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Life's a Bentley for ultra-rich in Singapore hotel

SINGAPORE -- Taxi fares have gone up this week and the ordinary public and even bankers are complaining it is now a bit pricey to get a cab in central Singapore. But for the ultra-rich staying in the city-state there may be no need to wait for a ride.

The St. Regis Singapore, a new five-star hotel, opened its doors on Saturday with a fleet of customized Bentley limousines to ferry guests around. The hotel is already fully booked until after Christmas. The Lady Astor suite, available at S$1,100 (US$755) a night, comes with a 24-hour butler for the room as well as a round trip to the airport in one of the Bentleys.

The cars have deep-pile carpets for weary feet and a wine cooler in the arm-rest.

"I think people are looking for the experience, not just luxury," said David Campbell, director of sales for St. Regis in Singapore.

The St. Regis is the first internationally branded luxury hotel to open in Singapore for 11 years, setting up competition against the likes of colonial-era Raffles. Global hoteliers are busily investing in Asia to tap growing regional wealth.

Visitor arrivals in Singapore have reached a record this year and the government is developing tourism as it tries to wean itself off manufacturing because of competition from cheaper factories in China.

But demand for luxury is coming not only from visitors.

Singapore had the fastest-growing number of high-net worth individuals in the world last year, totaling about 67,000. Its booming economy, driven by manufacturing and financial services, is set to grow about eight percent this year, and the city-state is becoming a playground for the rich.

There is still a shortage of hotel rooms to meet demand, though, to the extent the government is allowing golf clubs build hotels on their land, to boost the city's 37,000 rooms. Plush hotels hope to attract newly rich Chinese and Indians in an Asian market worth US$115 billion a year.

St. Regis will build seven more in Asia over four years, from Osaka to Tibet.

But its Singapore fleet of Bentleys will soon be outdone.

The Norman Foster-designed Cappella Singapore on the resort island of Sentosa will open towards the end of next year, with a pair of million-dollar Rolls-Royce Phantom limousines.

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