In the remote coastal villages of Russia’s Far East, where the nomadic Chukchi still hunt walrus with handcrafted ivory-headed harpoons, it is ritual to offer visitors freshly caught meat.

“You cannot refuse,” said Barbara Muckermann, the chief marketing officer of Silversea Cruises, whose ships dock in the region several times a year. “Sharing food is important in their culture.”

Once, Americans abroad were suspicious of foreign delicacies, scurrying back to the safety of their hotels and ships for a bland simulacrum of dishes they could get back home. But for a growing number of leisure travelers — those privileged enough to cross borders not out of necessity, but for pleasure — food has become essential to an encounter with another culture, from olive oil in Slovenia to poi (pounded taro root) in Hawaii to kokoretsi (lamb-intestine sandwiches) in Turkey.

Today’s wanderers have been called to the gospel of Anthony Bourdain, the irreverent chef and writer whose ecumenical pursuit of food in all its incarnations (blood and guts included) was chronicled in the TV series “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” until his death last June.

Attempts to follow in Mr. Bourdain’s footsteps are typically orchestrated by small, independent, sometimes eccentric tour operators. They have roots in a place, so they can point you toward the tofu counter hidden inside a flower shop, or the neighbor selling bowls of pho in her living room, down a skinny unlit alley and up three flights. You’ll know you’re there by the number of shoes kicked off in the hallway.

But now international giants, historically deft at placating guests with stately buffets and fine, indeterminately European menus, are joining the fray. They, too, want to sate that “special hunger,” as M.F.K. Fisher described it, that pushes explorers “beyond their known horizons, to subsist or not on locusts and baked phoenix-eggs.”

Image
Silversea’s recent preview culinary voyage stopped at Romblon Island, the Philippines, where passengers had a chance to try tanigue (mackerel) grilled in banana leaves.CreditLucia Griggi

Among the highest-profile contenders is Silversea, headquartered in Monaco and valued at about $2 billion. (It recently forged a partnership with Royal Caribbean, the world’s second-largest cruise line.) A new 596-passenger ship expressly designed for culinary voyages, with a test kitchen that doubles as a clubhouse, is under construction and scheduled to launch in the summer of 2020.

Building a ship is a commitment. A trickier challenge, for companies big and small, is how to design an orderly, comfortable and reasonably hygienic group eating experience that still feels genuine. There’s a risk of turning local foodways into just another commodity, particularly in the developing world, where tourist dollars count for more.

Already the influx of gastro-pilgrims has upset some natural algorithms. Last year in Bangkok, after the crab-omelet specialist Raan Jay Fai was anointed with a Michelin star, waits for a table at the tiny shop-house restaurant stretched to three hours.

While the spike in business is a financial boon, the owner — who cooks each omelet herself, wearing ski goggles to protect herself from the spitting oil — has said that she wishes she could give the star back.

There is little chance the crowds will let up. A 2016 report by the World Food Travel Association classified 93 percent of vacationers worldwide as “food travelers,” who seek out food beyond the demands of sustenance — attending a class on cooking mole in Oaxaca, say, or riding a boat at dawn through a floating market in Kashmir.

The philosopher Lisa Heldke has critiqued the colonialist impulse behind what she calls “eating adventures,” which she likens to collecting and uprooting artifacts from their cultural context.

But some tour operators contend that in opening our mouths, we open our minds.

“The polarized view that we get, the xenophobia, comes from the lack of a data set,” said Luis Vargas, the chief executive of Modern Adventure, which funnels data in the guise of weeklong eating and drinking itineraries in destinations like the Republic of Georgia and the Basque region of Spain.

In this thinking, a basket of dumplings can teach as much about a culture as its greatest monuments.

When Little Adventures in Hong Kong helps you decode the tome of a menu at a Cantonese restaurant — so “you don’t repeat dishes with the same ingredients or cooking methods,” said Daisann McLane, the company’s founder — you may earn a grudging nod of approval from the waiter and a deeper understanding of the society in which these feasts are central.

