme and opening up existing parcels of State land on Orchard Road to expand the pedestrian mall, he said.
Giving more details of the plans, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief executive Lionel Yeo said that streetscape improvements will be done to make the Orchard Road precinct more pedestrian-friendly.
The Government is studying the reclamation of one lane along Orchard Road to improve pedestrian experience and support more pop-up concepts and events.
STB deputy chief executive Melissa Ow said the proposed lane reclamation will likely be on the right side of the five-lane one-way street due to the bus lane on the left side.
However, given that Orchard Road is a busy thoroughfare, careful consideration and planning are needed to assess the feasibility and impact on road users, said Ms Ow.
Factors to be taken into consideration include the load on secondary roads, rehabilitation of plantings and road upgrading issues such as water ponding and pedestrian safety.
She said talks are being held on event programming for the expanded pedestrian space.
Mr Yeo said that STB also intends to introduce a scramble walk at a major junction in the Orchard Road area.
STB's goal is for the crossing to be akin to the famous scramble-crossing in Tokyo's Shibuya district, where hundreds of pedestrians zigzag across the multi-way cross-junction. The Shibuya crossing has been featured in movies such as Lost In Translation.
Ms Ow said several junction are being considered for Singapore's scramble-crossing pilot, including the one at Cairnhill Road and Bideford Road.
Mr Yeo added that STB wants to minimise visual and physical barriers along Orchard Road that divide one side from the other, and make it easier for pedestrians to move about.
"The physical plan for Orchard Road must be complemented by experiential elements. We want to encourage new experiential concepts and more street-level pop-up activations," said Mr Yeo.
This can be done by allowing the temporary use of existing vacant sites such as the open air car parks at Grange Road and Angullia Park. STB can also review guidelines for temporary structures and uses within the public realm, he said.
The two open air carparks identified will house pop-up concepts such as urban street markets and lifestyle and performance spaces.
Ms Ow said regulations for short term temporary users along the pedestrian mall may take a more flexible approach to encourage pop up street activities seen in other cities around the world.
LOCAL BRANDS SHOWCASE
Orchard Road is also getting a local retail boost. To build on the success of local design collective Keepers pop-up store, a new structure will be built in its place at Orchard Green to groom and showcase home-grown designers and brands.
Called the Design Incubator, the two-and-a-half-storey building will feature more than 40 brands on a rotational basis, with a focus on new-to-market and emerging designers, and stock clothes, accessories, small home furnishings and souvenirs.
It will also house private work studios and other amenities for designers to conceptualise, develop, test-bed and commercialise their products.
The project is a joint development by STB, JTC and Spring Singapore, and will be completed by end-2018. Singapore lifestyle retailer Naiise was appointed through an open tender to manage and operate the retail showcase, which is projected to run for 10 years.
"The prime location of the retail showcase will give our home-grown design talents and Singapore retail brands a strong boost in profile and exposure. It will also make it more convenient for visitors looking for contemporary products that reflect Singapore's character and design culture," said Mr Yeo.
Disney's first partnership with a national tourism body in the region aims to enhance Singapore's events calendar and showcase its attractions and precincts and provides business opportunities for Singapore event organisers and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The three-day Star Wars festival, held from May 4 to 6, includes the lighting up of the Supertrees at the Gardens to look like lightsabres, a light and music show, the inaugural Star Wars Run, and a Star Wars-themed Silent Disco dance party.
More activities revolving around the 40-year-old movie franchise will be held in the second half of this year, followed by Marvel and Disney Animation/Disney Pixar themes in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
FUNDING, MARKETING AND DATA
Other plans shared at the tourism industry conference at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre included an additional $10 million for the next tranche of STB's Kickstart Fund, which supports innovative lifestyle concepts and events with strong tourism potential and scalability.
More funds will be allocated to recipients, which have included the Singapore Cocktail Festival and music and arts festival Neon Lights. Support will increase from 50 per cent to 70 per cent of qualifying costs, with a higher grant ceiling of $200,000.
STB will also open a new regional office in the Indonesian tier 2 city of Surabaya, which was the second largest source of visitor arrivals in Singapore after Jakarta in 2016.
The tourism agency is also investing in two digital platforms to harness technology and data to support future growth, Mr Yeo said.
One of these is an information and services hub that will connect tourism product owners and suppliers with global distributors. It will be launched by the end of the year.
The other is the recently launched Singapore Tourism Analytics Network, which aggregates visitor geo-location data from telcos to examine tourist movements, among other data. It will be rolled out to industry partners as well.
In his speech, Mr Iswaran noted that Singapore's record highs in visitor arrivals and tourism spending in 2016 marked one of the bright spots in the economy. The year is off to a promising start with visitor arrivals reaching 2.8 million as of February 2017, a 3.4 per cent increase over the same period in 2016, he noted.
Sustaining competitiveness and growth requires coordinated efforts to develop unique and differentiated products and experiences, and enhancing industry competitiveness, he said.