Tourism spending down for first time in six years

Tourists taking photos of themselves against the Singapore skyline on Jan 20, 2016.
Tourists taking photos of themselves against the Singapore skyline on Jan 20, 2016. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

The amount spent by tourists in Singapore fell last year for the first time in six years, amid an uncertain economic outlook and the tightening of business travellers' budgets.

While the number of visitors rose 0.9 per cent to 15.2 million, their overall spending fell 6.8 per cent to $22 billion for the full year, preliminary estimates by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) show.

This was the first decline in tourism receipts since 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis from 2007 to 2008, and the lowest since 2010's $18.9 billion.

Fewer business travellers and their lower spending per person was the main reason for the slump, STB said yesterday at a media conference where it reviewed its performance for the past year.

Companies' tighter travel budgets had a significant impact on tourism receipts because the spending of business travellers - who make up about a quarter of total visitors to Singapore - tends to be twice that of leisure travellers, said STB chief executive Lionel Yeo.

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

Mr Yeo said STB was concerned about the headwinds facing the industry. "We take heart at the fact that we are still attractive as a leisure destination... but there are some factors that are beyond our control, including the strength of the Singdollar," he added.

STB figures show Singapore's Jubilee year attracted 2 per cent more leisure tourists, particularly from China and India.

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 Singdollar.

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 one million last year. STB last year supported more than 350 business events, which saw a 27 per cent year-on-year growth.

For this year, 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.

The "slightly more upbeat" forecasts suggest there are still pockets of growth, for instance, in cruise arrivals and the expansion of low-cost carriers taking advantage of low oil prices, said Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said STB should continue to explore new markets, and figure out how to better position Singapore's heritage and culture. "What story do we want to tell? It's something for everyone to think about. STB alone can't do everything."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Tourism spending down for first time in six years'. Print Edition | Subscribe