Over the last few years, this tiny city-state has successfully shed its image as a bland stopover, becoming a nearly inevitable destination for anyone doing business in Southeast Asia.

Singapore is a nearly inevitable stop for anyone doing business in Southeast Asia. Executive travellers come to this tiny city-state from across the globe, attracted by opportunities in its biggest industries, including shipping, banking, trading, oil and gas, and increasingly, tourism.

Over the last few years, Singapore has successfully shed its image as “Singabore” – a bland stopover city – by adding two gigantic and hugely popular “integrated resorts”, the bureaucratic name for the government-controlled casino developments Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa. These two casino resorts contribute nearly 1.5% of Singapore’s gross domestic product, and along with casinos come luxury hotels, new dining and entertainment options, and millions of new visitors.

For example, passenger arrivals at Singapore’s Changi Airport hit a record 51.2 million in 2012, up 10% from 2011, and in the city, there are at least six new hotels slated to open in 2013, including the 301-room Westin Singapore and the 134-room Sofitel So. Changi is home base for Singapore Airlines – known for its attentive service and well-appointed cabins – which hauls in visitors in droves. Singapore Airlines carried 18 million passengers in 2012, up from 16.9 million in 2011. With a nod to the budget-focussed business traveller, in 2012 Singapore Airlines launched Scoot, a low-fare subsidiary focussed on routes between Asian and Australian cities.

The island of Singapore is small – just 49km by 25km – and sits at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, the southernmost point of continental Asia. Singapore’s commercial centre, known as the Central Business District (CBD), is located on the southern side of the island, but the 2010 addition of the enormous Marina Bay Sands complex (built on reclaimed land), has meant that the city centre has shifted east, with Marina Bay acting as its focus.

Hotels

Elegant

Commerce-focussed Singapore is well-known for being home to some of the world’s most top-notch, well-groomed business hotels. The 747-room Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, located on a sprawling 15-acre compound on the western edge of the CBD, is a legendary stop for diplomats, CEOs and celebs escaping the bustle of the city. Ask for a room in the hotel’s low-slung garden wing, which emerged from a 68-million Singapore dollar renovation last June.

For a pleasing dose of colonial-era luxury and space-age design, check into the 112-room Capella Singapore, located just south of the CBD on Sentosa Island. Architect Sir Norman Foster elegantly combined a refurbished British-era military structure  surrounded by manicured green lawns with curved, metal-clad modern hotel buildings and villas that tumble down a hillside to the South China Sea. Even if you are not staying here, it is worth the cab ride from town just to see it, or to enjoy the hotel’s Cuban-themed Bob’s Bar at sunset.

Business travellers hoping for better views of the city and bay should consider the cluster of elegant hotel high-rises on the northern end of Marina Bay. There is the 790-room Pan Pacific Singapore, which emerged from a five-month renovation last September; the 608-room Ritz-Carlton, Millennia Singapore, known for its decadent club level; and the 527-room Mandarin Oriental, which has dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows.

Edgy

The 367-room Parkroyal on Pickering, which opened in January, is draped in layers of lush greenery that cascade from garden and pool terraces at various levels of the 16-storey building, creating a striking, contoured rice paddy-like exterior. Located between the skyscrapers of Raffles Place and the Chinatown district, the hotel’s rooms feature pickled wood panelling and floors, and sinks and tubs made with a composite of recycled stone and glass. Book an Orchid Club room for helpful extras including complimentary laundry or pressing, a hot breakfast buffet and evening cocktails in the handsome 16th-storey lounge.

It is Asia-meets-Las Vegas at the enormous, eye-catching and now iconic 2,561-room Marina Bay Sands on the eastern edge of the CBD. On top of three 55-storey hotel towers sits the famous Sands SkyPark complex, with a stunning 150m infinity pool, the uber-hot Ku De Ta restaurant and bar, and a huge observation deck. While vacationers are there to shop or gamble, business travellers will likely have meetings at the adjacent Sands Expo and Convention Center – the city’s largest, with a capacity for up to 45,000 people. Convention-goers hoping to stay at Marina Bay Sands should book early – the hotel regularly runs at 90% to 100% occupancy.

