SINGAPORE: Hotels and attractions in Singapore are looking forward to welcoming foreign guests following the relaunch of a long-awaited air travel bubble with Hong Kong, which they described as a “positive step forward” for the battered tourism industry.
But the impact will likely be a “more qualitative” one, instead of a big boost to visitor numbers, with the air travel bubble set to begin cautiously, some players said.
The much-delayed air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong is set to take off on May 26, authorities announced on Monday (Apr 26). There will be one flight a day in each direction and capped at 200 passengers per flight for the first two weeks.
Stricter conditions will also be in place. This includes travellers having to remain in Singapore or Hong Kong in the last 14 days prior to departure, excluding any time spent in quarantine or stay-home notice.
Hong Kong also requires its residents to be fully vaccinated before departing on the flights, with some exceptions made for children and those not suitable for vaccination on medical grounds.
Under the travel bubble, there are no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no requirements for a controlled itinerary or sponsorship.
The tourism boards of both cities have welcomed the new launch date and stressed that travellers can expect a “safe, yet delightful” experience.
Special gifts are also in store as part of a collaboration between both tourism boards, such as a limited-edition reusable face mask for the first batch of travellers under the air travel bubble.
For the first month, those flying on designated air travel bubble flights can also expect a special inflight menu featuring local favourites from both cities curated by Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, the tourism boards told CNA.
Dr Pang Yiu Kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said the air travel bubble will likely attract “those who travel for family visits or other essential reasons” at the early stage while leisure travellers “will return successively”.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will work closely with trade partners in Hong Kong, such as travel booking platforms, travel agents and airlines “to drive consideration and travel via joint campaigns and deals to Singapore”, said its chief representative and executive director of Greater China Juliana Kua.
POSITIVE STEP, BUT IMPACT MAY BE SYMBOLIC
Dr Kevin Cheong, chairman of Association of Singapore Attractions, said operators of local tourist attractions are “very prepared” to open their doors to foreign visitors given the safe management measures that are in place for nearly a year.
The air travel bubble is a “much-needed boost” for the battered tourism sector but the impact may be “more qualitative, rather than quantitative, at the onset”, he added.
“Attractions in Singapore can easily accommodate 10,000 people a day, which means about 40 flights. We are starting with one to two flights a day so it’s not going to move the needle,” said Dr Cheong.
“But in terms of qualitative and symbolic impact, the travel bubble is an extremely important step.”
He added that people want to travel but are still afraid. If the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble gets under way and is managed well with no repercussions on the number of infected cases, it will be a booster to travellers’ confidence and the reputation of both cities.
But before that, attraction operators will need more details such as whether additional safety measures will be needed when entertaining foreign travellers.
“We are very prepared for the travel bubble. Our protocols are very much in place so it’s a matter of giving us more specific details of how this travel bubble will be operationalised to protect our guests and staff,” said Dr Cheong, adding that the association will work with STB and tour operators.
For hoteliers, the air travel bubble is a “positive step forward given the slow recovery of the tourism industry”, said the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) president Kwee Wei-Lin.
With international tourism accounting for more than 90 per cent of revenue among local hotels prior to the pandemic, the industry continues to struggle until borders reopen in a safe and meaningful way, she added.
“Over the past few months, we have seen success from pilot hybrid MICE events and more recently increase in capacity for wedding receptions, all of which have boosted our confidence and competency in welcoming international guests to our hotels,” said Ms Kwee.
“SHA is confident that all our hotels in Singapore are now proficient and well-equipped to deliver our renowned hospitality excellence in the new era of travel … Looking beyond the Singapore-Hong Kong travel, we hope that more air travel bubbles will soon be established for vaccinated travellers in a safe and responsible manner.”
OFFERS AND FREE ROOM UPGRADES
Among the hotels that responded to CNA’s queries, Grand Hyatt Singapore said it is already in touch with several of its regular guests who “are looking forward to being on the first flight to Singapore”.
“Any successful travel bubble formed will be a significant move that will help to improve sentiments about international travel and boost confidence in travelling safely,” said hotel manager Parveen Kumar.
Grand Hyatt Singapore is planning to have “offers that will not only be applicable for the current Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble, but also for any additional gradual resumption of cross-border travels with other cities”.
That said, it also recognises that travellers will not only be looking at promotions when they start planning to travel again.
Instead, they will be looking at “travelling to and staying at places and brands they can trust for their safety", said Mr Kumar, who noted that Grand Hyatt Singapore has its own cleanliness guidelines to ensure the safety of its guests and employees.
Oakwood Premier AMTD Singapore is looking into “creating short stays for business travels and working with industry partners with a strong presence in Hong Kong”, said regional general manager Roy Liang who oversees Oakwood’s hotel properties in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
The hotel’s guest profile is made up of a combination of long and short stays by both business and leisure travellers from various geographical regions, including Hong Kong.
“The travel bubble is a sign that air travel is gradually resuming and we may expect a slight influx of international business travellers… Leisure travellers may still take a cautious approach and commence travelling when vaccination plans are close to completion in the home country and country of visit,” said Mr Liang.
Also expecting some form of positive impact, Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa said travellers from Hong Kong who book its Luxury Voyage package for a minimum of three nights will get a complimentary room upgrade.
“The reopening of travel between Singapore and Hong Kong for leisure will definitely impact Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa positively,” said general manager Piotr Kupiec.
“Being located strategically within Sentosa, we are positive that Hong Kongers would look forward to staying with us to visit local tourist attractions within the island.”
Asked if it is concerned that the air travel bubble could see changes again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Kupiec said hotels in Singapore have had to transform and innovate amid the pandemic so as to attract the local crowd.
For the hotel itself, experiences catering to different demographics, ranging from families, couples, singles and even those who need an alternative to working from home, have been curated over the past year.
“Should the travel bubble postpone again, Sofitel Sentosa has a range of packages that have been curated for the local staycationers and upcoming local B-Leisure (business and leisure) guests,” he said.