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New operator hopes to bring buzz back to Haw Par Villa

SINGAPORE — Haw Par Villa, the iconic Chinese-mythology theme park and heritage site that has seen better days, may get a new lease of life with the appointment of a new operator to manage the site.

Haw Par Villa. Photo: WEE TECK HIAN

Haw Par Villa. Photo: WEE TECK HIAN

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SINGAPORE — Haw Par Villa, the iconic Chinese-mythology theme park and heritage site that has seen better days, may get a new lease of life with the appointment of a new operator to manage the site.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced yesterday that it had appointed travel company Journeys to operate and manage Haw Par Villa, on a three-year contract starting from Aug 1.

The company will undertake the park’s programming and management of potential retail and food and beverage spaces.

Journeys has 14 years of experience in running heritage-based tours in Singapore, including the successful management of the Changi Chapel and Museum site.

Mr Chan Ying-Loone, Journeys’ director, said the company hopes to return Haw Par Villa “to its former glory and more”. The new operator plans to introduce tours as well as community and art programmes at Haw Par Villa. These will include qigong or tai chi classes and demonstrations led by community centre groups.

It also plans to use the theme park’s natural landscape to support the performing and visual arts.

To preserve the authenticity of the heritage site, the tours will revolve around themes of culture and religion, stories of family and bonds of brotherhood as well as the historical setting of the colonial era.

The park’s Gate of Hell, a popular tourist attraction, will also be retained to preserve its rich culture.

Journeys beat four other companies to win the contract.

“Journeys was selected on the strength of their holistic proposal, which focused on conserving the heritage of Haw Par Villa alongside regular programming of events and activities for various groups of people. The company is also experienced in the management of heritage spaces,” said Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, the STB’s director of attractions, dining and retail.

Originally known as Tiger Balm Gardens, Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by two Burmese-Chinese brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, as a place for the teaching of traditional Chinese values. The site was taken over by the STB in 1988.

Given its origins, Haw Par Villa is also a story of brotherly love between the two siblings as well as the story of Asian entrepreneurship, Journeys said.

To ensure that the focus of the site will be on culture, education and heritage, the new operator said it would avoid the excessive erection of signs and advertisements at the theme park.

Journeys also plans to replace the current Hua Song Museum with the Rise of Asia Museum. While the current museum structure will be retained, the Rise of Asia Museum will have new exhibits focusing on the various developments during the colonial era, the post-war revival, and the rise of Asian economies.

Journeys said it was aware of past failures by private companies to bring the buzz back to Haw Par Villa, and will be taking proactive measures to ensure the park’s success through its programmes and activities.

When asked how the heritage site could be revitalised, Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: “One possibility to enhance the experience of visitors is by telling the historical story of the site through multimedia (in the form of) quizzes and games. This will allow trails to be more interactive.”

According to the STB, Haw Par Villa receives about 200,000 visitors annually, on average. The park will remain open daily to all visitors and admission into the park is free, it added.

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Haw Par Villa Chinese-mythology theme park

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