Singapore defends Taylor Swift’s exclusive Southeast Asia stop after neighbors cry foul

By Kathleen Magramo, CNN

CNN  — 

Singapore is drawing fans from all over Southeast Asia and beyond to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, much to the annoyance of the city-state’s regional neighbors.

The anger is not directed at the superstar but at the Singaporean government for an exclusive deal it struck with concert organizers to make sure the city-state is the only place in Southeast Asia where she performs.

Swift has brought a windfall to Singapore – as she usually does wherever she goes – as fans buy flights, accommodation and souvenirs in the city-state.

But countries in the region have expressed their annoyance with Filipino lawmaker Joey Salceda saying exclusive deals aren’t “what good neighbors do.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded to the criticism on Tuesday, saying Singapore was not being “unfriendly” to its neighbors by making a deal with the superstar.

“[Our] agencies negotiated an arrangement with her to come to Singapore and perform and to make Singapore her only stop in Southeast Asia,” Lee said at a press conference in Melbourne while on a state visit to Australia.

“Certain incentives were provided to her, and a deal was reached. It has turned out to be a very successful arrangement. I don’t see that as being unfriendly.”

“If we had not made such an arrangement, would she have come to more places in Southeast Asia? Maybe, maybe not?” he added.

Singapore officials had previously acknowledged offering Swift a grant, with the country’s culture minister, Edward Tong, playing down the size of the grant and Monday said that “it is not accurate and not anywhere as high as speculated.”

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin  had claimed during a business forum in Bangkok on February 16 that Singapore paid Taylor Swift up to $3 million per show on the condition of exclusivity to perform in the country.

Swift’s team has not commented on the controversy and hasn’t replied to CNN’s request for a response. Both Thailand and Philippines have seen major international music acts pass through recently and wow fans, including Coldplay.

Southeast Asia fans dig deep to see Swift

The Eras Tour is a multi-continent extravaganza that surged to become the highest-grossing tour of all time – and Swift is making Singapore a lot of money.

Swift is playing six, sold-out nights to 300,000 fans in Singapore, where 70% of the concertgoers are flying from overseas and spending up to $370 million in the city state, according to estimates by an economist at Maybank.

Between March 1 and 9 when Swift is in town, Singapore-inbound flights shot up by 186% and accommodation bookings almost quintupled, according to Edmund Ong, general manager at travel platform in Singapore.

These large-scale global music events are a boon for Singapore’s travel-related services that can add up to 10% of its GDP, HSBC’s ASEAN economist Yun Liu wrote in a recent note.

Filipino fans Errol De Asis, Gilliane Granada, Christel Kaye Kuan, Yedda Mendoza, made their way to Singapore for the Eras Tour.

Fans from the Philippines, Thailand, China and other countries in the region have spent thousands on concert and plane tickets to watch Swift perform, plus whatever it takes to complete the experience with sequined dresses and themed costumes.

For many Filipino fans, traveling to Singapore can be a huge outlay. The GDP per capita in the Philippines is around $3,500 a year, according to the World Bank. In comparison Singapore is one of the world’s wealthiest places in the world where the average person earns more than 23 times has much with a GDP per capita of $83,000.

Filipino fan Charlyn Suizo is among those on a pricey pilgrimage to watch Swift, splashing all out for the once in a lifetime extravaganza.

“This is the biggest amount I have spent for a concert. I never really spent big like six-digit (Philippine peso) amounts for someone else, just Taylor Swift,” Suizo said.

Singapore’s currency is one of the strongest in Asia, making everything relatively expensive for travelers from emerging markets in the region.

Gilliane Granada, 24, who traveled from the Philippines with three other friends, said while its more costly for them to go to Singapore for the concert it makes sense to host it in the city-state.

“I don’t think we’d have a big enough venue to accommodate her, her stage and her production and all that. So, I think that’s probably one of the reasons why they decided to have it here in Singapore because it’s a great stadium,” Granada said.

Her friend, Christel Kaye Kuan, 25, said they all spent about $2,000 for tickets, flights accommodation for the trip, and added that they at least got to turn it into their first international trip as friends.

That’s about six times the national average monthly wage in the Philippines, based on latest government census data.

But it’s all worth it “because we get to see Taylor.”


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