Firms gear up for haze in 2nd half after warning

Tour agencies and health-care firms expect business boost; eateries worry

Haze in Singapore earlier this month. The Government has warned that the problem could become worse in the second half of the year.
Haze in Singapore earlier this month. The Government has warned that the problem could become worse in the second half of the year. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

If the haze hits hard in the second half of this year, it will be a boon for some businesses and a bane to others.

Travel agencies are anticipating a surge in bookings while retailers are looking into promotions to attract shoppers. Healthcare providers, pharmacies and landscaping firms say they are also gearing up for the haze.

On Thursday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said a combination of dry weather and south-westerly winds, both typical of the June-October south-west monsoon, and the projected El Nino phenomenon in the second half of the year might lead to haze. This is if land burning continues in Riau and other parts of Sumatra.

At the media briefing, the Manpower Ministry also reminded employers of the need to identify workers who could be affected by hazy conditions and to define what sort of outdoors work should be reduced.

Landscaping firms said they are more prepared this year to handle the haze.

Nature Landscapes, where more than 80 per cent of the 500 employees do some outdoors work, "had to scramble to get protective equipment" last year, but now has a ready stock of N95 masks, said director Philip Teh.

Organisers of running events such as the Sundown Marathon in late May and June's Heroes Run said they will keep tabs on air quality.

"Depending on the forecast levels, we might consider putting masks in the race pack," said Heroes Run organiser Brandon Lee.

With enough warning, Singaporeans will have more time to put aside a few days of leave to go abroad if haze strikes, said ASA Travel's manager of marketing and communications Iris Kok.

The agency experienced a sudden increase in last-minute bookings last June after the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index hit a record 401, and is expecting a similar rise in bookings this year.

Meanwhile, appliance retailer Gain City has tripled its orders of air purifiers with suppliers and expects a "mad rush" if the haze worsens.

"Last year's haze was so sudden, we ran out of stock. We are much more prepared this year and are bringing in stocks earlier," said a spokesman.

Both NTUC Unity Healthcare and Guardian pharmacies have stocks of N95 masks, with the former also having supplies of other haze remedies such as eye drops, lozenges and nasal sprays.

But food and beverage outlets are worried that the haze will keep customers at home.

During last year's haze, the Casa Verde cafe at the Botanic Gardens suffered a sharp drop in business, said manager William Cheng.

"There's nothing much we can do. Once the worst was over they started coming back," he said.

Air purifiers have little effect in large outdoor spaces, said cafe managers.

And with the football World Cup to be held in June, bars and restaurants planning to screen the matches on their premises are also getting concerned.

Mr Jason Pope, owner of Dallas Restaurant and Bar, which offers outdoor and indoor dining at Boat Quay, expects most people to watch the matches at home if the haze hits unhealthy levels.

"We're crossing our fingers and hoping that it won't be that bad," he said.

Additional reporting by Carolyn Khew and Choo Yun Ting

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