Tourism is an important source of revenue for many countries and districts. Cultural and heritage tourism are increasingly popular. Many countries are capitalizing on their cultural diversity and promote ethnic enclaves as tourist destinations. We see this in Surabaya with Kampoeng Arab, San Francisco and London with their Chinatowns. Bangkok and Manila are also promoting Chinatowns as tourist destinations.
There are some new ethnic districts that have no ethnic heritage or history but are developing as ethnic quarters; an example would be Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur and Edgware Road in London. These two places are fast becoming popular with Arab tourists and developed as areas catering for Arab tourists.
Malaysia’s Penang and Malacca conserved their old city and developed them as tourist destination. These two cities are exemplary of how conservation of the historical buildings are complemented with the preservation of the culture of the old city. Malacca old city is even declared a UNESCO heritage site.
Singapore has also embarked on conserving old shophouses of the old ethnic enclaves and created the conservation districts of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Gelam. This paper deals with Kampong Gelam Specifically. Kampong Gelam is the district of the Sultan Istana and the Sultan Mosque. It is one of the oldest districts of Singapore. Sir Stamford Raffles in his town plans of Singapore had designated areas of kampong Gelam for different ethnic groups; including the Arabs, Bugis and Malays. The roads had names reflecting the ethnic groups.
This paper discusses how conservation was seen by the authorities as merely conserving the buildings and restoring the Istana. There was no consideration given to preserving the traditional businesses of the district nor preserving the ethnic culture of kampong Gelam. The paper describes the community efforts in trying to preserve and reestablish the kampong Gelam culture and the obstacles they faced through various regulations.
The paper also discusses the created socio-political issues arising from the authorities describing Kampong Gelam as the Malay District while the core conservation area was the historic Arab quarters. The Arab community revived the area again as the Arabic quarters but the socio-political landscape in Singapore required a Malay quarters.
The case of kampong Gelam is interesting as to how the authorities has prevented a heritage ethnic district from preserving the ethnic culture. At the same time the regulations had prevented the district from benefiting from ethnic tourism.