By Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie
As images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strolling by revelers at a rooftop bar the night before an unprecedented meeting with President Donald Trump circulated around social media sites, U.S. citizens started asking ‘Where is Singapore?’
‘Singapore’, the tiny Southeast Asian city-state that played host to nuclear talks earlier this week, was the most searched term on internet search engine Google in the United States on Monday with over 2 million hits.
Related searches during those 24 hours included ‘Where is Singapore’, ‘Singapore summit’ and ‘time in Singapore’.
Blanket media coverage on Monday included Kim’s surprise tour of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel and its surrounding gardens, and the first hours of the meeting with Trump in the resort island of Sentosa.
Singapore said it spent S$20 million ($15 million) on the summit, a figure that drew the ire of some citizens. However, marketing experts say the coverage generated from the event could be worth more than 10 times that.
“It places Singapore on the map for international audiences,” said Oliver Chong, executive director, communications and marketing capability at Singapore Tourism Board.
Tourism contributes around 4 percent to Singapore’s GDP per annum. Visitor arrivals hit a record 17.4 million last year boosted by China, its top market, and India.
But just months ago, lifestyle magazine Time Out ranked Singapore among the world’s least exciting cities.
Andrew Darling, CEO and founder of communications agency West Pier Ventures, said it would cost more than S$200 million to generate the kind of publicity Singapore has received so far by hosting the summit.
Media intelligence firm Meltwater said the coverage over the three days around the summit equated to $270 million of advertising, while the month leading up to it was worth $767 million.
“The Trump-Kim Summit has arguably been the single most important event that brought Singapore to the attention of the most people around the world,” said Jason Tan of media advertising agency Zenith Singapore.
“For many Asians, Singapore as the choice of destination reinforces our image as an efficient and safe country. For Americans who might not be as familiar with Asia, the summit definitely brought Singapore into the global spotlight.”
Online travel agent Expedia said its data showed searches from global customers for trips to Singapore had risen by 58 percent on June 10-11 relative to the same days in 2017, including a 220 percent rise in searches by U.S.-based customers.
Still, even some who should know better struggled to accurately place Singapore – known as the Little Red Dot in reference to its depiction on a map.
The U.S. State Department mistakenly made Singapore a part of neighboring Malaysia in a note issued in connection with the summit, drawing a slew of snide comments on social media.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie. Additional reporting by Dewey Sim and Jamie Freed. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)