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  Today Online 24 Oct 06
Sentosa IR: Just show us the money
Jasmine Yin jasmine@mediacorp.com.sg

FORGET robotic dolphins, Arctic beluga whales, massive-scale water rides or bold building designs from world-renowned architects Frank Gehry and Michael Graves. Not even the appeal of culinary maestros such as Alain Ducasse and Nobu Matsuhisa can whip up the average Singaporean's interest in the ongoing Sentosa integrated resort (IR) bid.

"Du-what?" asked a friend. "I don't really pay attention to what is happening. I can't be bothered." But then, without skipping a beat, her eyes lit up as she revealed her desire to get a job at one of the two upcoming IRs. Thousands are up for grabs, she noted.

Her reaction does not seem to be out of the ordinary. Since the Marina Bay bidding war heated up this year, people around me have contemplated taking up tourism-related studies, or switching careers to gain tourism and hospitality experience before 2009, when the two IRs are due to be complete.

And many among them could not even list the four consortiums vying for Singapore's first casino resort even as they busied to acquire the skill sets and knowledge likely needed at an IR.

As the authorities are mulling over the three proposals for Sentosa, it is a shame that most of Singapore is plodding along, uninterested in the historic decision-making process of this multi- billion-dollar development that will impact the country's economic and social fabric.

Among the few in Singapore who seem interested maybe even excited are the high-level panel of Ministers who are to decide on the winner, and the media, who have to report on the proceedings.

(Okay, perhaps there's a third group: The public relations people hired locally to churn out positive publicity for the bidders.)

Granted, the Marina Bay IR is geared to high-rollers and business travellers, so it may not have struck a cord with many.

But the Sentosa IR, in contrast, is touted to be a mass-market, family-centric casino resort so the odds of the average Singaporean visiting it with family and friends in tow should be higher.

"But it's not as if I have any say in this, or can SMS to vote for my favourite proposal," said another friend.

"Aren't you the least bit interested in what the three bidders Kerzner-CapitaLand, Genting-Universal and Eighth Wonder can offer to Singapore, though?" I asked.

"I'll leave it in the hands of the Government," came the reply. "Singaporeans only care about who wins. It's the end result that matters."

It is disturbing how something that will have many repercussions on the country in the long run has, to date, so little resonance among those who will be impacted the most: The man-on-the-street.

It is a pity, too, to think that any fresh or visionary concept these IR collaborators who are leading personalities in the entertainment, culinary, design and tourism worlds pitch, will fall on the deaf ears of the very people who could do with some inspiring.

A local tourism player recounted how he had to look to banks overseas to back his proposal for a new tourism attraction, after getting rejected by Singapore financiers. Only after the authorities gave his proposal the thumbs-up, did many local banks come a-knocking.

He said: "Singapore wants to be innovative, a first-mover in tourism. But those people I approached and I did approach many just didn't understand the new idea I was pitching to them. They couldn't think out of the box."

With regards to the general Singaporean nonchalance towards the IRs, however, there are some exceptions.

For instance, a Today reader was so taken by the Sentosa bids that he wrote in suggesting that a third IR be set up. And a recent Channel NewsAsia online poll on who should win the Sentosa bid drew more than 2,500 participants never mind that the 52 per cent who picked Genting-Universal cited familiarity with the Genting brand as a key reason for their choice.

By and large, however, those with any real views on the shape the IRs should take seem to be the exception.

What is probably weighing most on many people's minds, is the number of jobs that can be milked from these two cash cows.

Or, as someone so eloquently put it: "Just pick the winner, build the darned thing and let me get a job there because that's where the money's going to be."

It's a carrot Kerzner, Genting and Eighth Wonder can readily whip out to dangle: They have pledged the creation of 8,000, 10,000 and 15,000 jobs respectively, if they win.

Now, if only the Government was as easy to win over as the average Singaporean.

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