$1-million drive to woo Chinese tourists back to Singapore

While Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders in Singapore last year, overtaking the Indonesians, "this may not be the case in 2014", said a spokesman for the Singapore Retailers Association
While Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders in Singapore last year, overtaking the Indonesians, "this may not be the case in 2014", said a spokesman for the Singapore Retailers AssociationST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Dip in arrivals likely caused by Thailand unrest and MH370 saga

Singapore wants to nip a dip in the number of Chinese tourists coming here with a $1-million campaign to convince them that the Republic is worth visiting in its own right.

This follows four months of decline in passenger traffic from China.

In a bid to woo the Chinese, Changi Airport Group told The Straits Times it has joined hands with Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the two integrated resorts and other travel partners in a marketing drive titled Rediscover Singapore From Your Heart.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Singapore's Lex Travel as well as China's five biggest travel agencies are also taking part in the five-month-long drive from now until October.

Road shows will be held in major Chinese cities to sell Singapore and its attractions, with goodie bags given to those who buy travel packages.

After a 14.5 per cent jump in year-on-year arrivals from China in January, numbers have been heading south. Between January and May, Changi handled 1.87 million passengers flying to and from China, down 1.7 per cent against the same five months last year.

Tourism experts said the slowdown has been on the back of political instability in Thailand as well as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 which was carrying mainly Chinese travellers.

Singapore has been hit because Chinese tourists who visit South-east Asia typically cover all three countries, they said.

The good news is that the decline is easing, according to an airport spokesman. No monthly data was provided.

The Chinese market is key not just for the airport but Singapore's overall economy, experts said. For the first time, the 1.24 million Chinese who visited in the first half of last year overtook Indonesian visitors as the biggest spenders.

STB figures show they spent almost $1.52 billion, excluding what they spent on sightseeing and entertainment.

With fewer Chinese visitors heading here, retailers have felt the impact, said the Singapore Retailers Association.

A spokesman said: "Tourist arrivals and their associated shopping expenditure are vital to Singapore's retail sector. Our understanding is that it is mainly the prime belt retailers (Orchard Road and Marina Bay) that have been affected by the tourist arrival falls."

While Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders last year, "this may not be the case in 2014", she said.

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer of tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said the initiative to sell Singapore as a standalone destination makes sense.

"The bulk of Chinese tourists we get today are people who come with large tour groups covering several countries at one time. It is important to build up a group of free and easy travellers who are more inclined to plan their own itineraries," he said.

Even as Singapore aims to reverse the decline in Chinese arrivals, arrivals from places like Hong Kong and Vietnam have grown.

The net impact has been a rebound in overall traffic at Changi Airport. After two months of decline, numbers were up in April and May.

Last month, Changi handled 4.37 million passengers, a 2 per cent increase from a year ago.

To attract even more business, the airport is also banking on an aid package which includes a 50 per cent discount on parking fees and 15 per cent cut in aerobridge charges for carriers.