Vouchers, new tie-ups boost Singapore's domestic tourism market

Visitors taking photos in front of Universal Studios at Sentosa on Dec 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic threw a wicked curveball at the tourism industry this year when countries closed their borders to keep out the virus.

As air travel dwindled to nearly nothing, national carrier Singapore Airlines recorded its first annual net loss in its 48-year history.

There were other repercussions - Singapore's attractions, hotels and tours no longer enjoyed the steady stream of visitors they once did.

Some 13,400 visitors arrived in Singapore in October, a mere fraction of the 1.53 million in the same month last year.

Tourist receipts for the first half of the year also fell by 68.2 per cent to $4.2 billion.

Even travel stalwarts like STA Travel could not survive the headwinds and those still in the game limp on.

At gazetted hotels, the average occupancy rate tumbled by 30.3 percentage points in October from a year ago.

To prop up the tourism sector in Singapore, the Government launched a $45 million SingapoRediscovers campaign in July to drive local spending in lifestyle and tourism businesses amid a dearth of tourists here.

The campaign by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Enterprise Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation will last until June next year.

It includes deals for locals, heartland tours and the promotion of precincts as mini-holiday destinations.

While Singapore's domestic market will not be enough to make up for the shortfall in tourist spending, which amounted to $27.7 billion last year, STB chief executive Keith Tan said the aim of the SingapoRediscovers campaign is to channel some of the unused travel budgets Singaporeans set aside this year to local businesses.

In 2018, Singaporeans spent more than $34 billion on overseas travel.

As part of the SingapoRediscovers campaign, STB inked some agreements including a two-year marketing partnership with online travel agency Expedia.

Staycations and bundle deals for Singaporeans are available on Expedia's website until April next year.

The Singapore Tourism Board is working with American augmented technology company Niantic on a Pokemon Go tie-up. PHOTO: SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

Another partnership between STB and DBS entails helping home-grown tourism providers integrate digital payments into their business models.

STB is also working with American augmented technology company Niantic on a Pokemon Go tie-up.

Three hundred new Pokestops and Gyms were newly launched on the smartphone game in places such as hotels, retailers and eateries. Players who go to these destinations will see an in-app banner linking them to the SingapoRediscovers site for tourism promotions.

Another element of the SingapoRediscovers campaign were the Singapolidays rolled out in November.

The initiative encapsulated by the portmanteau comprises 50 bundled promotions by hotels, attractions, tour operators, restaurants and shops. One can, for instance, stay at a boutique hotel in Chinatown before going on a mystery-inspired tour in the Keong Saik area.

Also kicking off this month was the $320 million SingapoRediscovers voucher scheme to entice Singaporeans to explore the city. All Singaporeans aged 18 and above were given $100 each to spend on hotels, attractions and tours.

Some of the most-booked attractions included Gardens by the Bay, Universal Studios Singapore and the Singapore Zoo. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The vouchers, which can be redeemed until June 30 next year, cannot be used for retail shop purchases or food and beverage, unless they are part of a bundled package, among other things.

The STB hopes the vouchers will have a multiplier effect on spending at local merchants on the scheme.

They had a promising start, with some offerings by the five appointed booking platforms sold out by midday when bookings opened on Dec 1.

By 4.30pm that day, more than 11,900 bookings, totalling about $1.86 million in vouchers and payments, had been received, said STB.

Some of the most-booked attractions across booking platforms included Gardens by the Bay, Universal Studios Singapore and the Singapore Zoo, and various packages - including combo bundles to Universal Studios and the S.E.A. Aquarium - were quickly sold out on multiple booking portals.

Though STB's Mr Tan told industry leaders in September to be prepared for a long winter, with international travel expected to take three to five years to return to pre-pandemic levels, there are some bright spots.

More than 8,600 new hotel rooms remain in the pipeline as at the third quarter of this year compared with 8,200 or so at the end of last year.

Hotels can provide guests with conducive working spaces and wellness experiences as people have become more health-conscious amid the pandemic, said hoteliers who remain hopeful about the industry's ability to recover and develop new products for travellers.

In the meantime, with phase three of Singapore's reopening, residents can now gather in groups of up to eight.

Attractions may now also operate at 65 per cent capacity, up from the 50 per cent limit previously.

As Covid-19 restrictions are gradually eased, hotels, attractions and tour companies can look forward to accommodating more locals, whose spending may help offset the losses suffered by businesses in the pandemic.

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