Sometimes, the lesson is knowing when not to eat. As Yukari Sakamoto of Food Sake Tokyo steers visitors through the bright sprawl of a depachika (department-store food hall), she delicately cautions against snacking while walking; in Japan, it’s considered impolite.

The sociologist Krishnendu Ray, who heads the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University, sees hope in culinary travel. “It allows you to engage with others on their terms, their vernacular tastes,” he said.

Still, he added, “If you don’t care about the lives and livelihoods of people involved in growing and making your food, attention to the food alone cannot take you far.”

At La Merced market in Mexico City, Rocío Vazquez Landeta, second from left, and her tour group raising a toast of freshly squeezed pineapple juice — spiked with vodka.CreditSam Youkilis for The New York Times.

More and more, tour operators are trying to give travelers a sense of the substance of those lives. In Mexico City, Rocío Vazquez Landeta of Eat Like a Local is conscious of the income differential between the visitors on her forays through the shambolic La Merced market and the vendors they meet.

“I don’t want it to be pity tourism — ‘Look at the poor people,’” she said.

So, while some guides in the area demand discounts, she makes a point to pay vendors not only full price for their goods, but also for the time they take to explain ingredients and dishes to her customers. And she has hired an English tutor for six of the vendors’ children — who at 8 to 11 years old are already working alongside their parents — and tips them to help lead tours on weekends.

On her website, Ms. Vazquez Landeta encourages people to bring photographs of their home countries as gifts for the children. “I’m not Mother Teresa,” she said. “I just want to show them that the world is bigger.”

Ms. Vazquez Landeta’s Eat Like a Local tours introduce visitors to the likes of chapulines (grasshoppers). CreditSam Youkilis for The New York Times

Mona Boyd, the Arkansas-born founder of Landtours in Accra, Ghana, started highlighting West African fare in her packages five years ago, arranging for small groups of travelers to dine in the homes of local families. But she felt that the experience was too much like going to a restaurant. It wasn’t immersive enough.

Now, instead of just showing up to eat, visitors arrive early to prepare dishes like nkatenkwan (groundnut stew) and red-red (black-eyed pea stew), and to learn something about their hosts along the way.

“These are kind people, not rich, but willing to open up their homes to you,” Ms. Boyd said. “When you eat their food and enjoy it, you show you like them, too.”

Such informal settings can foster a more candid cultural exchange. But they must be carefully vetted by tour operators, to make sure that customers don’t get sick from ingredients washed in unpurified water or a chicken dropped on the floor before being thrown into the pot.

On Hanoi Street Food Tours in Vietnam, Van Cong Tu shows customers how to eat whole grilled quails, including the bones.CreditYen Duong for The New York Times

Even the gutsiest customers may balk at a street stall’s grimy patina or at the frank scent of a prized local delicacy. Reassurance is part of a guide’s job.

In Vietnam, Van Cong Tu tells guests on his Hanoi Street Food Tours — which go down alleys so tiny, Google Maps can’t find them — that the great fistfuls of raw herbs accompanying almost every dish are safe to eat. (They often wind up submerged in hot soup.) Without the herbs, you’d miss half the flavor.

Joe DiStefano, a New Yorker whose World’s Fare Food Tours take visitors to chaat shops, smoky kebab stands and labyrinthine basement food courts in his home borough, Queens, respects that some of his customers have reservations about what they eat.

At one stop, he said, “we go look at the durian” — a thorny tropical fruit that smells of rotting socks dredged from the bottom of the sea.

Then, if everyone is comfortable, he said, “We eat it.”

World’s Fare Food Tours, run by the Queens-based food blogger Joe DiStefano, left, includes spots like this Sichuan stall in the labyrinthian Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing.
CreditChristopher Lee for The New York Times

The logistics of comfort are of particular concern to higher-end operators who specialize in trips of a week or longer. The kind of traveler they target may not want a luau on a manicured hotel lawn, but still expects a certain degree of ease.

This doesn’t have to mean a bowdlerized, at-arm’s-length experience, however. To Neil Coletta, the brand and product manager of Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventures, the real luxury is “direct access to local communities which would be really hard, if not impossible, to navigate on your own.”

