Chinese tourists in South-east Asia/March of the Middle Kingdom - Singapore

For many, it's still shop, shop, shop till you drop

Tourists from Shanxi in Chinatown Food Street. Visitors from Tier 2 cities prefer to buy jewellery and traditional medicine.
Tourists from Shanxi in Chinatown Food Street. Visitors from Tier 2 cities prefer to buy jewellery and traditional medicine.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Visitors from China are giving Asean countries a tourism boost, travelling to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. What's the draw for them? The Sunday Times takes a look

More tourists from secondary cities in China are heading to Singapore, official figures show.

These travellers from so-called Tier 2 cities have slightly different tastes than their counterparts from Tier 1 cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

While attractions such as Marina Bay Sands and the zoo are popular with both groups, tourists from Tier 2 cities such as Chengdu or Nanjing prefer shopping to casino visits, said travel agents.

China's tier system is roughly based on each city's gross domestic product, administrative status and population.

According to latest figures from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), in the first half of last year, Singapore received 395,000 visitors from Tier 2 cities - up 71 per cent from the first half of 2015.


Other new figures also show that tourist arrivals and spending here hit historic highs last year, buoyed by the growth of the China market.

Last year, Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders among travellers here for the second year in a row, with a 36 per cent increase in visitor arrivals, making China the top growth market.

While breakdowns are not available, Chinese visitors spent $1,239 each on average, excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, as of the third quarter of last year, STB said.

Chinese travellers are increasingly using social media platforms and China-based online travel agents, but some still prefer package tours, said Ms Low See Peng, STB's regional director for Greater China.

"This is more prevalent among secondary cities as consumers are less experienced in travelling overseas and are generally more price-sensitive," she added.

Travel agents here also noted the rise in tourists from Tier 2 cities.

Chan Brothers Travel spokesman Joyce Tan attributes Singapore's popularity to "cultural and language similarities and the availability of Chinese food", as well as "not overly restrictive" visa requirements.

Since June 2015, Multiple Journey Visas issued to eligible Chinese nationals can have their validity extended to a maximum of 10 years.

Ms Tan also said that, apart from Singapore being deemed safe, Tier 2 city tourists also see the country as the "crown jewel in the region".

In a report by China-based online travel agency Ctrip in December, Singapore was the fourth most popular destination for Chinese travellers, behind Thailand, Japan and the United States.

Some businesses see a rise across the board.

Last year, Sohu Travel director Paul Bao saw a 20 to 30 per cent increase in tourists from Tier 2 cities to Singapore.

Shopping tours are especially popular, he added, with Tier 2 visitors favouring duty-free shops, jewellery and traditional Chinese medicine products.

These travellers may be able to get such products in China, but buying them at duty-free shops here can be cheaper, and there are assurances that the goods bought in Singapore are not imitation products, according to Chinese tourists.

Ms Tan also noted that first-time Chinese visitors here "tend to clock in higher spending on shopping and spend proportionally more on shopping than on other components, when compared with the average visitor to Singapore ".

While Tier 1 visitors are "much more into luxury goods" and some Tier 2 tourists also like branded products, some travellers from secondary cities "are interested only in attractions", said Lex Travel marketing executive Benjamin Yan.

•Additional reporting by Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'For many, it's still shop, shop, shop till you drop'. Print Edition | Subscribe