S'pore tours see uptick in demand from locals amid pandemic

The open-top Big Bus tour near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown. PHOTO: BIG BUS & DUCKTOURS

SINGAPORE - With overseas travel off the table for most Singaporeans due to the pandemic, more have turned tourist in their own country.

Bookings for local tours have logged double-digit growth in the first few months of this year.

In April, before Covid-19 measures were tightened during the phase two (heightened alert) period, bookings climbed 54 per cent to 54,200 from March's 35,200.

This followed the upward trend from January's 17,100 and February's 22,700, data from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) show.

The school holiday month of December saw 48,600 bookings when SingapoRediscovers Vouchers (SRV) were launched. This was a spike of more than 350 per cent from November.

The vouchers, worth $100, were given to each Singaporean aged 18 and above to spend on staycations, tickets to leisure attractions and local tours to give a boost to domestic tourism.

While the SRV scheme has helped drive up demand, tour operators' efforts to push out innovative products to suit local taste buds have also paid off.

Global travel restrictions throttled visitor arrivals to just 2.7 million last year - a far cry from the 19.1 million in 2019 - but tour operators say that local demand is gradually picking up.

Ms Lynette Pang, assistant chief executive of STB's marketing group, said: "There's been a very healthy uptick in tours. If you think about it as a Singaporean, going on a curated tour of Singapore is a little bit foreign. So the fact that there is very high growth is very encouraging."

She credited this to industry players who pivoted to push out creative products to attract the local market.

Singapore Sidecars - which offers local tours on vintage Vespa scooters with a small passenger carriage attached - said tourists used to make up 70 per cent of its business before the pandemic. Its co-founder Simon Wong said: "We didn't really have to think a lot about reaching out to the local market because people just turned up. There were so many tourists visiting Singapore."

After Covid-19 forced the firm to set its sights completely on the local market, it pushed out a "Crazy Rich Asians Instagram tour" bundled with a cocktail-making workshop in November last year.

Co-founder of Singapore Sidecars Simon Wong (centre) on a Kampong Glam tour. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SIDECARS

Early this year, it also started allowing customers to take their pets along for a ride in the sidecar, and this has taken off in the past few weeks, Mr Wong said.

Big Bus and Ducktours, which operates the iconic Ducktours amphibious rides and open-top bus tours here, also had to adapt.

It used to run its open-top double-decker buses on sightseeing routes where tourists could alight and reboard at different stops. Now, it runs hour-long tours so locals can enjoy the touristy sights of Singapore.

"Locals are not going to use the bus as a transport system like what tourists do," said the tour operator's general manager Pamela Wee.

"What locals want is just spending that one hour seeing the sights of Singapore."

The DUCKtours, where participants get to sit on a craft that can travel on land and water (picture taken before Covid-19). PHOTO: BIG BUS AND DUCKTOURS

Like many of its peers, Big Bus and Ducktours has also ramped up its offerings tied to cultural festivals like the Mid-Autumn Festival and Deepavali, in addition to the usual Christmas-time campaigns.

It now runs evening rides to catch the light-ups in Chinatown and Little India, similar to the popular year-end Orchard Road Christmas light-up.

Big Bus and Ducktours sees about 7,000 bookings a month on average, compared with about 3,000 bookings before SRV was launched in December last year. It used to see about 45,000 to 50,000 on average per month before Covid-19.

At the Asia Pacific Breweries plant in Tuas where the famous Tiger Beer is brewed, tourists used make up 60 per cent of its Tiger Brewery Tour visitorship. Now, locals make up about 70 per cent.

To draw more foodie Singaporeans, it plans to add a beer-pairing meal to the brewery tour. Local favourites like chilli crab will be paired with Tiger Beer variants like the citrusy Tiger Radler or the lighter Tiger Crystal.

The Asia Pacific Breweries plant in Tuas. PHOTO: ASIA PACIFIC BREWERIES SINGAPORE
The Tiger Den (left), where visitors get to take home a Tiger merchandise and The Tiger Tavern. PHOTOS: ASIA PACIFIC BREWERIES SINGAPORE

Tour agency Travcoach switched from bussing tourists around the island to running a tour for locals of the lesser-known Labrador Park in the south-west of Singapore in February.

Operations manager Clarence Choo said: "It is a nature and history walk, and it is not so well known among Singaporeans. So I thought it was good to do something different and special."

The tour, which comes with a barbecue seafood buffet dinner, saw more than 5,000 bookings in the first half of this year.

Mr Choo said: "The number of bookings was quite pleasant surprise for us. We were not expecting such a huge take-up because going on a local tour is quite unusual for Singaporeans."

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