One of the company’s tours covers Israel and the Palestinian territories, with stops at the home of a Jewish family in the Negev Desert and at a cooking school in Nablus founded to empower impoverished women.

Mr. Coletta works closely with local guides who have personal relationships with street vendors and home cooks willing to share their secrets. “It feels like you’re just visiting family with family,” he said.

Other companies cater to jet-setters more interested in the rarefied heights of a country’s cuisine than in the nitty-gritty of its inhabitants’ lives. The luxury shopping site VeryFirstTo.com, which has since shut down, once offered a six-month trip with seats at each of the world’s restaurants that had won three Michelin stars. It cost more than a quarter of a million dollars and required consuming a five- to 27-course tasting menu every other day — an itinerary to imperil the body, if not the soul.

Adam Sachs, a former editor in chief of Saveur and the director of Silversea’s new culinary program, leading a foray through a jungle in Bali on a recent preview voyage.CreditLucia Griggi

Ms. Muckermann, of Silversea, didn’t want to structure the company’s new Sea and Land Taste program around celebrity chefs and hermetic fine-dining rooms. A younger generation of travelers is braver than that, she said: “They’ve seen more walls going down than going up.”

Instead, she tapped Adam Sachs, a former editor-in-chief of Saveur, to take a reportorial approach and shape a narrative around the ingredients and cooking techniques found in each region. He has tracked down inside sources like Maya Kerthyasa, a member of the royal family of Ubud in Bali, who shared her 95-year-old grandmother’s spice-paste recipes with passengers on a preview trip in Southeast Asia this month.

Maya Kerthyasa, a member of the royal family of Ubud, showing Silversea passengers how to prepare spice pastes from recipes handed down by her 95-year-old grandmother.CreditMawan Kelana

“Ideally, you come away with a better understanding of why people eat in a certain way,” Mr. Sachs said. “Not just, ‘I tried everything.’”

On board, one of the ship’s eight restaurants, which have traditionally focused on Western food, will shift cuisine depending on its place of berth, so more cautious passengers — those along for the ride just to see the region — can still get a taste.

But the cautious may be dwindling in number. As Ms. Muckermann recalls, on Silversea’s voyages to the Russian Far East, guests are gently warned that if they visit the Chukchi village, they may be presented with boiled walrus. If they feel unready for such an honor, they can forgo the expedition.

“Most people come,” she said. They make the leap — from the security of the ship to the uncertainty onshore, from one culture to another. They eat the walrus.

The Austins. From left, Kasey, Dan, Andy and Carol

Austin Adventures

Dan Austin has a passion for family travel. That’s true not only of the trips he’s been offering for over two decades at Austin Adventures but in the very company he’s created. It’s a bona fide family business with his wife and two grown children, born from his adventures with them along the way.

Austin Adventures takes people on hiking, biking and multisport adventures around the world, in South and Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. They were once known as Austin-Lehman Adventures and along the way, they have bought smaller companies like Euro-Bike & Walking Tours and been bought themselves by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, before being bought back by Austin.  They were twice named the World’s Best Tour Operator by the readers of Travel + Leisure.

“The focus on family started in 1996 when I got into the business,” Austin explained from his home in Billings, Montana. “My daughter Kasey was 5 and my son Andy was 4. We started doing family trips to Yellowstone and Kasey came along with me. I was trying to create trips to the park that were unique for families. Other tour operators were taking adult tours and putting a family sticker on them. The kids spent the next 12 years jumping on and off family trips with me. They were my crash test dummies.”

In Croatia with Austin Adventures.

Austin Adventures

In 2019, Austin Adventures has new trips in Botswana and Portugal’s Algarve. But it’s in the American West where the company cut their teeth and made their mark. They’ve drilled down on National Park adventures and currently offer 32 different trips to such parks as Arches, Canyonlands, Glacier and of course, Yellowstone.

