SINGAPORE: Some tourism companies here are cautiously optimistic about the benefits of the SingapoRediscover vouchers, with hopes that they will give a further boost to business after the recent resumption of tours and hotel stays.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced on Wednesday (Sep 16) that every Singaporean aged 18 and above in 2020 will receive S$100 worth of SingapoRediscovers vouchers, which can be used on staycations, attraction tickets and tours.
They can be used between December this year and the end of June next year, and more details on the redemption mechanism will be announced in November.
Tour operators CNA spoke to said they are expecting more business from the vouchers, launched to support the local tourism industry, which has been battered by COVID-19.
Founder of Oriental Travel and Tours Stanley Foo told CNA he has already received several inquiries from interested customers keen to use their vouchers on their tours.
“I think moving forward, what we are planning to do is to come up with a series of tours that will attract locals, because we are mindful that most locals ... are looking for unique experiences,” he added.
Currently, the company's offerings include its Creepy Tales Of Singapore paranormal activity tour, as well as tours to Pulau Ubin.
“So we cannot have the traditional tours. We need to come up with something more unique, something that will attract them to spend their tourism vouchers,” said Mr Foo.
While he expects that the company will definitely see an increase in bookings after the vouchers are launched in December, he is not sure how big the spike will be.
Adding that he estimates an increase in bookings of about 30 per cent from the vouchers, Mr Foo said he thinks hotel stays will be the most popular use of the vouchers, over tours and tourist attractions.
“And staycations don’t come cheap. S$100 is not a lot of money, once you stay in a hotel it’s game over already, you still have to top up some money. And children are not given the vouchers, only adults. So a young couple with some young children below 18 ... what can they do with S$200?” he added.
A young couple with no children is even more likely to spend the money on a staycation, he added. “And once they spend it on a staycation that means they will not spend it on tours anymore. I would think that maybe 20 to 30 per cent of the population might spend it on tours. A good 50 per cent maybe on staycations, and another 20 to 30 per cent on attractions.”
READ: Looking forward to your S$100 tourism voucher? Here are some experiences you may want to explore
READ: Why wait for your S$100 tourism vouchers? Our picks of discounted activities to enjoy right now
Founder of Let’s Go Tour Singapore Robin Loh shared Mr Foo’s prediction that tour companies may not be the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers. While the scheme is “very good news”, he is “a little bit unsure” whether it will give his business a very big boost.
“I think the very standard way Singaporeans may use the vouchers would be for a hotel stay, a staycation,” he told CNA, adding that the hotel sector would probably get “the lion’s share” of the vouchers.
Noting that hotels are seeing high demands for their rooms, Mr Loh said: “It’s players like us - tour agencies at large whether big or small - we are the ones that’s really suffering, and not really getting much traction.
“I really hope very much that these vouchers will help us, but I’m a little bit unsure because it’s really dependent on the spending pattern of locals, whether they would just go for a staycation - the easiest way to spend it.”
Speaking to CNA, Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam said Singaporeans are likely to use the vouchers across the different sectors, as they have “diverse interests”.
“For example, families with young children and seniors may want to go for a staycation whereas the younger crowd may be more keen on joining a walking tour.”
However, more popular hotels or attractions are likely to see an increase first before others benefit from the spill-over demand, said Mr Chiam.
“It is important that all hotels or attractions curate packages that will attract and draw the local consumers so that they can benefit from the SingapoRediscovers campaign.”
Hotel manager of boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn Mr Kelvin Soh said the hotel has tied up with online booking platform Klook to promote SingapoRediscovers.
STB and Klook recently launched a S$2 million marketing partnership to promote local tourism and lifestyle offerings under the SingapoRediscovers campaign.
The hotel also plans to allow the vouchers to be used and stacked for all package bookings, which offer food, spa treatments and a staycation within the room.
This “offers the guests great value for money” as these packages are priced at discounted rates with the hotel’s partners, said Mr Soh.
Hospitality businesses have been seeing more activity since the Government allowed the resumption of local staycations, he added, and the industry can expect “a slight boost” in business with the S$100 vouchers.
MORE STAFF TO DEAL WITH RISE IN BUSINESS?
