SINGAPORE: Visitors will get to enter Sentosa for free from Mar 14 until the end of June, as part of the resort island’s new measures to attract locals and support businesses amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is an extension of an earlier plan to waive admission fees for all visitors during the March school holidays, Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) said on Wednesday (Mar 11).
Entry is already free for those who walk into Sentosa via the Sentosa Boardwalk but from Mar 14 to Jun 30, those driving into Sentosa or taking the monorail service at VivoCity will have their island admission fees waived.
SDC is also waiving the transport fee for the shuttle bus to Sentosa from Our Tampines Hub.
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Rental deferments will also be granted to businesses operating on the resort island to “enhance support” following feedback on business sentiment, SDC announced.
It will allow businesses to defer 50 per cent of their rental payments from April to June “where applicable”. The deferred rental may be paid in interest-free installments over a 12-month period, SDC added in a media release.
At the moment, businesses on Sentosa already benefit from rental waivers, property tax rebates and access to a temporary bridging loan under the S$4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package announced in Budget 2020.
SDC said Sentosa has seen a 20 per cent to 50 per cent drop in visitor numbers and sales since early February.
“Both the island admission waiver and rental deferment take into account requests and inputs shared by island partners,” SDC added.
Speaking to the media after a tour at Sentosa on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said these new measures are aimed at ramping up support for tourist-dependent businesses on Sentosa which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.
He hopes that the extended period of free entry into Sentosa will encourage more Singaporeans to visit the resort island, while allowing flexible rental payments will help affected businesses with cash flow.
“We are in this together,” he said. “We want to work together with our island partners.”
DEALS AND MORE TO WOO SINGAPOREANS
SDC is also stepping up on promotional efforts with a new Stay and Play Programme, which will feature an array of promotions and deals such as hotel and attraction packages for the month of March.
Mr Chee said to help businesses in Sentosa overcome the ongoing downturn, “what is even more important than just providing relief and support measures is to see how we can bring back more demand”.
“We want to encourage people to visit the island,” he said. “We want to encourage more people to do staycations, to come here for F&B and visit the attractions.”
Business operators are expecting the waiver of island admission fees – which one described as a “big wish list item” – to give them a leg-up in attracting more customers.
Some hotels, including Capella and Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, have rolled out staycation packages in hope of luring locals who have ditched their travel plans for the upcoming March holidays as the coronavirus continues to spread in other parts of the world.
Mr Gavin Weightman, general manager of Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, said its packages have been “quite well accepted” thus far.
“We just launched our packages last week and we’ve seen at least 150 room nights,” he told reporters.
“Majority of our guests during the March holiday will be Singaporeans … who still want a break or respite from working hard and they’ll be looking somewhere near to spend time with their families.”
At Capella Singapore, the take-up rate for its various staycation packages tailored for families and couples, has been "good" since being introduced a week ago.
Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, senior vice president of hotels at Pontiac Land Group, said: “During SARS, locals (were) a good revenue source for our hotels and it helped our hotels survive.
“We hope Singaporeans will come and enjoy themselves, not just stay at our hotels but also eat at our restaurants and enjoy our spas as well.”
To bolster confidence about hygiene and safety among visitors, SDC and businesses on the island have stepped up cleaning efforts.
Mr Chee noted that these efforts “will go some way” in providing visitors to Sentosa with the confidence that “they will be safe”.
Trapizza, a restaurant owned by Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, carries out “full sanitation” of its tables, chairs and other high touch-points every two hours.
The space between each table at the restaurant, located along Siloso Beach, has also been increased as part of its precautionary measures.
Trapizza has seen a slowdown in business on weekdays due to a drop in international tourists, according to Mr Weightman, but business is still holding up on weekends when it sees more local diners.
“Normally on a regular busy Saturday, we expect to see 800 people coming through for our lunch and dinner,” he said. “Now we are seeing 500 to 600 so it’s still quite encouraging.”
Despite the near-term impact from the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Chee said the medium to longer-term development plans for Sentosa remain unchanged.
A comprehensive blueprint aimed at redeveloping Sentosa and Pulau Brani into a “game-changing leisure and tourism destination” was announced in September last year, with plans for new spaces and concepts as well as rejuvenated beaches.
“We remain confident that we will be able to rejuvenate and attract more visitors (and) more Singaporeans,” Mr Chee told reporters.
He pointed out that local visitor numbers to Sentosa from April 2019 to November 2019 rose 18 per cent, compared to the same period a year ago – a sign that the strategy is working.
“Last year was the year that we managed to ramp up our local visitorship so it gives all of us a lot of confidence that what we've been doing is actually the correct strategy and we will press on.
“For the medium term and longer term, the crisis will be over and we need to be able to be ready for the new opportunities and emerge stronger,” he said.