In Yellowstone with Austin Adventures

Auston Adventures

“I’m always excited about Yellowstone, it’s been our #1 seller for 30 years,” Austin says. “You can combine rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. Especially hiking, which allows you to get away from crowds. There’s something like four million visitors to Yellowstone every year. Give us 15 minutes and we’ll get you away from all those people. The average person spends six hours in Yellowstone, and five and half of those hours are spent in their car. We spend four or five days in the Park and we’ve reserved the best rooms in Old Faithful Lodge and Lake Yellowstone Hotel. We know how to maximize your time in the park.”

Austin has kept his kids in the loop all these years, and they bring a youthful fervor and vision to this boutique travel business that takes a few thousand people on exotic adventures around the world every year.

“When we went to build a new family trip to Alaska, I remember asking, ’What do you think about this, Kasey?’” Austin recalls. “When they were old enough, they guided during high school summers and then guided in their summers between college semesters.”

Kasey Austin on a faraway beach.

Austin Adventures

The company remains a family affair. Austin’s wife Carol has worked in sales at Austin Adventures for the past two decades. Kasey has been operations manager at Austin Adventures for the past seven years and in 2014, Outside magazine named her the #1 Family Guide in the world. Andy guides high-end trips for Austin Adventures and shoots many of the company’s photos, with 28,000 plus followers on Instagram. It’s a good gig.

“At the moment, Andy is rafting in Bali where it’s 80 degrees,” Austin says. “Meanwhile, it’s minus 5 here in Billings.”

Where next?

Andy Austin on the road.

Austoin Adventures

“Croatia is not new but it’s exploding,” Austin says. “It a multisport like the lion’s share of our trips. It’s about sea kayaking, biking, hiking and drinking a lot of Croatian wine. We have a new trip to the Azores, which is in vogue, and a new program in Baha, swimming with whale sharks. In 2020, we’ll be returning to New Zealand for the first time in 20 years.”

Austin says that 45% of their business is repeat business and another 20% are referrals from alumni. About 60% of their trips are family travel. But in the end, it always comes back to Yellowstone.

“I’ll bet we put more families in Yellowstone than anyone else,” he says. “It’s our most popular trip. I call it our gateway drug for adventure travel.”

Visit Austin Adventures.

Luxury line Silversea Cruises is dramatically upgrading its culinary experiences on its ships and in destinations with the new S.A.L.T. program, an acronym of Sea and Land Taste.

The program will officially launch in August 2020 when the Silver Moon enters service, but excursions, cooking demonstrations and more are now in the planning stages.

TravelPulse.com is onboard the Silver Muse this week to try out the new culinary activities in the works, and I must say they’re impressive. We’re cruising from Bali to Manila, Philippines, with stops in Borneo and the island of Romblon.

To give an example of the activities, on March 9 we enjoyed an assortment of Balinese breakfast foods—including rice, pork belly, mushrooms and more—at Nusantara Restaurant by Locavore, considered one of the finest restaurants in Asia.

The chefs/owners Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah actually have a research lab where they can experiment with local foods and spices, creating their own miso and kombucha, for instance.

Then they took us on a hike in the Balinese countryside so we could see where they get many of their ingredients, including palm sap, honey and various wild herbs. We walked along rice paddies, past cows and pens of ducks and ended up with an outdoor luncheon feast from Locavore restaurant, including a whole roasted pig.

Bali roast pig
PHOTO: Guests trying Silversea’s new culinary program were treated to a roast pig in Bali. (photo via Theresa Norton)

The next day we met Maya Kerthyasa, a Balinese cooking expert and journalist. She talked about traditional Balinese food and also led the group in making spice paste and other dishes, including the traditional lawar salad.

Needless to say, foodie travelers will appreciate the intensive experiences, which will be offered on a menu so cruisers can choose which excursions and demonstrations they’d like to attend.

The culinary program will also include the S.A.L.T. Lab that will host interactive demonstrations and the S.A.L.T. Bar and S.A.L.T. restaurant which will serve foods reflecting the area in which the ship is sailing.

The S.A.L.T. program is being overseen by Adam Sachs, the former editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine and a three-time winner of the prestigious James Beard Journalism Award. He has served as a contributing editor for Bon Appétit and Travel + Leisure.

