SINGAPORE: The tourism sector will take a “significant hit”, with visitor arrivals estimated to fall by 25 per cent to 30 per cent this year due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Tuesday (Feb 11).
The coronavirus outbreak has significantly impacted visitor arrivals, especially from China, which accounts for about 20 per cent of international visitor arrivals here, said STB in a media release.
There were about 3.6 million visitors from China in 2019. Compared to 2018, there was a 12 per cent increase in visitors from Tier 2 Chinese cities like Jinan, Ningbo and Xiamen, it added.
China was also Singapore’s top revenue market in the first three quarters of 2019, accounting for S$3.2 billion in tourism receipts excluding the sightseeing, gaming and entertainment segments, up by 2 per cent from 2018.
“Visitor arrivals from STB’s other key source markets are also expected to fall due to lower travel confidence globally,” said STB.
Singapore is losing an average of 18,000 to 20,000 international visitors per day and most of the lost visitor arrivals are Chinese due to travel restrictions on both sides, STB chief executive Keith Tan told media on Tuesday.
He noted that the estimated decrease in visitor arrivals could change depending on how long the situation in China lasts, how long the situation in Singapore and regional economies lasts, and how long it will take for traveller demand to return.
He also added that the decline in tourism receipts would be "roughly in line" with the decline in visitor arrivals.
“We believe that the situation this year will be at least as severe as the situation we faced in 2003 during SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), probably worse.”
MORE RELIANT ON CHINA FOR TOURISM NOW
Adding that Singapore is more reliant on China for tourism now compared to when the SARS outbreak hit in 2003, Mr Tan noted that China accounted for just 9 per cent of visitor arrivals that year.
As a result, Singapore will probably take longer to recover from the novel coronavirus outbreak than the SARS outbreak in 2003, said Mr Tan.
Singapore's tourism sector saw positive year-on-year results about seven to eight months after the World Health Organization declared Singapore SARS free, he added.
However, after four years of consecutive growth, the tourism authorities said the sector is aiming for a strong recovery, with a pipeline of tourism investments and efforts to build new capabilities.
“Our destination remains attractive, we have a strong pipeline of tourism products, and our market portfolio is diverse,” said Mr Tan.
“The growth that we have enjoyed over the past four years reflects our strong tourism fundamentals,” he added.
The Government will also form a public-private sector Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC) to lay out the plans for recovery and future growth, said STB.
The Task Force will comprise tourism leaders from the public and private sectors, and it will work to identify opportunities arising from the coronavirus outbreak, boost confidence in Singapore’s tourism spots and create recovery plans.
The statutory board had announced on Feb 2 that licence fees for hotels, travel agents and tour guides would be waived to help Singapore’s tourism sector, which has been “directly affected” by the coronavirus outbreak.
STB will also defray the cleaning costs of hotels that provided accommodation to the confirmed and suspected cases of the coronavirus. Full details of the overall package of relief measures will be announced at Budget 2020 on Feb 18.
TOURISM BUSINESSES AFFECTED
Business and visitor numbers for Sentosa have fallen by 20 to 50 per cent, said Mr Quek Swee Kuan, chief executive of Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC). The island had seen a 17 to 19 per cent growth in local visitorship until the virus hit Singapore, he added.
Adding that Sentosa plans to waive all admission fees for the March school holidays, he also said that attractions on the island are considering different options, for example, closing on certain days of the week.
Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa and Village Hotel Sentosa, the hotels that saw two guests who later became Singapore’s first and fourth confirmed cases respectively, were impacted by the news at first, said Mr Quek.
“But over time now, the situation has stabilised and generally the tourists have got confidence in Singapore and Sentosa hotels. And the hotels have been complying with the MOH (Ministry of Health) guidelines to ensure that the confidence in their product remains intact.”
With visitor arrivals expected to drop, hotels will use the downtime to retrain workers and conduct renovations and repairs, said Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the Singapore Hotel Association.
"Hotels are taking the time (to do so), because during 90 per cent occupancy we didn't have the ability to do so; so we're fast-forwarding a lot of these renovations," she said.
"We got support from the Government for that during SARS, and we are doing the same thing again."
When asked whether hotels have plans to lay off or retrench staff in light of the downturn, Ms Kwee noted that there were no layoffs during the SARS period and that the hotels hope to return with all their staff.
As the coronavirus situation is expected to persist, the tourism board will continue to identify "targeted and effective ways” to support the industry and its employees, it said.
STB will also maintain its plans to enhance Singapore’s destination attractiveness, with work progressing on the Mandai Nature Precinct, the Jurong Lake District, the Sentosa-Brani masterplan, the rejuvenation of Orchard Road and the expansion of the Integrated Resorts.
“It is more important than ever to invest in tourism to support our businesses, build confidence in tourism, and boost our destination attractiveness – so that when things start to improve, Singapore can ride on the recovery for strong growth,” said Mr Tan.
“STB remains committed to our mid- to long-term tourism plans, to ensure that Singapore has a steady pipeline of new and repeat visitors.”
VISITOR ARRIVALS, TOURISM RECEIPTS GREW IN 2019
Singapore saw growth in visitor arrivals and tourism receipts for a fourth consecutive year in 2019. Visitor arrivals rose 3.3 per cent to a total of 19.1 million visitors, and they spent a total of S$27.1 billion in tourism receipts, 0.5 per cent more than in 2018.
After China, Indonesia and India accounted for the second and third-most number of visitors to Singapore, with about 3.1 million and 1.4 million visitors respectively.
Singapore also saw a 13 per cent increase in visitors and a 14 per cent increase in tourism receipts from the United States. This could be attributed partly to greater flight connectivity between Singapore and the United States, with new non-stop flights launched in 2019.
While the Business Travel and Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions and Exhibitions (BTMICE) sector fell 7 per cent year-on-year to S$3.2 billion, Singapore continues to attract leading BTMICE events, STB said.
The hotel industry performed well in 2019, with growth registered across all categories. Total gazetted hotel room revenue stood at S$4.2 billion in 2019, as average room and occupancy rates rose.
Cruise passenger throughput fell 2.5 per cent to reach 1.8 million passengers. This decline is largely attributed to the dry docking of Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas in Singapore for over a month to undergo refurbishment works, the tourism board said.
However, foreign cruise throughput grew by 3.5 per cent while ship calls rose 3.2 per cent to 414, with more European liners such as AIDA Cruises and Marella Cruises contributing to the growth. Demand for cruise remained strong in 2019, with Royal Caribbean International and Genting seeing healthy occupancy for their ships, STB said.
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