To appeal to local clientele, tourism companies have had to make changes to their programme lineup. Some even expect to expand their team to accommodate more bookings.
With the expected increase in business, Mr Foo of Oriental Travel and Tours intends to grow his team of freelance tour guides and hire more full-time administrative staff.
“We think that once the tourism vouchers are out we will get quite busy and maybe with some paperwork and all the different bookings that will be going on, so we are looking to hire administrative staff,” he added.
During the “circuit breaker” period, Mr Loh and his team got together to prepare to resume operations with new programmes targeted at locals. When they were allowed to reopen their tours in July, the tour company launched a programme to tour a kelong, or traditional fishing platform, and the response has been “pretty good”, he added.
The team also launched an educational tour series targeted at parents with young children, touching on topics in the school syllabus.
“We are actually in a constant mode of content creation, trying to reach out to as many locals as possible. We also hope that in doing this, we have more to offer and possibly have a bigger chance of landing the vouchers users,” said Mr Loh.
The increase in visitorship is likely to lead to an increase in demand for manpower, said Mr Chiam. “Some companies may rehire staff, as these staff are familiar with the business operations and they require minimal training.”
Lloyd’s Inn has not carried out any retrenchments or revised staff wages this year, said Mr Soh, and the hotel is hiring for guest relations and marketing positions.
“We will monitor the uptick nearer to date, as hiring new manpower requires time to train. We are likely to first give our employees overtime instead to cope with the increasing workload,” he added.
While he used to see just one or two locals attending the tours each week before the pandemic struck, Mr Foo now sees 15 to 20 locals joining the tours every week.
“People are just trying to find ways to do something in Singapore. Everyone is bored, nobody can travel, so what are we going to do? So most probably either staycation or going on tours,” he added.
Ms Serene Pek, founder of Cuddlefish Divers, which offers diving tours around local waters, told CNA that she has seen an 80 per cent increase in business compared to before the pandemic hit, and business “really picked up” after Phase Two of Singapore’s reopening.
She attributes this to divers who cannot travel overseas amid the pandemic but want to continue their hobby. Cuddlefish Divers also offers the open water diver course, conducted in Singapore.
“I think the vouchers would really help draw Singaporeans that are currently all stuck in Singapore to maybe pick up something new,” said Ms Pek.
“We want to attract photographers, people who love underwater photography to come and join us at Pulau Hantu, there are a lot of critters for them to take photos of.”
The company received about 30 queries after the announcement of the vouchers, but has not accepted any bookings yet, she added. “Because the thing is obviously the vouchers are not released yet, and we definitely need more clarity from STB about these vouchers as well - like how is it going to work for us as an operator.”
In adapting to safe management measures, the company obtained approval to take 15 people out to diving spots on a boat. The group is further divided into smaller groups of five, and relegated to different areas of the boat after their temperatures are taken. Their details are also captured for contact tracing purposes.
Most business establishments would probably roll out special deals to take advantage of the S$100 vouchers, especially to attract families with children during the end-of-year school holidays, said Mr Chiam.
These deals could come in the form of discounts or product bundling with other businesses, he added.
Mr Colin Startup, co-founder of cycling tour company The Cycle Startup, said he plans to introduce a new deal for the tours from December in time for the launch of the SingapoRediscovers vouchers.
To comply with safe management measures, Mr Startup, who runs the company with his wife, had to cut their full-day tours down to half-day ones. Business is still “fairly low” compared to before the pandemic, he added, describing it as having had “a massive impact”.
“We’ve changed the focus from the overseas visitors to the local population,” he said, adding that the longest tour they run now lasts just five hours. Before the pandemic hit, they used to run eight-hour tours focusing on Singapore’s gardens.
Adding that he expects to see a spike in bookings from December, he said: “I think November’s going to be a bit quiet because people will be waiting for the vouchers and so if they’re interested in doing any tour, (the) chances are they’ll wait.
“Overall the scheme is very, very positive, so I am expecting a big pick up when we get into the scheme in December.”
Adding that he hopes people who have never considered taking local tours will start thinking about how they are going to spend their S$100, Mr Startup said: “And we’re hoping that we’ll be one of the ones that they consider when it comes to spending that money.”