Making Balinese spice paste
PHOTO: Silversea guests sample the herbs and ingredients used in traditional Balinese dishes. (photo via Theresa Norton)

“My mission in this new role is simply an extension of the approach I’ve always taken as a food and travel writer: to apply an endless curiosity and adventurous appetite to deep-dive explorations of the ingredients, cuisine and rituals of the countries and communities we visit,” Sachs said.

“There’s no better—or more enjoyable—way to engage and understand the world than through the flavors and stories of its food and wine culture and the people and personalities behind it. With our new initiative, the S.A.L.T. project, there will be no better place to explore it all than with Silversea.”

Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which opened in Bali in 2015, is one of only three of Ritz-Carlton’s ultra-exclusive Reserve properties currently open worldwide. The resort, whose name means “temple in Sanskrit,” has just 60 suites and villas running down the slopes the verdant Ayung River valley near Ubud, complete with a lush rice paddy in which guests can picnic and a beautifully maintained century-old temple. Book a River Front Pool Villa so you can enjoy the rush of its torrent (and the delighted exclamation of whitewater rafters passing by) from the privacy of your own walled garden, complete with a frangipani-fringed plunge pool. Also be sure to ask your patih, or personal butler, to set up excursions for you like a half-day tour to waterfalls and temples in a vintage Volkswagen 181 convertible, a hike along the hillside tracks of Campuhan, or a lesson on preparing floral temple offerings.

After a complimentary yoga class in the spa’s riverside studio, try the Sleep Support Therapy. It begins with a refreshing foot bath with Himalayan pink salt and kefir lime, a guided meditation and the chanting of yogic pranayamas. The Marma body and facial massage is performed according to ancient Ayurvedic practices of manipulating and aligning the body’s energy points. Finally, aromatic oil is applied to the nose to induce a sense of calm that will aid with sleep.

The standout spa experience, however, has to be the Traditional Balinese Healing Touch with a locally renowned blind healer named Ketut Mursi. During the 90-minute experience, she vigorously kneads and scrubs body points from the soles to the scalp using her own family’s secret blend of herbal oils. She attunes your energy to the cosmic prana, wicks away negativity from your aura and realigns your chakras, then consults with you on how to maintain your aura’s new shininess back home.

In its second year, ILTM Asia Pacific is gearing up to be the international and Asia Pacific business event for the luxury travel industry. A business opportunity for suppliers and buyers of international luxury travel, ILTM Asia Pacific is an event that will span all sectors, offering new opportunities to engage with the big, the small, the hot spots and the independent experiences created for today’s affluent traveller from across Asia Pacific and around the world.

Set once again in Singapore, ILTM Asia Pacific will help shape the future, updating the industry with trends, research, and personalised content, shaped to support every guest with business opportunities throughout the event taking place from 27th – 30th May 2019.

eTN Chatroom: Discuss with readers from around the world:


Approximately 550 luxury travel suppliers will form the guest list at ILTM Asia Pacific 2019, an Increase of around 10% year on year. Many new exhibitors are participating including Banwa Private Island in the Philippines, Makanyi Private Game Lodge in South Africa, Matetsi Victoria Falls in South Africa, Bahwah Reserve in Indonesia and the Ungasan Clifftop Resort in Bali. They join those returning to support their business objectives from the first edition last year including Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Belmond, Kempinski Hotels, InterContinental Hotels, Four Seasons as well as destinations including Switzerland, New Zealand, Botswana, Japan and Singapore.

Recent research by Allied Market Research highlights that Asia Pacific’s luxury travel market is showing the fastest international growth (expected to grow by 10% in 2018) owing to the rise in the number of middle-income groups. In addition, according to the latest Euromonitor report on ‘Megatrends Shaping the Future of Travel’, domestic trips in particular are booming across the region which is also driving the increase in average expenditure whilst travelling, which is expected to rise by 9%.

An expanded hosted buyer programme at ILTM Asia Pacific will deliver new and returning planners and agencies who will engage with suppliers to create more than 30,000 one-to-one meetings during the show. Discerning buyers from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are invited to explore new creative and seamless itineraries for their high net worth clients.

