Visitor arrivals in Singapore creep back to pre-pandemic levels as tourism sector rebounds
Tourism activity is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, says the Singapore Tourism Board.
SINGAPORE: The number of visitors to Singapore reached 6.3 million in 2022, exceeding the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) forecast of between 4 million and 6 million.
This was one-third of the number in 2019, before international travel came to a halt in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singapore's tourism receipts are estimated to reach S$13.8 billion to S$14.3 billion for 2022 - about 50 to 52 per cent of 2019 levels, according to figures released by STB on Tuesday (Jan 17).
In the first nine months of 2022, receipts came up to an estimated S$8.96 billion, with the top spenders hailing from Indonesia, India and Australia.
At a briefing on Tuesday, STB’s director of communications Terrence Voon noted that tourists spent mostly on accommodation, shopping and other expenses such as airfares from Singapore carriers.
“We believe this took up a larger share of the pie, partly because of the increase in airfares,” said Mr Voon.
Final figures for tourism receipts will be available in the second quarter of 2023.
Mr Voon added that the strong performance for 2022 was achieved even though quarantine measures in Singapore were in place for the first quarter of last year, China’s borders remained closed and flight capacity was limited.
“These numbers were achieved against that, so we believe that reflects the strong pent-up demand to visit Singapore,” he said.
Barring unexpected circumstances, tourism activity is now expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, said STB.
Marquee events such as the Formula 1 night race and strong demand from Singapore’s key source markets drove the rebound, said the agency.
The top markets for visitor arrivals were Indonesia (1.1 million), India (686,000) and Malaysia (591,000).
Key tourism industries also picked up pace in 2022, with the resumption of the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) sector and the recovery of the cruise industry.
For cruises, passenger throughput was 1.2 million, which was about two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.
With stronger demand for leisure and business travel, the hotel industry had an average occupancy rate of 79.1 per cent from April to December 2022, nearing the 87.3 per cent recorded for the same period in 2019.
Average room rates during this period increased by 17 per cent to S$260, and revenue per available room increased by 6.2 per cent to S$206.
STB said visitors were also spending more time in Singapore compared to before the pandemic.
For the last three-quarters of 2022, when Singapore no longer required fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine, the average length of stay was about 4.81 days, up from 3.36 days for the same period in 2019.
This was largely because there were few day-trippers to Singapore post-pandemic, which had made up more than 20 per cent of visitors in the past.
STB chief executive Keith Tan said that the number is expected to decline towards the pre-COVID duration but he does see a trend of visitors staying longer.
Mr Tan said: “Our 2022 tourism performance underscores Singapore’s appeal as a leading business and leisure destination for post-pandemic travellers.
"To sustain our growth in 2023 and beyond, we will expand our partnerships, build up a rich year-round calendar of events, ramp up investment in new and refreshed products and experiences and continue to support industry efforts to build the capabilities they need to meet consumer demands.”
To support tourism recovery, STB will "front load" S$110 million of the S$500 million set aside for Singapore’s tourism recovery, to ramp up business and leisure events over these two years.
EXPECTING MORE VISITORS FROM CHINA
STB also expects the tourism sector to "continue its growth momentum" this year, on the back of increasing flight connectivity and capacity, as well as China’s gradual reopening.
International visitor arrivals are expected to reach about 12 million to 14 million visitors in 2023, bringing in about S$18 billion to S$21 billion – around two-thirds to three-quarters of tourism receipts in 2019.
Ms Juliana Kua, STB assistant chief executive (international group) said that visitor arrivals from China pre-pandemic were about 3.6 million a year. STB expects between 30 per cent to 60 per cent of that number in 2023, depending on the speed of China’s reopening.
Ms Kua said that two key aspects will affect how strongly this market recovers – how quickly flight capacity ramps up and the pace of relaxation for outbound travel from China.
As of January, there are about 38 weekly flights from Singapore to China, which is about a tenth of the capacity from before the pandemic, she added.
Chinese authorities have also signalled that outbound travel will recover in a “calibrated and careful manner”.
"We're still awaiting further announcements and signals as to what that actually will mean in terms of the bringing back of outbound Chinese travel," Ms Kua said.
She added that the tourism board is looking at two trends to attract travellers from China – smaller group travel with customised itineraries rather than large tour groups, and "deeper experiences" for tourists rather than ticking things off a bucket list.
Mr Tan said that overall there is strong demand for travel to Singapore, but supply-side factors such as flight capacity and any potential renewed border restrictions could moderate the recovery of the tourism sector in Singapore.
“There’s very, very strong demand from our key markets, not just China, for travel to Singapore,” he said.
“However, our forecast also takes into consideration how things will improve throughout the year, and we are now cautiously optimistic that supply-side factors will reach some degree of normalcy by the end of 2023.”
The board said it would continue to help the tourism sector ramp up hiring. As of September last year, the total tourism workforce was around 65,000 – about 78 per cent of 2019 levels.
There are currently more than 3,000 vacancies in the sector and STB said it was optimistic these would be filled in the next year or two.