Singapore looks to widen range of visitors as tourism wanes: STB chief

The Government has launched a domestic travel campaign to support the industry. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore is seeking to open the door to a wider range of business and leisure visitors to boost its hard-hit tourism sector, with the return of mass travel still a long way off amid the pandemic, according to the head of the country's tourism agency.

The industry expects more job losses in the coming months once existing government support for rent, taxes and salaries starts tapering off, Mr Keith Tan, chief executive officer of the Singapore Tourism Board, said on Tuesday (Aug 4) in an interview with Bloomberg Television host Haslinda Amin. Job losses so far in the sector have been in the "very low thousands", he said.

"Whether it is a broader range of business visitors or, for example, small groups of tightly controlled leisure visitors, all these are being considered and are on the table," said Mr Tan. He added that the tourism board is discussing with the Government to expand green lane arrangements, now in place with Malaysia and China, to a broader range of visitors.

Singapore's travel-related sectors, which contribute about 4 per cent of its gross domestic product, are grappling with what could be the city-state's worst recession, wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Retail sales plunged by more than 50 per cent in May from a year earlier, with outlets trying to woo tourists in areas like the Orchard Road shopping strip particularly hard hit.

The country's borders remain largely shut to external arrivals. Visits in June reached 2,200, down from 1.6 million in the same month last year. The green lane arrangements currently only allow for business and official travel, subject to testing.

The Government has launched a domestic travel campaign to support the industry, though local demand will not fill the hole left by the absence of international visitors, Mr Tan said. These travellers contributed to almost $28 billion in tourism receipts last year.

"It will be a long while more before mass travel can resume and that ultimately stems from consumer confidence," said the tourism chief, who added that a vaccine or effective therapies are needed to combat the "fear and anxiety" many people have, even about stepping onto an airplane.

Worldwide, the industry is expected to lose US$3.3 trillion (S$4.5 trillion) if the collapse of global leisure travel persists until March, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development last month.

The virus resurgence across Asia in countries such as Vietnam and Japan has hurt hopes of an early recovery of mass travel. Still, Singapore has affirmed plans to invest in enhancing its tourism hub status, including a $9 billion expansion of its two integrated casino resorts by Las Vegas Sands and Genting Singapore.

Mr Tan warned, however, that "inevitable delays" will occur because of a slowdown in construction activity and labour challenges.

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