Simon T Ang of Celebrate Life Travel & Leisure in the Philippines commented:

“Most of my ‘go-to’ luxury suppliers are those I have met at ILTM events through the years and ILTM Asia Pacific last year was a particular highlight with some really fabulous introductions. Very much looking forward to the second edition in May!”

And Kathryn Davies of Hong Kong’s 360 Private Travel added:

“I feel it is important to attend ILTM Asia Pacific to keep up-to-date with the newest products available in luxury travel and learn more about the latest travel trends, but also network with like-minded travel professionals. I am hoping to meet new suppliers as well as reconnect with existing contacts and learn about the way their products have developed in the last 12 months.”

The participant programme this year will support the ILTM theme of Health and Wellness with morning ILTM bay runs and morning yoga in the host hotels. ‘The Retreat’ will be a designated area of the show floor featuring brands showcasing some of the latest products and services in Health and Wellness. All ILTM guests will be given the opportunity to take a well-earned break from their busy appointment schedule to experience The Retreat.

Andy Ventris, Event Manager for ILTM Asia Pacific comments:

“ILTM Asia Pacific is a critical opportunity for luxury brands to reach and interact with agents creating personal experiences for their affluent customers. ILTM’s mutually matched pre-scheduled appointments during the 3 days of the event compliment more meetings during the many parties and receptions across each evening which are at the heart of the show. This year, we are particularly delighted to be welcoming many new faces for the first time too, as we look to increase the business opportunities created by this year’s event.”

Travel + Leisure readers know what it takes for properties to win over couples and set the tone for a romantic escape. Certain touches are a given: ultra-personal service, luxurious accommodations, and — perhaps above all else — privacy. But the crop of standout properties that T+L readers voted as their Top 50 romantic hotels go beyond the basics with little extras and diverse amenities that indulge couples’ shared interests, whether that means warm-weather strolls on white-sand beaches, meditative spa treatments amid lush jungle forests, or exhilarating adventure sports.

Every year for the World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value, with romance being an additional optional factor. Our readers voted for properties all around the world, but clearly have an affinity for warm-weather islands (St. Lucia, Bali, Hawaii), coastal California (Big Sur, Laguna Beach), and glamorous old-world Europe (Paris, Florence, St. Moritz).

Our next class of World's Best winners will be announced this summer, but for now, the 2019 survey is still open, and you can vote for your favorites until March 4.

Responding to queries by Bloomberg, City Developments’ (CDL) executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng has said that Sentosa should be repositioned as the new Bali. According to the article, Kwek suggested that the government had “forgotten” about the island, after being “touted when it first started for the rich and famous.”

“Subsequently, her parents just forgot about this young lady. I would like to suggest that they should reposition it as the new Bali,” he said.  As such, Kwek explained that the non-residential part of Sentosa can be transformed to be a venue for meetings and conferences. He also said that the hotels in the island, with more expected to launch in years to come, will be able to garner more visitors. According to Kwek, while Bali has become a “congested” location with unpredictable climate and bad traffic, it still manages to attract tourists as a destination.

In a statement to Marketing, a Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) spokesperson said that it is working with various stakeholders to draw up plans for Sentosa and its surrounding areas, in a bid to further enhance Sentosa’s appeal as a “world-class leisure destination” for locals and tourists. The spokesperson added that through this exercise, SDC will strengthen leisure experiences through the curation of attractions, improvement of transport connectivity and enhancement of the beaches and tranquil green ridgeline, while ensuring authentic experience and environmental sustainability.

Addressing the tourism boost in MICE sector, the SDC spokesperson said that the company has placed emphasis on the MICE industry and has been establishing collaborations with MICE-related partners locally and overseas to establish Sentosa as a novel destination.  This will be for both unconventional and unique MICE events, and as an option for high profile events and conferences. Following the two high profile meetings held in Sentosa last year (namely, the Trump-Kim Summit and the Bloomberg New Economy Forum), the spokesperson added that Sentosa has demonstrated the ability to host such events well.