The flashy, art-and-design focussed, 240-room W Singapore Sentosa Cove opened in September 2012 on a Mediterranean-style marina at the southern end of Sentosa Island. While the hotel has a distinct resort feel with a palm-fringed pool enclave, a DJ-hosted lobby bar, casual open-kitchen restaurants and a yacht-filled harbour, it is only about 13km from the CBD by cab – or via one of the hotel’s Audi, Porsche or BMW sedans. In mid-April, the W will be the best place to see some of the world’s largest yachts during the annual Singapore Yacht Show. 

Expense account
Like Las Vegas, the buzzy atmosphere and crowds at the Marina Bay Sands complex have attracted a globetrotting cadre of celebrity chefs eager for outposts in the fast-growing Asia market. Some of the complex’s hottest tables are at Cut (steaks/chops by Wolfgang Puck), db Bistro Moderne (French/American fare by Daniel Boulud), Guy Savoy (French nouvelle cuisine), Osteria Mozza (Italian by Mario Batali) and Waku Ghin (Japanese fusion by Tetsuya Wakuda).

Away from the buzz of the casinos, enjoy the sunny flavours of the French Mediterranean at the intimate 30-seat Restaurant Andre near Chinatown, named for chef/owner Andre Chiang, who trained under such masters as Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire. Chiang changes the menu frequently and sources ingredients from around the world, shaping them into small, intensely flavoured, meticulously presented dishes such scallop carpaccio or foie gras jelly.

London’s super-trendy Pollen Street Social restaurant has opened its first Asian outpost, Pollen, in a bright, modern space inside one of two conservatories at the new Gardens by the Bay park. Inside the giant glass dome, diners escape Singapore’s heat and humidity, eating among olive trees, and enjoying dishes created by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton that are seasoned with temperate climate herbs grown inside the dome.

Enjoy upscale Vietnamese food in a setting reminiscent of the French colonial era (think arched windows, wood floor inlaid with hand painted tiles, wooden chairs) at Annam in the Orchard Road area. Exotic fare includes dishes like thit kho (pork and eggs poached in coconut water and caramel) or bun bo Hue (a piquant bowl of noodles flavoured with beef and pork).

Off the clock
Take a break from the air-conditioned hotel or office and check out the new Gardens by the Bay. The 101-hectare park to the east of the Marina Bay Sands complex is home to some 250,000-plant species – most are native to the region, but two glass-enclosed, cooled conservatories (the “flower dome” and the “cloud forest”) host plants from more temperate regions of the world. There is also a grove of 25m to 50m-high metal structures called Skytrees, from which vertical gardens of ferns, orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants hang. The cooled conservatories are open until 9 pm; the free outdoor gardens stay open until 2 am, every day.

If you decide to invite your Singaporean colleagues out for a night of gambling at the local casinos, keep in mind that citizens and permanent residents must pay a levy of 100 Singapore dollars to enter. Visitors with passports can enter for free.

Go local
Singaporean food is a combination of flavours and ingredients from China, Malaysia and India. Signature dishes include chilli or pepper crab, satay, chicken rice, laksa (soup) and fish head curry. When local clients or colleagues ask where you would like to eat in this food-obsessed city, forget the fancy restaurants and go with them to their favourite hawker (street food) stall. There are hundreds of these hawker stalls in hawker centres (or food courts) all over Singapore – some are great, some are good, some should be avoided. If you cannot get a good recommendation from a local, check out Gluttons Bay near the esplanade on the northern edge of Marina Bay. Local food critic KF Seetoh has handpicked the best purveyors at this hawker centre in his popular Makansutra Guides.

Don't do this
Singapore’s equatorial location magnifies the heat and humidity, and after anything more than a 10-minute walk, that sharp look you started out with will end up looking wilted and damp. So do not walk from your hotel to your office on the morning of your first meeting or big presentation. Take a taxi instead – they are plentiful, relatively cheap and thankfully air conditioned.