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‘Encouraging signs of recovery’ even as Singapore’s tourism sector hits new lows in 2021: STB

02:40 Min
Singapore’s tourism numbers hit new lows in 2021, but there have been “encouraging signs of recovery” amid the introduction of vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) and strong domestic consumption, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Tuesday (Jan 25). Heidi Ng reports. 

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s tourism numbers hit new lows in 2021, but there have been “encouraging signs of recovery” amid the introduction of vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) and strong domestic consumption, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Tuesday (Jan 25).

In 2021, there were 330,000 visitor arrivals and an estimated S$1.9 billion in tourism receipts – much lower than the 2.7 million arrivals and S$4.8 billion in receipts in 2020.

It is also “only a fraction” of the 19 million visitors and S$27.7 billion in receipts from before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

But STB noted some upsides such as year-on-year growth in the last three quarters of 2021.

“The introduction of various travel arrangements, such as VTLs, has encouraged the gradual return of international travellers.

“Domestic consumption has also been strong, as the tourism sector pivoted to develop new and innovative experiences for locals,” it said.

Mr Keith Tan, STB’s chief executive, said that it will take time for tourism numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels, although it will be hard to make any projections.

“We should not expect tourism to recover in a predictable and linear fashion and we must be prepared for further surprises, good or bad," he added.

But he is confident that the tourism industry has "learnt from its experiences, and is poised to recapture demand when it returns".

The return of international travellers has already seen a promising start, he said, noting that more than 100,000 Vaccinated Travel Passes were issued to short-term visitors between September to December last year.

“By the end of last year, more than two-thirds of these had already come to Singapore. STB will continue to find ways to simplify the processes with documentation required, and we will work with our partner agencies in the Government to expand the scope and the reach of the VTLs.”

GROWTH IN LAST THREE QUARTERS OF 2021

STB noted that visitor arrivals increased 221 per cent in the last three quarters of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.

Tourism receipts for the second and third quarters of 2021 also nearly doubled from the same period a year before.

Of the international arrivals who visited Singapore between January and December, China (88,000), India (54,000) and Indonesia (33,000) were the largest source countries.

In the first nine months of 2021, tourism receipts reached S$1.2 billion, with visitors from China, Indonesia and India contributing S$432 million, S$127 million and S$58 million in receipts respectively.

As for domestic tourism, about 1.9 million Singaporeans used their vouchers at least once, resulting in S$300 million in voucher transactions – S$120 million of which were out-of-pocket payments for bookings.

Despite public health measures having a "dampening effect" on the use of the vouchers, Mr Tan said: "But all told, I'm satisfied with the way it reached out to Singaporeans and I believe it did provide a boost to our businesses in Singapore."

And although the voucher scheme has ended, the broader SingapoRediscovers campaign will continue, he said.

"We will not let up on domestic tourism, even as we restart and step on the accelerator pedal for international tourism. So we will have to do a twin approach this year, and ... maybe even next year, depending on how the situation evolves," he added.

"But ultimately, we need to recognise that tourism in Singapore cannot depend on domestic tourism. We have to start pivoting back towards international markets, especially as international travel demand picks up."

HOTELS AND MICE ACTIVITIES

Several new hotels with unique lifestyle concepts opened in Singapore in 2021, while others also introduced unique staycation experiences, said STB.

Overall, the hotel industry saw an average occupancy rate of 56.2 per cent. This was 1.1 percentage point lower than the previous year, when there was strong tourism performance in the first two months of 2020.

The resumption of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events also picked up pace in 2021. Singapore hosted more than 200 MICE events with almost 50,000 local and international attendees.

These included pilot events to testbed new protocols, such as the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

“STB will continue to build up the pipeline of significant MICE events for 2022 and beyond, including some multi-year events,” it said, citing examples such as the FIND – Design Fair Asia from 2022 to 2024 and Gastech 2023.

As for leisure and lifestyle events, the statutory board added that it will also “expand the range and scale” of such events in 2022 “to meet local demand and ensure that Singapore remains attractive to international visitors”.

TOURS, ATTRACTIONS AND CRUISES

The local tours industry “performed well” in 2021, it said, with close to 320,000 local participants and "strong month-on-month growth for most of the year".

More attractions were also introduced, such as the Museum of Ice Cream and SkyHelix Sentosa, while existing players refreshed their concepts or added new ones. These included Haw Par Villa’s Hell Museum or the ArtScience Museum’s new permanent virtual reality gallery.

“There is also a series of new attractions in the pipeline. For example, the Jewel-rassic Quest, a ticketed AR experience at Jewel Changi Airport’s Canopy Park and Shiseido Forest Valley, is slated to launch in 2022.”

As for the cruise industry, there has been a strong rebound after "cruises-to-nowhere" were launched in late 2020, with more than 400,000 domestic passengers on close to 300 sailings, said STB.

“With the implementation of STB’s CruiseSafe certification programme and strong support from both Dream Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, there have been no COVID-19 clusters on board the two cruise ships to date.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Moving forward, the agency said it will continue to “ramp up efforts” in key source markets and inspire travel to Singapore.

For example, STB is working with Singapore Airlines and the Changi Airport Group on the “Welcome Back to Singapore” campaign to instil travel confidence among international travellers.

The campaign has been launched in Germany and India, and will be progressively launched in more markets including Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Korea.

Sustainability will also continue to be a focus, with STB working closely with the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) to develop a hotel sustainability roadmap with strategies and targets for the industry, to be launched later this year.

To support its push towards becoming a leading urban wellness haven, STB has also established a five-year roadmap identifying key strategies and initiatives to develop Singapore’s wellness offerings.

As part of this, there will be an inaugural wellness festival in June 2022.

NEW TOURISM CAREERS HUB

As the industry prepares for recovery, STB said it will focus on "investing in future tourism growth by building up key manpower capabilities".

Together with the labour movement, unions and other government agencies, STB will launch the Tourism Careers Hub in 2022 to provide training and skills upgrading for tourism workers and firms.

It will focus on job matching within the sector and encouraging technology transformation, among others. More details about the Tourism Careers Hub will be announced soon.

Source: CNA/cl(aj/mi)
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