“As an all-encompassing destination with hotels, attractions, restaurants, beaches and various spaces, Sentosa is well placed to curate and deliver unique experiences which we know MICE groups value. This includes customised teambuilding activities to unique sand or sky dining experiences, from displaying corporate logos in a light and water show, to having an exclusive beach party complete with fireworks,” the spokesperson said.

In addition, Far East Hospitality will be launching three hotels in Sentosa as well as an events centre this year, adding to the island’s hotel room inventory and offerings. The spokesperson added that the company aims to bring in the business travellers and launch MICE events. Moreover, earlier this month, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recorded a growth in visitor arrivals, as 2018 marked as a strong year for Singapore’s tourism sector as core tourism industries of Business Travel and Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions and Exhibitions (BTMICE) and hotels sector.

STB said that it will continue to grow and develop the tourism sector with new offerings and refreshed concepts to ensure Singapore remains an attractive destination.

Is Sentosa’s positioning “forced”?

In a statement to Marketing, Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer of Bonsey Design said that repositioning Sentosa as the “new Bali” will be difficult, given its culture, history and wide-ranging appeal from backpackers to luxe travelers.

“One of Sentosa’s most fundamental issues is its constant craving to be the ‘next something’ – the next Monte Carlo, the next Disneyland, the next Ibiza. It is this constant mindset of fabrication, imitation and reaching to be something that it is patently not, which makes the ‘Sentosa experience’ still feel at times superficial and disconnected,” he said.

Despite the features and attractions, Hitchmough said that the overall packaging and selling of Sentosa seems “forced and self-conscious, with a constant pressure to change its positioning”. He added that Sentosa will do well as a destination, with less “fanciful” marketing and segment strategies.

“Instead, the focus should be on building an accessible, authentic experience that is both a complement and counterpoint to Singapore overall, rather than trying to be something it is not,” Hitchmough said.

Richard Bleasdale, former managing partner of The Observatory International said that published visitor numbers recorded only a third of the annual visitors that Sentosa brings in. According to Bleasdale, Sentosa has already outperformed Bali, however, Bali has a “stronger and clearer” brand image than Sentosa for the majority.

When you think of Bali, the images it conjures are likely more exotic and enticing.

Bleasdale added that in comparison to Bali’s brand image, Sentosa requires work on its brand positioning. He said that although Sentosa owns the concept of “fun”, it seems to post questions for consumers than actually answering to them. He added that this is in contrast with expressions such as “Fun Central”, “Funtasy Island” or even “Funtastic Sentosa”, which are “more compelling and memorable”. However, he said that despite Sentosa’s ownership of fun, Sentosa Cove remains with no clear positioning online and seems to be a challenge.

Nick Foley, president Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan, Landor agreed with Bleasdale that Sentosa’s positioning of the ‘State of fun’ works well and captures the many activities that are offered. However, similar to Bleasdale, Foley said that Sentosa Cove seems to be the “state of vacancy” with many properties quietly up for sale, with rental yields down and several vacant shops and apartments.

“The rich and famous crowd so intent on securing soul-less houses in gated communities, with properties that adorn man-made canals, have well and truly moved on,” he added.

Foley added that the Sentosa should tap on the visitors to Singapore in general. According to Foley, a number of travellers view Singapore as a “stopover”, and that Sentosa should embrace this and seek to attract as many international visitors to the island as possible. However, he was of the view that Sentosa can and will never be the new Bali, adding that Sentosa should “play to its strengths”.

Tapping on the MICE sector

According to Bleasdale, Sentosa’s “fun” positioning can be developed to answer the experiential desires of the MICE industry in unique and memorable ways. He said that separate to the hygiene requirements of suitable meeting/expo space and sufficient accommodation options, the MICE industry is increasingly looking for unique “experiential” themes and destinations.

Meanwhile, Landor’s Foley said that Sentosa has to play to Singapore’s strength of located within the Asia Pacific region. “It is easy to get to, has one of the world’s best airports, no traffic snarls and is both safe and politically stable. Sentosa’s many conference facilities, attractions and premium hotels aligns well with what business travellers and conference organisers are looking for,” he added.