Selling Dreams - Early advertising in Singapore
Travelling for leisure was once the preserve of an elite minority. However, technological advances of in the 19th century, particularly the advent of steamships and railways, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which halved the duration of ship passage between Europe and Asia, marked the beginning of world tourism. For the first time in history, it was possible for many to travel around the world, traversing oceans and continents.
Singapore, a major port of call and coaling station from the late 19th century until the Second World War, was on the itinerary of round-the-world tours. Ships from Europe and India sailing to East Asia, or vice versa, had to pass through Singapore. Travellers typically made a brief stopover here or in Penang before embarking to other destinations. Advertising was used to promote tourism to British Malaya – the colony was portrayed as a tropical haven, rich in natural resources, scenic beauty and business opportunities. Malaya’s railway operator, the Federated Malay States Railways also actively promoted tourism through its ads that enticed tourists to see the country by train.
As leisure travel became more popular, tourism advertisements increased in print media, which reveal travel options and destinations. Within Southeast Asia, hill stations – hill resorts developed by Europeans – were favoured by colonial residents. With the opening of shipping lines and railways worldwide, countries in Asia and other continents were also advertised as attractive tour destinations. Evident from the ads of cruise liners, tourists with the means travelled in comfort and luxury. When the age of aviation arrived in the 1930s, airline ads attested to the changes that revolutionised travel and tourism.