Singaporeans aged 18 and above this year will receive $100 each to spend on staycations, tickets to leisure attractions, and local tours. This is a practical move to stimulate domestic spending and save jobs in the tourism sector. It is practical because the duration of the voucher programme is timed to coincide with the March, June and December school holidays, and to spread out demand in between. It coincides with the announcement that tourist attractions can apply to increase their operating capacity to 50 per cent - up from the current 25 per cent. The $320 million SingapoRediscovers Vouchers scheme should help attractions to carry over their capabilities, built up over the years, and look ahead, even as they consolidate capacity in the interim.
The severity of the downturn that marks the interim cannot be overstated. The coronavirus pandemic has all but decimated the industry after four years of consecutive growth. In February, the Singapore Tourism Board said the sector was facing its biggest challenge since the occurrence of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003. The extent of that challenge became clear in subsequent months as Covid-19 ravaged globalised economies, including Singapore's, particularly in sectors associated with international travel. Unlike Sars, whose lethality proved to be relatively short-lived, the economic after-effects of Covid-19 could be expected to linger for quite some time.
Meanwhile, domestic consumption can go some way towards meeting the precipitous decline in international demand. This is not an unreasonable expectation. Last year, visitors spent $27.7 billion here. While that figure is impressive, it is smaller than what Singapore's resident population spent on overseas travel last year: $36.5 billion. But if even a fraction of that spending could be channelled into domestic tourism, the sector would benefit considerably. Admittedly, Singaporeans would not want to spend large amounts within their own country, which they know. Indeed, even their foreign travel plans would have shrunk during a job-eating recession. However, they are likely to give domestic tourism a chance if the attractions are safe, not too expensive, and encourage interaction between family and friends. Also, they expect their tourism experiences to be authentic, in the sense that they are not treated like foreign tourists but as insiders who are offered deeper insights into the flora, fauna, history and architecture of the country.
Companies in the tourism business could collaborate to provide Singaporeans with that quality experience. The vouchers could spur discretionary spending that is required to give tourism and those working in the sector a boost. Innovative packages that combine different experiences, from hotel stays to tours of attractions, are one way to turn Singaporeans into local tourists.