Singapore's tourism receipts fall for the first time since 2009, after global financial crisis

A bumboat passes tourists at the Singapore Merlion Park, on Feb 22, 2016.
A bumboat passes tourists at the Singapore Merlion Park, on Feb 22, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Tourism receipts in 2015 declined for the first time in six years, amid an uncertain economic outlook and the tightening of purse strings among business travellers.

The number of visitors to Singapore was 15.2 million last year, up 0.9 per cent from 2014's 15.1 million.

But their overall spending, according to preliminary estimates by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), fell 6.8 per cent to $22 billion, the first decline since 2009, after the global financial crisis from 2007 to 2008, and the lowest since 2010's $18.9 billion.

The slump in tourism receipts was mainly due to fewer business travellers and their lower spending per person, STB said on Monday at a media conference where it reviewed its performance for the past year.

Companies cutting back on travel budgets had a significant impact on tourism receipts because the average business traveller spends about two times more than the average leisure visitor, said STB's chief executive Lionel Yeo.

Between January and September 2015, visitors spent less on shopping, accommodation, transport, sightseeing and gaming than they did over the same period in 2014. Spending on food and beverage rose slightly, by 1 per cent.

Figures from STB show that Singapore's Jubilee year attracted 2 per cent more leisure tourists, which offset the drop in business travellers.

STB's joint marketing campaign with Changi Airport Group launched last July and its partnerships with major Chinese digital players seem to have paid off, as Chinese visitor numbers rose 22 per cent year-on-year.

But visitor numbers from Singapore's two closest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, fell 5 per cent and 10 per cent respectively, as the ringgit and rupiah depreciated against the Singapore dollar.

Nevertheless, Indonesia remained the Republic's top source of visitors, followed by China, Malaysia, Australia and India.

There were bright spots in the cruise and business events sectors. Cruise passenger throughput rose 14 per cent to 1.0 million in 2015. There were more than 350 business events held last year, a 27 per cent year-on-year growth.

For 2016, STB forecasts tourism receipts to grow by zero to 2 per cent to be in the range of $22 billion to $22.4 billion. Visitor arrivals are expected to be between 15.2 million and 15.7 million, a growth of zero to 3 per cent.