Coronavirus: STB provides $22m to help tourism businesses prepare for recovery; more help for travel agents

Visitor arrival numbers are expected to hit new lows in March, when a ban on all short-term visitors came into effect. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has set aside $22 million to help tourism businesses market their services and build demand for when global travel resumes.

Travel agents, which have seen business dry up amid the coronavirus outbreak, will now also be allowed to use their reserves to make ends meet.

The minimum financial requirement that they must fulfil to keep their licence has been reduced by 90 per cent until the end of the year, the STB said in a statement on Friday (April 24).

Those holding general licences will now have to maintain a net value of $10,000, while for niche licence holders, the minimum is $5,000.

This will free up cash flow for businesses during this challenging period, the STB said.

The tourism industry has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Travel restrictions have put a halt to both inbound and outbound travel, while all attractions and entertainment venues, including nightclubs, cinemas, museums and casinos, have had to shut as part of stricter social distancing measures.

The sector has received aid from the Government in the form of wage subsidies and other support, but maintaining mindshare among international travellers during the slowdown is also critical, the STB said.

To help businesses do this, it has launched a $20 million Marketing Partnership Programme, which will cover up to 70 per cent of qualifying marketing costs.

The scheme, launched for hotels on April 1, will be extended to attractions, inbound travel agents, and the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector in its second phase. Applications will open for these businesses in early May, and those interested can e-mail to learn more.

The STB has also set up a $2 million SG Stories Content Fund to create compelling Singapore stories and support content creators.

The fund will support 90 per cent of qualifying costs for digital video content production, marketing and distribution, capped at $150,000 per project.

Applications will open from May 1 to 31. Due to current safe distancing measures, outdoor filming is prohibited and all content must be produced from home, the STB said.

To help businesses upgrade during the downtime, the tourism board has also partnered Facebook, Google and LinkedIn to develop Web-based training for the industry.

Other tools include platforms for data sharing and learning about digital transformation.

STB chief executive Keith Tan said in an address to the tourism industry on Friday that it has shown resilience despite the tough adjustments that have had to be made. Many have stepped up to support Singapore's battle against Covid-19, he noted in a video posted on Facebook.

A number of hotels, for example, are now serving as facilities to house returning Singapore residents serving their 14-day stay-home notices. Some have gone the extra mile by providing notes of encouragement or innovative ways to help guests stay healthy, said Mr Tan.

"A few weeks ago, many of our hotels also responded very quickly when we needed to house large numbers of Malaysian workers. Since then, we've also had to find more rooms to accommodate other groups of foreign workers, who are needed to keep the Singapore economy running," he said.

Many others are supporting the Ministry of Health in its effort to create more facilities for different types of patients, he said. They have done this by providing rooms or offering bed linens, meals and even staff to manage the facilities.

On an individual level, more than 50 tourist guides are working alongside STB staff as safe distancing ambassadors, said Mr Tan.

Speaking of the STB's new marketing initiatives, he said: "It's important to continue to engage our worldwide audiences at this time, even when they are not here."

Finding creative ways to engage audiences is especially important now, when "billions of people are stuck at home, hungry for good and interesting content", he said.

"I want you to think hard about how you can take advantage of these efforts and initiatives to help your businesses get ready for the time when international tourism picks up again."

Visitor arrivals fell by half in February compared to the year before, with just 732,000 tourists making the trip after Singapore raised its disease outbreak response to orange and imposed travel restrictions on Chinese tourists.

The numbers are expected to hit new lows in March, when a ban on all short-term visitors came into effect.

Singapore's hotel occupancy fell 53.6 per cent year on year to 38.3 per cent in March, while revenue available per room plummeted 62.4 per cent to $81.35, said global data and benchmarking firm STR. The figures are the lowest on record in STR's Singapore database, it said when releasing the data on Friday.

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