China beats Indonesia as Singapore's top tourist source

Chinese tourists posing for photographs at Merlion Park. In 2017, 3.2 million tourists from China arrived in Singapore, beating traditional chart leader Indonesia, which accounted for three million tourists. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Players in the Singapore tourism industry have been gearing up for a slice of the Chinese tourist pie, as China last year became the largest source of tourists here for the first time.

Chinese visitors were also the biggest tourist spenders here last year, for the third year running.

InterContinental Singapore general manager Michael Martin said that since 2015, the hotel has made itself a "China-ready" establishment. This means, for example, that staff are taught Chinese etiquette, such as presenting a name card with two hands. Mandarin-speaking staff are also readily available at all times to attend to guests' needs.

Mr Martin said the hotel saw a 15 per cent increase in the number of Chinese guests last year compared with 2016, a rise seen on a smaller scale at Regent Singapore, which had a 5.1 per cent increase in Chinese guests over the same period.

When asked how Chinese tourists' habits have changed, a Regent Singapore spokesman said: "We've started seeing a trend where more individual travellers book either directly through the hotel's website or online travel agents... We have noticed that experiencing new dining trends has also become a focus for these travellers."

Last year, 3.2 million tourists from China arrived in Singapore, beating traditional chart leader Indonesia, which accounted for three million tourists.

A record 17.4 million tourists visited Singapore last year, according to Singapore Tourism Board (STB) figures revealed on Monday (Feb 12).

China maintained its top spot for visitor spending last year, with receipts hitting $3.08 billion from January to September, a 10 per cent increase year on year.

The growth of Chinese tourism comes on the back of STB's marketing push to sell Singapore in other parts of China and not just major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Industry experts also say Singapore appeals to Chinese tourists as offerings here have evolved beyond just shopping and sightseeing to giving guests a chance to learn more about Singapore heritage and culture.

STB's assistant chief executive Chang Chee Pey said the focus for future growth will be on China, India and Indonesia - as a way to minimise the risks of depending too much on one country.

Mr Chang said Singapore needs to stay relevant to the young, millennial traveller from China's Tier 1 cities, which is why, for example, the music festival ZoukOut was streamed to China via Chinese Internet giant Tencent last December.

A Science Centre Singapore spokesman also reported strong growth in the number of Chinese tourists, noting that around 75,000 visited the attraction last year.

The spokesman said Chinese tourists made up more than half of the overall foreign tourist groups visiting.

She said the centre catered to this demographic by providing some programmes in Mandarin for Chinese school groups, while also highlighting to travel agents that they have a Chinese restaurant to cater to their taste buds.

Local tour agencies also find themselves buoyed by the rising trend. The head of SingExpress Travel's inbound Asia department, Mr Bernard Yu, said that nine years ago, 5 per cent of his tourists came from China. Now, they make up 40 per cent.

The local retail scene has also reangled itself. For example, Suntec City and Alipay last week announced a two-year partnership to launch Alipay touchpoints in the mall. Some shops, such as Fossil and Sephora, already allow transactions via the Chinese payment service.

Alipay general manager Cherry Huang said Suntec City is a natural partner for several reasons.

"This mall is very popular among Chinese tourists, thanks to features such as the famous Fountain of Wealth, and is a great shopping experience... It is also a strategic place to reach Chinese expats and business travellers who attend meetings at the convention centre."

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