On the heels of nonstop flights from Sea-Tac and ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ Singapore hopes to increase U.S. tourism from Seattle

As Seattleites have become more interested in travel to Southeast Asia, Singapore’s tourism board is hoping to increase tourism from the Pacific Northwest to the small country located just south of Malaysia.

One entry point they’re harnessing to pique Seattleites’ interest in Singapore? The movie “Crazy Rich Asians” that premiered in summer 2018 and became an instantaneous hit. The film amassed more than $230 million at the box office and became the highest-grossing rom-com of the last 10 years, and the 6th highest grossing ever. Most of the movie took place and was filmed in Singapore, showcasing some of the glamour and lifestyle in the country.

To aid in this cause, “Crazy Rich Asians” star Tan Kheng Hua came to Seattle recently to anchor a press event organized by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Tan is one of the few Singaporean actresses who had roles in “Crazy Rich Asians.” Although she ironically played an American character in the movie — she was the mom of Constance Wu’s character, Rachel Chu — Tan, 56, is a veteran of the Singapore film scene who is now based in Los Angeles as she tries to make inroads in Hollywood.

“I’m very proud of where I come from. Everything in my life has been defined by me being Singaporean,” Tan said, adding that she visits Singapore often and misses Singaporean coffee — called “kopi.”

Initially, the Singapore Tourism Board was skeptical of how the movie would portray the country, but was ultimately impressed at how it captured Singaporean culture and spirit. Capitalizing on this renewed interest, the tourism board now hopes that American tourists will want to see Singapore as more than just a movie backdrop.

It helps that as of last month, it’s become much easier to fly from Seattle to Singapore.

Singapore Airlines’ September launch of nonstop flights from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Changi Airport makes Seattle only the fourth U.S. destination from which you can fly direct to Singapore.

Singapore Airlines initially offered the Seattle-Singapore nonstop flight three days per week, but demand within the first month of its launch was strong enough that the airline has since added a fourth weekly nonstop flight between Seattle and Singapore, and plans to increase that to five weekly flights in April 2020.

While “Crazy Rich Asians” showcased many of Singapore’s most popular attractions, Tan hopes that international travelers will take time to get to know other nontouristy parts of the country as well.

“Many Americans are seeing this country through the eyes of American storytellers, but I would implore people to speak with real Singaporeans,” Tan said. “Only through the eyes of a citizen can you really understand the country. … Everybody always talks about the food and the shopping, which is great of course, but there’s so much more.”

Rachel Loh, the Singapore Tourism Board’s regional director, said increased accessibility from the U.S. is making Singapore a regular destination instead of a bucket-list spot. The country boasts a vibrant culture, with a variety of urban areas to explore, but is perhaps best known for its food scene. Among many great eats, Singapore is home to two Michelin-starred hawker stalls, one of which boasts the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal: a chicken and rice dish for less than $2.

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, more than 360,000 visitors from the U.S. came to Singapore in the first half of 2019, a 10% increase from last year. With Singapore Airlines’ new direct flights from Seattle in 2020, and planned expansion to other U.S. cities in the future, the tourism board hopes to see U.S. tourism to Singapore continue its upward trajectory.

The upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel is currently in preproduction, although it has been the subject of controversy over pay disparity between writers. If the movie follows the plot of the Kevin Kwan book it’s based on, it will likely take place primarily in China, not Singapore.

Tan hopes to reprise her role, and although Singapore may not be the star, they hope fans will still come visit.

CORRECTION: An early version of this story gave an incorrect last name for Constance Wu’s character in “Crazy Rich Asians.”