Singapore getting pricey for Indian tourists

Travellers and tourists at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1. A weak Indian rupee and a new tax imposed on television sets that are brought home from overseas have dampened the enthusiasm of Indian tourists to travel to Singapore. --
Travellers and tourists at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1. A weak Indian rupee and a new tax imposed on television sets that are brought home from overseas have dampened the enthusiasm of Indian tourists to travel to Singapore. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Weak rupee, new Indian govt tax on TV sets bought abroad to blame

A weak Indian rupee and a new tax imposed on television sets that are brought home from overseas have dampened the enthusiasm of Indian tourists to travel to Singapore.

Tourist guides and travel agents said that their revenue derived from these tourists has declined across all tiers of the market, by as much as 80 per cent compared to six months ago.

Luxury Tours and Travel, which focuses on the mid- to high-end tourist market, used to pull in an average of 3,000 Indian tourists to Singapore each month. This has fallen to 2,000, said its director Michael Lee.

The Indian market now makes up 28 per cent of the travel agency's sales, down from 38 per cent. To make up for the loss, it is seeking to diversify into new markets like Mauritius.

"Singapore's currency is very strong and the rupee is very weak. We are becoming less competitive for the Indian market," Mr Lee said. "Indian visitors travel frequently. They used to come every weekend, now they go to Europe or elsewhere because it's becoming more expensive here."

Inbound travel agencies, such as Luxury Tours and Travel, pull in visitors to Singapore by selling packages to them in countries like India through overseas partner agencies.

The Indian rupee has fallen considerably against the Singapore dollar in the past six months. The Singdollar was fetching 49.7 rupees yesterday, up from 44.1484 in April.

Further hurting the pockets of Indian tourists who regularly fly to Singapore to buy electronic goods was the imposition in August, by the Indian authorities, of a 36 per cent duty on flat-screen televisions that travellers bring back from other countries.

The move was part of a series of measures to stem the outflow of cash from India.

Previously, Indian air passengers were allowed to bring in duty-free TV screens worth up to 35,000 rupees each as part of their baggage allowance.

This resulted in over a million TV sets being brought into India last year, many of which were from Dubai, Thailand and Singapore.

Ms Shanti Devi Krishnasamy, 46, a tourist guide who focuses on the low- and mid-tier Indian market, said that business has plunged over the past six months.

She used to conduct one- to three-day tours for 10 to 15 tour groups from India every month. This has since whittled to two to three groups, she said.

"The rupee is down tremendously," said the tourist guide, who has been in the industry for six years.

"Also, before, many of my customers would come here to buy TVs and they would save enough money to make the trip worthwhile. That's gone too."

Mr Dennis Law, director of Star Holiday Mart, said the travel agency has seen business from India fall by 40 per cent over the past six months.

Other agencies that focus on the India market like Millennium Tours and Travel are also seeing a similar trend.

Latest available figures from the Singapore Tourism Board show that India was the fifth largest tourist market from January to September last year, at 670,000 visitors.

According to media reports in India, Singapore is not the only country being shunned by travellers.

With the weakened rupee, Indian tourists are choosing to travel domestically, take shorter trips or opt for cheaper Asian destinations like Thailand.

On the other hand, outbound travel agencies here are seeing a surge in the number of Singaporeans heading to India.

At ASA Holidays, bookings from Singaporeans for travel to India next month and in December have jumped 20 per cent from a year earlier.

"Local travellers think it's a good time to go to India. One Singdollar gets much more rupee," said ASA's head of marketing and communications Eileen Oh.

limjess@sph.com.sg