Singapore: The 1st & Last Time


Singapore: For the First and Last Time

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President,
Executive Oasis International

My tale about Singapore will start at the end instead of the beginning as the ending gives the entire adventure context and meaning.  I’ll continue my Singapore adventure in anther blog entry. Some other time, I will write about Little India, Chinatown, and Sentosa. Today, I will focus on the 1st and last time I saw Singapore.

Benefits for Your Executive, Marketing & Sales Teams

First I want to raise an important questionWhat does all of this have to do with incentive travel and sales incentive trips? When one travels, one never knows what they will observe or encounter. During my first trip to Asia, I saw several products and service delivery concepts that had not yet hit North America at all or to any great extent:

  • upgraded facilities in business class lounge
  • enhanced business class service on Singapore Airlines
  • huge billboards atop buildings from which movies were projected
  • an outdoor food court with servers presenting menus from many restaurants (Cuppage Terrace)
  • Manicure and pedicure salons
  • a digital camera
  • internet cafes
  • the Hello Kitty craze created when the dolls were offered in McDonalds Happy Meals

Any of these ideas could have been implemented “ahead of the curve” or modified and applied to a range of businesses including retail, restaurants, hotels, and advertising. For example, some of the features of business class lounges could be used to create waiting rooms or lounges to ensure the comfort of a company’s best customers when they have to attend a meeting at your office. If anyone knows of companies that have used any of these concepts, I look forward to your comments.

That’s why a sales incentive trip is of tremendous benefit. It can really broaden a team’s horizons and expose them to market trends before they hit your country. This can help organizations scan the horizon, see what’s coming next and design innovative campaigns and develop service bundles well ahead of the competition. Think this sounds too much like work for what is supposed to be a “fun” trip to reward your team? All you have to do is add a creative spark. Weave the exploration and the process of discovery into an urban safari or an Amazing Race. Presto rather than just a frivolous activity, you’ve given it bottom line significance. The key is to debrief and mine these experiences to identify how you can use them when you return home.

The Last Time I saw Singapore

The last time I was in Singapore, it was during the Great Singapore Shopping Sale. Yes, I shopped. It was during that trip that I picked up a travel tip that I’ll pass on to you. I spend hours shopping in the fabulous stores in the Orchard Road area.

After shopping at one of the large malls, it was so busy that I just couldn’t get a taxi. So, I walked over to a local hotel, and in no time at all, a taxi whisked me back to my hotel.

Travel Tip: If you’re ever having trouble getting a taxi, just head over to the nearest hotel and the doorman will get you a taxi in no time.

The next day, I had a business meeting near Raffles Hotel. I had been to Singapore many times and even taken a ride on a bumboat near Raffles. However, I had never visited Raffles Hotel or tried its famous Singapore Sling. So, I decided to head over there.  Raffles Hotel, Afternoon Tea & a Singapore Sling Raffles Hotel has a lot of character. I meandered through the beautiful gardens. Then I entered the lobby and stared at the high ceiling. Based on the foliage in the garden, the decor, and the ambiance of the hotel, I could easily picture the rich and famous of a bygone era strolling by.

Even though I didn’t have a reservation, the concierge arranged for me to have a seating at the Afternoon Tea, which was (as usual) sold out. The room where tea was served was bright and spacious. There were guests from every corner of the globe. In Asia, afternoon tea, is more like what the British call High Tea. Yes the scones and sandwiches are present but, often, it’s a full buffet with meat, vegetables and a variety of deserts. The tea at Raffles Hotel was no different and I finally had a chance to try the Singapore Sling. I found it strong as I am not much of a drinker but it was refreshing and delicious. Finally having a chance to sample this local delight was almost like a toast. “Here’s to all of the beautiful days and incredible nights that I’ve spent in Singapore. May there be many more!”

The First Time I saw Singapore 

My Singapore adventure began in January, 2000. When I left Toronto for my first trip to Asia, there was a snowstrom that was so severe that the time spent waiting on the runway and in de-icing on the runway was prolonged. As a result, I missed my connection to Singapore in LAX. We landed before the flight had departed but it was too late for me to make the connection. Air Canada graciously put me up in a hotel in Los Angeles for the rest of the day. It was then that I discovered that I had forgotten my backup overheads in Toronto. At that time, before USB drives, I always brought a set up back-up slides as an extra precaution. Thank heavens for Business Depot. I had e-mailed the sides to my Yahoo account. (I am not called the Back-up Queen for no reason.) In no time at all, the colour overheads were printed off inserted into folders and placed in binders.

