SINGAPORE: Singapore’s tourism sector experienced its “toughest year on record” in 2020 due to unprecedented global travel restrictions and border closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Monday (Feb 1).
Visitor arrivals plummeted 85.7 per cent to 2.7 million, down from 19.1 million the year before, according to official data. Nearly all of these arrivals were in the first two months of 2020, said STB.
Tourism receipts also fell 78.4 per cent to S$4.4 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, the tourism board added. The country recorded almost S$27.7 billion in receipts for the whole of 2019.
Even with the development of several COVID-19 vaccines, it will take time for mass leisure travel and traveller confidence to return, said STB, adding that tourism arrivals and receipts are expected to remain “weak” this year.
“Singapore’s tourism sector has had to fight for survival in 2020. Our tourism businesses have displayed immense resilience and adaptability throughout this difficult period, reinventing their business models and leveraging technology to find solutions in a COVID-19 world,” said STB chief executive Keith Tan.
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He added that he was grateful for the commitment by tourism businesses to keep Singaporeans safe and well.
The agency remains confident in Singapore’s position as "one of the world’s safest and most attractive leisure and business" destinations, as well as the long-term prospects of the country’s tourism sector, said Mr Tan.
He added: “While mass international travel is unlikely to resume in a major way in 2021, STB will continue standing together with our industry partners to prepare for recovery and to start building a better and more sustainable future for tourism.”
CONTRIBUTIONS TO COVID-19 EFFORTS
Tourism businesses played a key role in Singapore’s battle against COVID-19, the tourism board highlighted in a media release.
Hotels offered their properties for government quarantine, swab isolation and stay-home notice dedicated facilities, serving more than 80,000 people on stay-home notice with the support of more than 2,300 frontline hospitality workers as of the end of last year, said STB.
“The Singapore Hotel Association is privileged to contribute to the remarkable collaboration between public and private sectors. It was inspiring to see how everyone banded together during the most existential crisis of our lifetime,” said the association’s president Kwee Wei-lin.
The integrated resorts also contributed, with staff members serving at community care facilities, where they managed operations, provided meals and packed care kits.
Marina Bay Sands donated about 15,000kg of food and packed 15,000 care kits for migrant workers and low-income families affected by the pandemic.
The cruise industry provided accommodation for more than 8,200 migrant workers who had recovered from COVID-19, with more than 600 cruise industry workers involved in the operation between April and September last year, said STB.
Tour guides also stepped up as safe distancing ambassadors, with about 150 guides serving in this capacity at tourism precincts and establishments since April last year. STB said it expects to grow this number to more than 250 safe distancing ambassadors in the coming months.
The agency’s report card also recounted how the tourism sector navigated the challenge of reopening safely after Singapore exited its “circuit breaker” in June last year.
A total of 45 tourist attractions, 270 hotels and 1,686 tour itineraries have received approval to resume operations as of Jan 25, it said.
Singapore also piloted cruises with enhanced safety protocols and no ports of call from November last year, establishing a mandatory audit and certification programme for cruise lines to resume sailing.
More than 42,000 passengers set sail on 33 cruises with no reported transmission of COVID-19 on board as of the end of 2020, said STB.
More than 1,390 SG Clean certificates, which indicates that a business adheres to a high level of environmental public hygiene, have been awarded to tourism-related premises.
Piloting meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) events was part of the sector’s reopening as well. The country has held 29 MICE event pilots as of the end of last year, starting with the Singapore International Energy Week at the end of October, said STB.
Singapore also developed testing protocols for foreign delegates and other visitors arriving for events, such as TravelRevive and the ONE Championship events, to safeguard public health, said the board.
As of Jan 1, more than 300,000 Singaporeans have used SingapoRediscovers vouchers to make bookings, spending S$35.9 million in redemptions and out-of-pocket payments since the launch in December last year.
These initiatives to revive tourism have helped members of the Singapore Hotel Association to protect jobs and upskill the hotel workforce while the sector prepares for the gradual return of international travellers, said Ms Kwee.
The Society of Tourist Guides Singapore has seen “encouraging” demand from residents for domestic tours following the launch of the voucher scheme, said the society’s chairman Jean Wang.
“We look forward to continuing our contributions towards our national COVID-19 efforts, and to sharing more stories of Singapore’s rich heritage with locals,” she said.
To ensure that Singapore remains “top of mind” even while international travel is curtailed, STB’s regional offices have also launched initiatives including digital content and online and offline events to strengthen the country’s brand image around the world, the agency added.
“Keeping the Singapore destination appeal fresh and energised during these very challenging times has been our top priority,” said Association of Singapore Attractions chairman Kevin Cheong.
“STB and our members have also worked very closely to ensure ‘play’ is not only fun, but safe for our guests and staff. We are all in the tourism frontline and must continue to stay vigilant in the year ahead.”
BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION, JOB PRESERVATION
Turning to industry transformation in the post-pandemic world, STB said that the Government’s Tourism Recovery Action Task Force, formed in February last year, has helped to identify opportunities arising from COVID-19, implement measures to co-create recovery plans with businesses and instil confidence in the country’s tourism sector.
The Alliance for Action on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences under the Emerging Stronger Taskforce also pioneered new ways to facilitate visitor experiences in a COVID-19 environment and launched COVID-19 insurance coverage for visitors’ “added peace of mind”, said STB.
In the MICE sector, the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) worked with STB and Enterprise Singapore to launch the Event Industry Resilience Roadmap.
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“2020 has been a year of disruptive change. It has led to the industry pivoting to hybrid event platforms and reskilling to adapt and remain relevant,” said Mr Aloysius Arlando, president of SACEOS.
The hotel industry continued to upskill workers, with the number of trainees funded under the Training Industry Professionals in Tourism scheme more than doubling last year.
“This is testament to our tourism businesses’ commitment to upskill employees to future-proof their workforce,” said STB.
Hotels including Grand Hyatt Singapore, Parkroyal on Kitchener Road and Raffles Hotel also trained employees in new skills that allowed them to be redeployed to other areas outside of their specialisations, alleviating manpower challenges while providing job expansion opportunities, added the agency.
STB also highlighted the funding programmes and data tools it developed to help tourism businesses with transformation, including a partnership to support marketing efforts, the Business Improvement Fund, its Tourism Transformation Index and the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network.
Tourism workers and businesses have benefited from economic-wide measures, including rental waivers, property tax rebates and temporary bridging loans, to support jobs and livelihoods impacted by COVID-19, said STB.
Last year, more than 7,000 tourism businesses received support through the Job Support Scheme to retain local employees. As of the end of 2020, 57 grant applications to defray third-party professional cleaning costs by tourism-related establishments impacted by COVID-19 cases were also approved.
“In 2021, STB will continue to support quality tourism businesses to sustain key capabilities and build new ones, and to innovate in order to meet evolving consumer needs and emerging travel trends once cross-border travel resumes in a significant way,” said the board.
“STB will also continue to support local jobs and create opportunities for the industry to thrive in the new environment by encouraging domestic advocacy and building domestic demand.”