SINGAPORE - Sentosa's beaches were significantly less crowded than usual on Saturday (Oct 17), the first day guests were required to pre-book their visits during peak periods.
Groups of not more than five people were spread out across Tanjong, Palawan and Siloso beaches, with ample distance between each group, likely due to no-shows from some reservation holders.
Visitors who turned up without having made an online booking were either turned away or given a later available time slot, with waiting time varying from five minutes to almost two hours across the different entry checkpoints.
One beachgoer was civil servant Ang Wei Le, 28, who turned up at Palawan beach at around 2.30pm without a booking. Ms Ang and her friend were given the next nearest available slot at 4pm and were passing time at a nearby bench when The Straits Times spoke to them.
"We didn't realise the booking system started today, so it's a bit sian (annoying) that we have to wait for our slot, but it's better than making a wasted trip. We were planning to have our meal on the beach but we're starving so we decided to eat here," she said, gesturing at the takeaway food laid out on the bench.
Over at Tanjong beach, Mr Zac Wong and his wife only had to wait five minutes to enter the beach, even though they did not make a prior booking. The newlywed couple was on a staycation at a nearby hotel.
"We're quite lucky that there was a slot for us on the spot, but even if there wasn't one, we would have been okay because we will just go back to the hotel. We do feel safer with this measure and will come back again next time," said the 29-year-old, who works in the tech industry.
Around 2,000 people visited the beaches on Saturday and most beach courts were utilised, said a spokesman from Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), in response to ST’s queries on visitor numbers.
Additional service ambassadors were deployed to assist guests with the beach booking process, including helping the “small number of guests” who arrived without reservations make a booking for beach zones that still had remaining slots.
Guests who change their plans after making an online book are reminded to cancel their reservations and give up their slots to other guests, said the SDC spokesman.
On Saturday afternoon, ST observed other safe management measures in place at the beaches, such as "safety rings" which demarcate spots where groups of up to five may gather.
Safe distancing ambassadors were also seen patrolling the beaches and nearby food and beverage outlets.
Most of the 15 beach courts across the three beaches - which had to be pre-booked - were occupied.
Beachfront F&B outlets and attractions - which were not subject to the online booking requirement - appeared to be quieter than usual.
Ms Novem Tz, 33, a barista at Baristart Coffee along Siloso beach, said footfall on Saturday had fallen by half compared to the week before.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the manager of Ola Beach Club, who said it is shaping up to be one of the quietest weekends since the beach club reopened in Phase 2.
The manager, who declined to be named, is hopeful that business will pick up as beachgoers who did not make an advance online booking may decide to patronise Ola Beach Club instead.
"Ola is directly on the beach too, so people who cannot go into the main beach can come here," he said.
From Saturday, beachgoers are required to make online bookings ahead of their visits during peak periods, such as weekends and public holidays. Slots are subject to capacity limits.
Bookings can be made at this website.
Guests may choose from two time slots to visit - the morning period (8am to 1pm), or afternoon (2pm to 7pm) - and reservations for up to five people are allowed in each booking.
On the day of visit, guests should approach the beach entry kiosk of their selected zone, and present their confirmation e-mail for verification. They will then be issued wristbands for admission and may access the selected beach zone at any point during the reserved time slot.
The booking system will be trialed for an initial period of three months for the three beaches, said the SDC spokesman. “SDC will monitor guest behaviour and feedback, regularly review the reservation and redemption process, and make adjustments where necessary,” he said.
In July, the Government said popular public spaces such as parks and beaches will be temporarily closed off as they approach capacity limits, to manage crowds there.
The three beaches have been segmented into a total of seven zones, each with a capacity limit ranging between 100 and 350 to allow for safe distancing.
The zones also have specific entry and exit points, where visitors are required to check-in and check-out using the SafeEntry digital system.
Cabin crew Melvin Ho, 38, and his family of four, including two children, said that while the booking system is "definitely more troublesome", he feels it is much more "efficient and safer".
Mr Ho had booked a slot at Tanjong beach for his family in advance, to coincide with his family's staycation at the nearby Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort and Spa.
But some beachgoers noted that there appeared to be a number of no-shows, as many "safety rings" were unoccupied.
Business development manager Pawan Singh, 29, who was at Palawan beach with four friends, said: "It looks really empty here with a lot of empty space, so maybe some people booked but didn't turn up? Perhaps the booking system should come with some form of penalty to prevent this."