$700 million investment in tourism: A shot in the arm for industry

Tourists looking at their mobile phones outside Esplanade in Marina Bay. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

On Monday, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said that the Government was giving the tourism industry a $700 million boost for the next five years until 2020.

The money comes at a challenging time for the industry, which has seen slower growth in recent years as tourists tighten their belts ahead of a weakening global economy.

Growth is expected to slow to a crawl this year, with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) forecasting a growth of zero to 3 per cent for visitor arrivals and zero to 2 per cent for tourism receipts.

But it is not all doom and gloom. There are bright spots, such as a burgeoning interest in outbound travel to the region and Asia's growing middle class, which will drive intra-Asia travel.

The industry needs to keep an eye on long-term growth opportunities, while dealing with short-term volatility, said Mr Iswaran.

The fund is a shot in the arm for the STB as it pursues its strategy of attracting quality tourists: those who stay longer while spending more.

The strategy is a practical one, as Singapore can no longer rely on the volume of visitors to drive growth.

In the past 10 years, major attractions like Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa and Gardens by the Bay sprung up, attracting tourists who came in droves for the novelty. But high growth rates of visitor arrivals are no longer sustainable, given the labour constraints and regional competition.

This is why, in 2013, the STB embarked on a new phase of growth focused on quality tourism.

This does not mean no new attractions are on the horizon - part of the $700 million will go towards developing new products, although they are unlikely to be of the same scale as the integrated resorts.

Among other uses, the fund will be used to build on existing physical and human infrastructure, such as training industry professionals and retrofitting hotels to add features that can boost productivity.

Lifting the sector out of its slump, however, should be a countrywide effort and not the STB's alone. After all, more high-spending tourists will benefit other industries, especially the sluggish retail sector.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Shot in the arm for tourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe