SINGAPORE, Nov 30 — Tourist arrivals to Singapore are holding up despite uncertainty in the global economy, but visitors are spending more cautiously, latest statistics from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) show.
Observers applauded the double-digit, 11-per-cent growth in visitor numbers in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year — which they saw as no mean feat on the back of already impressive growth seen in 2010 and last year.
From January to June, 7.1 million visitors were recorded, with Indonesia, China, Malaysia, India and Australia remaining the top visitor-generating markets.
But reversing the trend of the past two years where growth in visitors’ expenditure outpaced growth in visitor arrivals, tourism receipts in the first half of this year grew 7 per cent year-on-year to hit S$11.5 billion (RM28.7 billion).
While National Association of Travel Agents Singapore group chief executive Robert Khoo said this was “not a good sign”, CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said it reflected the different profiles of visitors heading here.
“You have tai tais who can afford S$30,000 Hermes bags but, generally, if you are coming here to visit family and friends, spending may be more modest,” he said.
Those coming from Indonesia or Malaysia might also stay with family or friends based here and not in hotels, Mr Song added.
“While they still can (afford to) travel, they are more cautious about what they spend on,” he said. That said, revenue from gazetted hotel rooms grew 8 per cent year-on-year in the first half of this year to S$1.4 billion, with occupancy at 86 per cent.
The second quarter of the year saw growth for most components making up tourism receipts, like shopping and accommodation. The exception was receipts from sightseeing and entertainment, including gaming, which fell by 7 per cent to S$1.2 billion, although overall it grew 3 per cent in the first half of the year.
Travel industry veteran Robin Yap felt this could be because “some of the new attractions may not necessarily appeal to repeat travellers, business travellers and gamers”.
Observers said it was reflective of the drop in profits and gaming revenue by the two integrated resort (IR) operators in the past two quarters, as the novelty factor from their 2010 opening faded into what they hope would be slower but steady growth.
Said Mr Khoo: “Any casino that opens in the world will have exponential growth within the first one or two years … The challenge will be how we can sustain (growth in receipts from the IRs) for a longer period of time.”
Looking ahead, visitor numbers could hit another record-high this year. The 13.2 million arrivals last year was an all-time high, and Mr Song expects the number to be about 9 per cent higher this year.
Yet, the STB is not resting on its laurels. It is seeking to better understand what appeals to the region’s emerging affluent and frequent travellers in the face of “numerous” theme parks and attractions mushrooming in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The STB last week called for a tender for an attractions consumer insights study in the three countries. The board also wants to “assess Singapore’s competitive edge in the attractions sector”.
Mr Yap suggested focusing more on sports tourism. He added that Singapore also “desperately needs” to create a tourism personality or icon; South Korea is a good example of a country that has used its music culture to create a new following. — Today