Domestic campaign offers hope amid bleak outlook, say businesses

The tourism campaign may not be enough to sustain many businesses if travel restrictions do not ease soon. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Visiting the Philippines is a yearly tradition for Mrs Archaenne Chuang, whose extended family lives in Manila.

So it was especially disappointing not to be able to make the trip last month, after giving birth to her firstborn child in March.

"I was looking forward to taking our daughter home for a family reunion, and to tour the Boracay islands since my husband has never been there," said Mrs Chuang, 26, a housewife.

With overseas travel this year looking unlikely to happen, she is among a number of Singapore residents who are considering staycations instead.

A nine-month campaign was launched yesterday to encourage locals like the Chuang family to channel some of their unused travel budgets towards local businesses, many of which are struggling to survive amid the downturn and tourist ban.

The idea appeals to Mrs Chuang, who said costs are a concern given the economic climate and prospect of higher household expenses, especially with a baby.

"It'll be our first real family vacation. As long as we can get a staycation deal that's reasonably priced, we can spend quality time together," she said.

Tourism businesses and industry observers agreed that the campaign is a lifeline for local firms, but said it may not be enough to sustain many if travel restrictions do not ease soon.

Mr David Lim, who manages three leisure attractions - trampoline park Bounce Singapore, virtual reality arcade Zero Latency and treetop obstacle course Forest Adventure - reopened all of them earlier this month after getting approval from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

But the capacity limit of 25 per cent is not enough for his business to break even despite promising visitor numbers, he said.

"As a business operator, it's always painful to turn people away," said Mr Lim, who noted that running discounts and promotions is also a challenge given this limitation.

Locals made up about half of visitors to his attractions prior to the pandemic, and many came in groups, which are now limited to five members.

Still, Mr Lim said he understands the need for strict safety measures, and believes building confidence is more important to get locals to step out than offering discounts.

Mr Wong Soon-Hwa, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association's Singapore Chapter, said there is cause for optimism, even if domestic spending is not enough to sustain businesses in the long run.

"So as long as people get out there and do it safely, it counts," he said.

"It is important to give businesses some hope."

While tourism contributes only about 4 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product, Mr Wong pointed out that it is part of a much larger ecosystem. "People think of tourism as leisure, discretionary. But it is part of business and global trade," he said.

Ms Tan Pei Ling, 24, said hopes of going on a graduation trip with her boyfriend before starting work this month were dashed by the pandemic. "I will be willing to spend more on luxury staycations, given the total cost would not be as much as a proper holiday," said Ms Tan, who works in finance.

While local tour packages do not appeal to her as she is already familiar with many areas of Singapore, some of the discounted packages being promoted by the campaign do.

"I haven't been to the Night Safari in ages, and I've never been to iFly before - so the prospect of visiting these places with my friends seems fun and exciting," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline Domestic campaign offers hope amid bleak outlook, say businesses. Subscribe