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  Straits Times 12 Apr 07
Tourism plans for Southern Islands put on hold

Krist Boo krist@sph.com.sg

FIVE months after announcing with much fanfare that the Southern Islands would be turned into the next big tourist attraction, the plans have been put on hold.

Although the Singapore Tourism Board wouldn't reveal why, industry sources say the Government is considering housing a casino on the six-island cluster. If this is true, the islands could remain as they are for the next 10 years.

The deals that Las Vegas Sands and Genting International - operators of the Marina Bay and Sentosa integrated resorts (IRs) - have with the Government give them a 10-year head start before a third casino licence is issued. Since both agreements were signed last year, the earliest possible date for a third casino is 2016.

If the two IRs prove to be successful, the Southern Islands will command a premium, the tourism industry sources said.

The STB would not comment on the speculation, saying only: 'A premium destination, an eco-tourism resort, or an attraction leveraging on the islands' existing cultural elements - all remain possibilities.'

The STB had, in November last year, said it would in the first quarter of this year come up with tender guidelines to transform the island into a tourist attraction, possibly for the well-heeled.

The board did meet potential investors in January to gauge their interest and listen to ideas, but the results apparently were not very encouraging.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, STB's assistant chief executive for leisure, Dr Chan Tat Hong, said: 'No decision has been made yet on a development concept, including whether an RFC (request for concepts) exercise will be launched.'

This is the second time in three years that the authorities are rethinking plans for the six islands - Kusu, St John's, the Sisters' Islands, Kias, Lazarus and Seringat.

With a total land area of 140ha - three times the size of the Sentosa IR site - the islands were in 2004 cited as a possible location for one of the two casino resorts. But the projects landed at Marina Bay and Sentosa instead.

The shelving of development plans drew praise from Mr Francis Phun, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, which represents 40 attractions in Singapore.

He said that, with the two IRs opening in about two years, and the Singapore Flyer being launched next year, Singapore is already creating a buzz as a tourist destination. 'The Southern Islands are a totally different product. They create another wave of new excitement.'

Related articles on wild shores of Singapore and Southern Islands Development including the Sentosa IR
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