Singapore Airlines

Fortunately, Singapore Airlines was able to honour my business class ticket, though the flight was heavily booked. I had heard rave reviews about Singapore Airlines and was really looking foward the trip. The business class lounge was more luxurious than any I had ever seen up until then. A full hot buffet was served, there were plush lounge chairs and couches, showers, big screen TVs, and numerous computer terminals where one could access the internet. Once on board, I was impressed by the luxurious seating in business class. It was more comfortable than any lounger with plush fabric. Shortly after boarding, we were offered hot towel service, welcome drinks, newspapers, and a little blue drawstring bag with slippers, ear plugs, sleeping mask, and toiletries. The range of choices for meals, beverages (including hot chocolate), and snacks (soup, noodles, cookies, sandwiches) was incredible. Every seat had it’s own TV console and passengers could arrange a personalized period of entertainment. After dinner, I was so tired that I couldn’t sleep. So, I selected some Chinese music and, in no time at all, I was sleeping like a baby. Why am I going into this level of detail? It is because, at the time, Air Canada and the other North American Airlines on which I had travelled had nothing even close to the amenities, service offerings, and facilitities in the business class lounge of in-flight. I’ll touch on what we can learn from this later.

First Impressions of Singapore

My first stop in Asia was in Kuala Lumpur. I have already written about that extensively. A few days later, we headed to Singapore. After I had finished my seminars in Malaysia, I headed over to Singapore with T. Saravanan and Sam Salveraj to conduct a seminar for a small group of executives, managers and HR professionals. My first impressions of Singapore that it was bright, warm, lush, and VERY clean. Definitely spotless. Since this was before the Chinese New Year, like Malaysia, there were red decorations everywhere. I noticed more decorative flowers and a lot of tiny oranges. In the hotel lobby, the Buddha was even decorated with flowers. After we checked into the hotel, it was time to head out for dinner.

The H2O Zone

Saravanan and Sam took me to The Cuppage Terrace at the H2O Zone. I fell in love with it immediately. As we entered, there were walls with water on either side and water flowing freely. It was beautifully lit up for the evening. The H2O Zone is similar to a food court but with a difference. It’s an outdoor food court with tables in the centre and restaurants on all sides. The waiters come to your table and, once they determine what kind of cuisine you prefer, they bring you menus from several restaurants and you place your order. It hit me that, here I was, a world away from the snow in Toronto wearing summer clothes, sitting under the stars , and enjoying a fabulous meal. It was at the Cuppage Terrace at the H2O Zone that I saw my first internet cafe. This was long before internet cafes opened in Toronto. I stepped inside picked up my e-mail and sent word to the folks back home that I was safe and enjoying my time in Asia. This seems commonplace now but just 9 years ago, it was an incredible experience.

Hello Kitty

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled along Orchard Road. It was bustling with activity and excitement. Chinese jugglers were performing in front of a shopping centre. We saw a Bollywood performer in full dress emerging from a hotel. Movie trailers and ads were projected from huge billboards atop buildings. (I had seen these in Malaysia as well a few days earlier.) When we approached the McDonald’s there was a huge crowd. I had no idea what this was all about. The next day at my seminar, some of the delegates told me that McDonald’s had been giving away 18″ Hello Kitty dolls in wedding costumes from various Asian countries. The Japanese dolls were about to go on the market and people had camped out overnight to make sure that they got a doll. I had never even heard of Hello Kitty so I simply didn’t get it. The doll was described to me as a mouthless cat. Through the magic of the internet, I have been able to uncover the story for you and determine that the events that I have just described took place on the evening of January 26, 2000:

A few years later, I noticed the dolls in a Montreal Chinatown store. I purchased them for about $25 and to this day they sit on my bureau as a reminder of my first trip to Singapore.

Changi Airport

Upon departure, I had a chance to really take a close look at the Changi Airport. It was beautiful. Monorails transported the passengers to and from the terminal building. There was a huge shopping centre with shops of every description, a transit hotel, lounges, a fitness centre, free kiosks for picking accessing the internet. I had never seen anything like this in North America. I purchased 2 cameras, a Samsung camera, the hottest selling model in Asia at the time, and a digital camera long before most people in North America had them.


Executive Oasis International would be pleased to work with you to plan, organize and deliver an incredible incentive travel itinerary or team building, sales or leadership retreat for your team in Singapore:


For more information about Singapore visit:

Singapore Incentive Travel Official Website for Tourist Information on Singapore

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly organizes incentive travel and executive retreats in Dubai, Oman, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore, and Canada. They provide one stop shopping service with a personalized approach to incentive travel for corporate groups of up to 60. Customized itineraries include travel, transfers, hotel, tours, team activities, and special events.

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