Tourist spending and arrivals hit new highs

The number of visitors grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million last year, while tourism rose by 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion.
The number of visitors grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million last year, while tourism rose by 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion.PHOTO: ST FILE

Indonesia top source of visitors last year; Chinese tourists the biggest spenders again

Tourist arrivals and spending in Singapore hit historic highs last year, buoyed by the growth of the China market and visitors spending more on food and beverage, shopping and accommodation.

The number of visitors grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million last year, while tourism receipts rose by 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion, preliminary estimates by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) show.

The strong showing marks a turnaround from 2015, when tourism receipts fell 7.6 per cent to $21.8 billion, the first decline since 2009.

At a media conference yesterday, STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said: "Despite challenges such as weaker economic performance in some of Singapore's top source markets and a Zika virus outbreak, Singapore has managed to attract more quality visitors to contribute to economic growth."

Mr Yeo said tourism's contribution to Singapore's gross domestic product last year remained stable at about 4 per cent, adding: "We saw not just more visitors, but the type we hope to attract."

The retail sector was a surprise top performer. Visitors spent 48 per cent more on shopping between January and September last year, compared to the same period in 2015. This was due to increased spending on confectionery, gifts and souvenirs, and fashion and accessories.

Visitors also forked out more for accommodation and food and beverage, which were up by 28 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively. However, spending on sightseeing, entertainment and gaming fell 16 per cent, with lower gaming revenue reported by the integrated resorts. In total, tourists spent $18.5 billion in the first three quarters of last year.

Indonesia remained the top source of visitors last year, just edging out China. Malaysia, India and Australia complete the top five.

Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders for the second year in a row, with a 36 per cent increase in visitor arrivals, making China the top growth market. There were more visitor arrivals from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in China, India and Indonesia.

The business events and cruise sectors showed double-digit year- on-year growth. More than 410 business events were held last year, bringing in 28 per cent more revenue, while cruise passenger traffic grew 16 per cent to about 1.2 million.

STB expects 2017 to yield more record numbers. It forecasts tourism receipts growing by 1 per cent to 4 per cent and visitor arrivals increasing by up to 2 per cent.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said STB's strategy of pursuing Tier 2 cities in growing markets - where income and propensity to spend are on the rise - is bearing fruit. The growth of local brands with unique offerings, new walking trails and Singapore's first Michelin Guide launched last year have also enhanced the Republic's attractiveness.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said tourism continues to be a bright spark globally amid the doom and gloom of the macro economy. "While the macro environment continues to be challenging, there is no shortage of people with the travel bug," he said.

He added that the steady rise in visitor arrivals provides support to job creation in the hospitality sector as well as the broader economy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Tourist spending and arrivals hit new highs'. Print Edition | Subscribe