Ask hotel owners and others in the tourist industry about last year and the prospects for 2018 and they will likely give you a thumbs-up; ask retailers and you might get a big frown.
The two sectors are intertwined to a great extent, yet their fortunes have veered widely over the past 12 months. While visitor numbers have kept surging and are tipped to go even higher this year, the cash registers at local shops remain muted, with sales flat and recording only marginal increases.
The rise in tourist visits has been striking, with 2017 ending on a strong note, bolstered by growing arrivals from China. Preliminary estimates from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) show that 13.05 million visitors came here in the first three quarters of last year, up 5 per cent on the same period in 2016.
Arrivals from China shot up nearly 10 per cent to 2.49 million, as the STB's efforts to better engage Chinese visitors and reach out to more second-tier cities appear to be paying off.
Arrivals from Indonesia, which has traditionally been Singapore's top source market, were lower than China's at 2.17 million but still up 2 per cent on the same period in 2016.
The STB had forecast arrivals of 16.4 million to 16.7 million for last year as a whole, while tourism spend was expected to come in at between $25.1 billion and $25.8 billion. However, if arrivals had continued at this pace in the last quarter of 2017, Singapore could have surpassed the threshold of 17 million visitors.
Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy, said: "Visitor arrivals growth should remain healthy into 2018, as the easing headline GDP growth (in China) is unlikely to fully curb the Chinese appetite for overseas travel."
Mr Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, said that Chinese government restrictions on travel to South Korea could also mean spillover benefits for Singapore.
However, both economists highlighted that global competition for the tourist dollar is heating up, which could present a challenge for Singapore.
STB data shows that total room revenue for the first nine months of last year fell 2 per cent year-on-year to $2.39 billion while revenue per available room (RevPAR) was flat at $201. The increased supply of rooms meant the industry-wide average room rate dipped around 1 per cent to $233 while the average occupancy rate edged up 1 percentage point to 86 per cent.
Economy hotels had the biggest growth in RevPAR, clocking a more than 5 per cent increase to about $85. Economy and luxury hotels were the only segments to register increases - albeit marginally - in average room rates.
CBRE Hotels (Asia-Pacific) projects occupancy for last year as a whole would have reached around 85 per cent, up almost one percentage point from 2016.
"This has been driven by a strong growth in visitor numbers, which will exceed 17 million," said CBRE Hotels executive director Robert McIntosh. "However, these visitors are spending less time here so the growth in arrivals has resulted in a lower rate of growth in room nights sold. The result is that room rates have declined marginally and therefore the revenue per room has been flat."
The supply of new hotel rooms is expected to taper off in 2018, which should provide some relief.
"Occupancy is likely to fall slightly and room rates are forecast to stabilise," said Mr McIntosh. "The declines of the last few years appear to have stopped, provided the economy and the visitor numbers can keep growing."
Corporate demand will also likely pick up next year, he added, although companies are increasingly placing employees on short-term projects, which means a reduction in the length of stay.
The picture is slightly less rosy for the retail industry, which is dealing with headwinds such as high operating costs and competition from online shopping. Sales in the third quarter rose 0.9 per cent year-on-year, a decline from the 1.4 per cent in the second quarter.
Ms Ling said: "This suggests that there may not be significant cheer for the peak year-end season on the domestic consumption front, especially since many Singaporeans usually travel during the school holidays, in addition to medium-term structural changes like e-commerce."
Mr Varathan noted that the improving Singapore economy has yet to filter down to the headline retail figures, at least not compellingly.
Nonetheless, the pick-up in economic growth and "exuberant" stock market conditions could have boosted retail sales for certain segments, he added.
For instance, sales of luxury goods such as watches and jewellery have risen more than 5 per cent for the January to October period in both real and nominal terms.
Mr Varathan warned that "rising energy prices and food costs could start to dent discretionary income, especially if rising interest costs begin to be felt by households with financing commitments" in 2018.
One potential bright spot for retailers could be tourism spend, which could help to dispel some of the gloom. In the first half of last year, tourist shopping receipts jumped by a solid 20 per cent, while total tourist receipts rose at a lower 10 per cent. The Chinese emerged as the biggest spenders.