Chinese tourists, marketing blitz lift Singapore tourism

SINGAPORE: A multimillion-dollar global marketing blitz and an influx of Chinese visitors beyond those from first-tier cities, among other factors, are helping the tourism sector recover from its protracted slump.

Based on latest official figures, the total number of visitors who came here from January to November last year has outstripped the arrivals — by almost 61,500 — during the same period in 2014, with full-year numbers set to reach the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) target of between 15.1 million and 15.5 million visitors.

However, the spike in arrival numbers has not been matched by an increase in tourism receipts, which are in danger of falling short of the official forecast of between S$23.5 billion and S$24 billion.

STB will be releasing the 2015 full-year visitor arrival figure at the end of the month, along with tourism receipts up to the third quarter of last year. As of Q2 last year, only S$5.2 billion was spent by visitors, down 9 per cent compared with the same period in 2014.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, STB Director of Research Shameem Mustaffa said: “International visitor arrivals have been on the upturn for the past half year since May. Looking at our data from January to November, we are confident of visitor arrivals falling within our forecast of 0 to 3 per cent growth.”

But she added: “For tourism receipts, however, we think it would be very challenging to see results falling within our forecast. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

In the first 11 months of last year, there were a total of about 13.8 million visitor arrivals, about 0.4 per cent more compared with the same period in 2014. In particular, there was “good growth” in the number of visitors from key markets such as China (up 21 per cent), India (up 7 per cent) and Taiwan (up 11 per cent), Ms Mustaffa said.

She added: “The growth from these markets helped offset the decline in visitor arrivals of other markets such as Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia, where macroeconomic factors such as currency depreciation and weak economic sentiments impacted demand of travel to Singapore.”

Since the second quarter of 2014, tourism had taken a hit from regional events such as political unrest in Thailand, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the abduction of Chinese tourists in Sabah. In April last year, STB announced a slew of initiatives, including a S$20 million global marketing campaign leveraging on the Republic’s Golden Jubilee year. It also leveraged on SG50 celebrations to “showcase a lesser known side of Singapore to the world” through the Singapore: Inside Out travelling showcase, which features the Republic’s contemporary creative talents.

In May last year, visitor arrivals started to pick up, but it was not until October before the cumulative figures for 2015 surpassed that of 2014.

While analysts expect the positive trend in terms of arrival numbers to continue, they noted that spending by visitors — who mainly come from China, Malaysia and Indonesia — will still be constrained by factors such as an uncertain global economy and relatively weak foreign currencies.

In 2013, the Government highlighted the need to pursue “quality yield-driven tourism” by growing tourism receipts, instead of a model based on “sheer quantitative growth” in terms of visitor arrivals which is no longer viable given Singapore’s land and manpower constraints.

UOB economist Francis Tan felt that the higher arrivals last year were no cause for celebration, given the low base in 2014.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun added: “We are not seeing the big spenders coming through, but mass market tourists (and) we are seeing more cautious business travellers. The slower and tougher macro-environment sees belt-tightening from businesses which affects spending by business travellers.”

On tourism receipts, both Mr Song and Mr Tan noted the weak Indonesia and Malaysia currencies. Visitors from these two countries “will be more discretionary with their expenditure and think harder before they buy”, Mr Tan said. Still, he noted that the move to attract visitors from second- and third-tier Chinese cities was paying off. “This is to attract first-time visitors rather than repeat visitors from big Chinese cities,” he said.

Adding that more Singapore-bound flights are being added to mid-tier Chinese cities, Mr Song said the uneasy political situation in Hong Kong could also help to drive Chinese tourists to Singapore.

Overall, Mr Song said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the tourism sector is on the mend, and he expects tourism numbers this year to be boosted by visitors from India and China.

STB expects the external environment to “remain challenging”, Ms Mustaffa said. Together with the industry, it is intensifying efforts to attract more visitors. These include marketing initiatives such as STB’s partnerships with the Changi Airport Group, Singapore Airlines and TripAdvisor. STB has also inked partnerships with major Chinese digital players including Baidu.

“We also need to work on developing more experiences that showcase our authenticity and hidden gems,” Ms Mustaffa said. The STB has also been offering funding schemes — such as the S$10 million Experience Step-Up Fund introduced last year — for businesses to develop new tourism experiences, she added.

Read the original TODAY report here