Pay $50k to holiday in Singapore? STB targets big spenders

Big spenders from Russia, the UAE among tourism board's target groups

Transfer by private jet, suite bookings at a five-star hotel, reservations at celebrity chef restaurants and a chauffeur at their beck and call.

This is the kind of itinerary - costing up to $50,000 per person for a five-day trip - that inbound travel agency Hong Thai woos its well-heeled customers with.

Such niche offerings have proved a hit with tourists from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia - two countries singled out for targeting in a new discussion paper from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

Hong Thai's director, Mr Alex Chan, 55, started offering such packages in 2011 and saw the number of tourists from these places increase by 10 per cent in just a year.

It could be because Mr Chan has them figured out to a tee.

Russians, looking to escape from harsh winters back home, prefer hotels by the beach. Tourists from the UAE tend to opt for accommodation located in shopping districts, he said.

"You know what they say - that Russians like vodka? It's true. They're known to clear out hotel minibars, so we make sure they are well-stocked," said Mr Chan, whose agency seems to be ahead of the curve.

The STB's paper, called Navigating The Next Phase Of Tourism Growth, called on agencies in Singapore to continue to lure travellers from the growing markets of Vietnam and Japan. The 22-page action plan also pinpointed the need to "defend" traditional markets such as Indonesia and China.

Its release on Monday comes at a time when the tourism industry is at a crossroads. STB estimated that visitor arrivals would grow by 3 to 4 per cent and tourism revenue by 4 to 6 per cent year-on-year in the next decade.

This contrasts with the record growth posted between 2002 and last year, when visitor arrivals grew at a compounded annual rate of 6.6 per cent. Tourism receipts also grew at a corresponding 10 per cent in the same period.

Travel agencies that concentrate on pulling in visitors to Singapore sell packages through partner agencies to overseas consumers. Some develop standard packages and distribute them to various partners at a marked-up rate. Others like Hong Thai work closely with partners to design specific programmes for target markets.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior lecturer in tourism, Mr Michael Chiam, told The Straits Times a "laser beam" approach is needed.

"Don't offer the broad-stroke standard products. Ask, what do your people want? I will package it for you, I will customise it for you," he said, adding that agencies need to study their target customers closely.

He suggested that agencies "fully exploit" local culinary offerings with food tours and offer round-the-clock personal concierge services to high net worth travellers.

CTC Travel seems to be doing just that. It launched a series of packages called Singapore Deep early this year to attract repeat visitors. One takes them on a food tour to uncover the story behind dishes such as bak kut teh (pork rib soup) and samsui chicken (steamed chicken spiced with ginger). Another, which shows them the Singapore "outback", includes trips to farms in Lim Chu Kang.

But CTC spokesman Alicia Seah said that some markets, such as Russia and the Middle East, are not easy to penetrate.

"We don't have the network or know-how to handle these markets," she said. "It's about connections sometimes."

limjess@sph.com.sg