February visitors to Singapore down 51 per cent year-on-year; tourists from China plummet 98 per cent

SINGAPORE - Visitor arrivals to Singapore fell by 51 per cent year-on-year in February, as travel restrictions and lower consumer confidence linked to the Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on the tourism sector.

About 732,000 tourists visited the Republic last month, a sharp decline from the 1.7 million visitors the Republic saw in January, according to figures released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Thursday (March 26).

Arrivals from China, Singapore's largest source of visitors, plummeted 98 per cent to 6,000 visitors on the back of a ban on outbound group tours and the Republic's own restrictions on arrivals from the mainland, which took effect on Feb 1.

Visitors from Indonesia and India, which round out Singapore's top three source markets, fell by 46 per cent and 41 per cent respectively.

Overall visitor arrivals in January, on the other hand, posted a 4 per cent year-on-year growth despite the virus hitting Singapore's shores over Chinese New Year.

STB chief executive Keith Tan told The Straits Times that January's strong performance can be attributed to greater travel demand from most of Singapore's top source markets in the first three weeks, before the first local case of Covid-19 was confirmed on Jan 23.

But numbers are expected to hit new lows in March, following a ban on all short-term visitors put in place earlier this week.

Mr Poh Chi Chuan, STB's director of digital transformation, said that visitor arrivals for the year are likely to decline more severely than last month's estimate of between 25 and 30 per cent, though he did not provide figures.

This is in light of the necessary travel restrictions in Singapore and around the world, he said.

Consumer confidence in travel has taken a big hit as cases climb globally, while travel advisories issued against Singapore and restrictions on visitors likely contributed to February's decline.

"We expect this downtrend to continue... this situation will last for some time, depending on how the situation evolves both globally and in Singapore," said Mr Poh.

In the interim, STB is focusing its efforts on supporting local tourism businesses and helping them build longer-term capabilities, while strengthening Singapore's brand equity, he added.

This is so that "when the situation improves, we can be quick off the blocks, and recover strongly and confidently".