SINGAPORE - The Christmas light-up on Orchard Road will be a scaled-down affair this year, with the usual street festivities called off due to the ongoing pandemic.
But organisers are still promising a dazzling spectacle when it kicks off on Nov 13, with a wintry display of snowflakes, mistletoe and holly to set the shopping street aglow.
For the first time, viewers at home will be able to experience "driving" along the 2.9km stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura in a virtual tour featuring 360-degree views.
The 14m main arch at the junction of Orchard and Paterson Roads will be adorned with a blue ribbon and glittering reindeer, while lamppost decorations will feature Christmas trees and white and gold baubles through Jan 1.
The Great Christmas Village fair that typically accompanies the light-up with food, amusement rides, games and performances will not be returning this year, however.
The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) said in a statement on Monday (Oct 5) that the decision was made to minimise the risk of crowds gathering and to safeguard public health and safety.
In dedicating this year's light-up to front-line workers, Orba said it will be working with platforms such as Lions of Healthcare to reward healthcare staff, security guards, delivery staff and others with promotions for shopping, dining and services. More information will be made available on the Christmas On A Great Street microsite in November, it said.
Visitors to the microsite can also nominate a front-line hero by sharing an inspiring story of resilience, for a chance to win prizes for themselves as well as their heroes.
This year's light-up will feature nearly 50km of LED string lights, up from 6km last year. The number of lights were cut last year to focus on the pedestrian experience with lights on trees and lamppost dressings. They will be restored to levels similar to previous years due to the scaling back of street activities, Orba said.
Asked about how the budget for this year's light-up compares to previous years, it declined to comment, citing confidentiality agreements.
Orba chairman Mark Shaw told The Straits Times on Monday that the event aims to lift spirits amid a challenging year and lack of year-end travel for locals.
While tourists typically make up about half of all visitors to Orchard Road, footfall has been improving steadily since shops were allowed to reopen in June, he said.
"The numbers are looking very encouraging for footfall to the malls, and (food and beverage) establishments seem to be making quite a strong comeback. We want to get people back into the retail shops as well."
There are plans for a Black Friday sale event to draw shoppers, with details to be announced later, Mr Shaw said.
While the lack of street activities may put a damper on the Christmas festivities, "we expect people will still come down to look at the lights, because that's usually the main attraction anyway", he added.
ORCHARD MAKEOVER MORE URGENT NOW
The pandemic has made plans to rejuvenate Orchard Road more urgent, Mr Shaw said, as more pedestrian-friendly features and outdoor activities will give the street a boost.
Plans announced last year included different branding for the shopping belt's four sub-precincts and making part of the 2.4km road car-free to connect green spaces at the Istana Park, Dhoby Ghaut Green and the open space at Plaza Singapura.
Authorities have said that the transformation of Singapore's premier shopping belt into a lifestyle destination is a long-term project that will be carried out in phases, though no timeline has been given.
In the meantime, malls and retailers are retooling and rethinking the way they do business, Mr Shaw noted, given the new reality and long road to recovery ahead.
"I think the future of Orchard Road is secure, particularly if we go ahead and do this rejuvenation properly," he said.
Retail experts said this year's Christmas light-up could help give Singapore's premier shopping belt a much needed boost.
Mr Amos Tan, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's School of Business, said the Christmas light-up is likely to draw more locals than in previous years even without the street fair.
"With the limitation of not being able to travel, many will go to Orchard Road to soak in the festive mood," he said.
This presents an opportunity for retailers to grow their base of local customers, which should take priority over short-term profits, Mr Tan said.
Ms Esther Ho, director of Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Business Management, noted that while a general lift in sales volume is expected, businesses must still contend with a poor economic outlook and operational constraints brought about by safe management measures.
Administrative assistant Ann Ho said that while she typically avoids Orchard Road during the holiday season due to the large crowds, this year may be an exception.
"Since we cannot go overseas for holiday, might as well bring the children out to see the Christmas lights," said Mrs Ho, 42.