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We had an absolutely perfect day with our tour guide - Rogin Luo - who took us for a hike along The Great Wall! Didn't know what to expect and were thrilled to have him as our guide. Very imformative, knowledgable and fun! We go to experience a part of The Great Wall that was unrestored and see all its natural beauty. Got a long history lesson along the way!

After the hike, we all went to lunch at a small place at the bottom of the hill. Located in a house, we ate lunch in the proprietors bedroom! What a hoot! Rogin is the Best of the Best! This tour company delivered for us and we are extremely grateful.

Westborough, Massachusetts
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Casinos or Culture? Singapore Tries to Lure Touris
What makes a successful tourist destination? Casinos, theme parks, and Bollywood films - or a mix of historic sites and local culture?

As Singapore reduces its dependence on electronics exports it wants to boost its tourism industry - currently about 5 percent of gross domestic product - and is betting on casinos and other imported entertainment to lure millions more visitors.

"Artificial tourist creations can work," said Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guides.

"Disneylands all over the world seem to pull in the crowds. And the casinos will probably be a success."

Perhaps Singapore's biggest handicap is its lack of famous sights: it has no Angkor Wat or Taj Mahal. For many years, it prided itself on its innumerable shopping malls, and promoted its annual "Singapore Sale".

With an eye on the newly affluent Chinese, Indians and other Asians who increasingly travel overseas, Singapore has begun work on several new attractions, including two big casinos, a Universal Studios theme park, and a ferris wheel, even though none of these is particularly Singaporean.

In a bid to generate more "buzz" abroad, it has opened clubs such as Ministry of Sound and is even pitching itself as a film location, eager to emulate New Zealand's success with hits such as Lord of the Rings. By "starring" in Bollywood blockbusters such as Krrish, Singapore hopes to entice more Indian tourists.

Earlier this month, Singapore snagged the rights to host Formula One racing, which it hopes will raise its profile abroad. Citigroup expects the race to generate S$150-200 million ($100-130 million) a year.

"They want to send a message that Singapore has changed," said Christopher Wood, CLSA's regional strategist.

"They have to have more than shopping centers. Formula One is a brilliant idea. But nobody in Asia does culture well. Japan is the only place in Asia that has it. There's nothing cultural happening here now, zero."

Macao's experience

The government wants to double the number of visitors to 17 million a year by 2015, while nearly trebling tourism receipts to S$30 billion ($20 billion). Its new attractions could well succeed in pulling the crowds, economists say, particularly given Macau's experience.

After the former Portuguese enclave of Macau opened up to the big US casino firms, it proved so popular that its annual gambling revenues hit $7 billion last year.

Macau had a record 22 million visitors last year, up 17 percent from 2005, and could have as many as 35-40 million a year by 2010, Goldman Sachs said in a research report this month.

Inspired by Macao, Singapore scrapped its decades-long ban on casinos and is now building two gambling resorts, due to open in the next three or four years, at a cost of nearly $7 billion.

One of those casinos will include a Universal Studios theme park. That too could attract millions of visitors from the region, given that the one in Japan had 8.7 million visitors in the year ending March 31, up 4.6 percent from a year ago.

But some Singaporeans have their doubts.

"The Formula One is a lazy way to get cheap publicity," wrote Ng Weng Hoong in a letter to Business Times, as the government's money would be better spent promoting the use of solar energy.

"Singapore should not be hypocritical, pretending to care for energy savings and the environment - and then coming up with a wasteful, has-been event like the F1."

Thousands of Singaporeans signed a petition objecting to the casinos, citing fears about the social impact and risk of crime.

(China Daily via Agencies May 31, 2007)


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