SEAsia's first Universal Studios opens in Singapore

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The Independent Online

Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme park, featuring rides and attractions from box-office hits like "Shrek" and "Madagascar", opened to enthusiastic crowds Thursday in Singapore.

Hundreds of visitors including foreign tourists lined up to be among the first into the 20-hectare (50-acre) park, part of the 4.4-billion-US dollar Resorts World Sentosa casino complex built by Malaysia's Genting Group.

The casino, Singapore's first, started operations last month as part of a drive to draw more visitors to the city-state, which relies on man-made attractions to entice tourists.

Genting Group chairman Lim Kok Thay told reporters Southeast Asia, China and India would be the park's key markets and expressed optimism that visitors would come from as far away as Europe.

"I think there's simply no competition. We are the only park of this kind in this part of the world," he said.

Asia's only other Universal Studios theme park is in Japan, while the company's two other complexes are in California and Florida.

Robert McIntosh, executive director of consultancy CBRE Hotels Asia Pacific, believes the park will boost tourism to Singapore.

"It will be an added benefit for those who are already planning to come to Singapore to visit. It looks to be the kind of theme park that could pull in many visitors based on its attractions," he said.

Andy Nazarechuk, of the University of Las Vegas in Singapore, said: "I think they've set a new standard, not only for Singapore but also for the Asian region.

"I expect it to draw large numbers to this part of the world."

Singaporean newlyweds Raymond Ling and Liew See Eng took the day off to try the roller-coaster rides at the seaside entertainment centre.

"The whole goal was to come here first and experience the most terrifying rides. We'll definitely be taking it as many times as we can," Ling told AFP after getting off a ride called "Battlestar Galactica Human".

The park has seven zones of movie-themed attractions, including an area devoted to Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" and a version of Hollywood's famous "Walk of Fame".

Nine-year-old Chai Jing Xuan, a Singaporean girl who was one of the first to try the "Shrek 4D Adventure" ride, gave it a thumbs-up.

"The best part of the ride was seeing the donkey. He was very funny," she said.

Chinese tourist Huang Wenhui, 26, an engineer who was in Singapore for a one-day stopover, joined the early crowds.

"I'm not a thrill-seeker, but I'm enjoying the whole experience very much," he said.

The park boasts 24 rides and attractions, with 18 originally designed or adapted for Singapore.

Under a phased opening, Resorts World Sentosa launched four premium hotels and a shopping and dining strip in January, followed by the casino and a convention centre last month.

Singapore gave the green light for two casino resorts in 2005, hoping to boost the country's appeal to tourists, and their construction helped fuel a property boom.

A marine life park, a maritime museum, a spa and two more hotels will open at Resorts World Sentosa after 2010.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore's second casino complex, is scheduled to open on April 27. It is now being completed by US-based Las Vegas Sands.

Singapore welcomed 9.7 million visitors last year, down 4.3 percent from 2008 as the global recession hit travel demand, but arrivals have begun to pick up.

There were 908,000 visitors in January, up 17.6 percent from a year ago.