Singapore's tourism industry is strapping in for a ride that could be bumpier - and longer - than its worst crisis in recent memory.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is projecting a 25 per cent to 30 per cent drop in visitor arrivals this year, as the deadly coronavirus continues its global spread. The disease, yesterday given the official name Covid-19 (Corona Virus Disease) by the World Health Organisation, has killed more than 1,000 and infected more than 43,000 worldwide.
This estimated impact on arrivals here is steeper than the 19 per cent decline in 2003, when Singapore endured the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.
"We believe that the situation this year will be at least as severe as Sars, and probably worse," STB chief executive Keith Tan said at its annual year-in-review briefing yesterday.
"At this point, we estimate that every day, we lose an average of 18,000 to 20,000 international visitor arrivals to Singapore," he added.
The year's outlook depends on factors such as how long the outbreak in China will last, what kind of economic effects it will have on the region and how long it will take for traveller demand to return.
STB is also preparing for a slower recovery than Sars, which took under a year to bounce back.
While Singapore is now more prepared and resilient, there may be a longer dampening effect on travel if regional supply chains and gross domestic product growth are impacted, or if social media creates a lingering effect, said Mr Tan.
Already, travellers are postponing or cancelling visits to the region, he noted.
Singapore's Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector is also feeling the squeeze, with several hundred events getting postponed or cancelled since last Friday, said industry players.
A task force comprising tourism leaders from both the private and public sectors will be formed to lay out strategies for recovery and future growth.
This comes on the back of yet another year of record highs in tourist arrivals and spending for Singapore.
Last year's strong showing is testament to Singapore's strong tourism fundamentals, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.
But with its largest source market of China drying up, Singapore's arrival numbers have already started to tumble, STB said, as Chinese tourists account for one in five visitors to the Republic. Recent curbs on arrivals from the mainland have battered businesses that rely on them.
Singapore now has 47 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with two more announced yesterday, the highest number for a country outside of China. Last Friday, the Republic's disease outbreak response went up a notch to "orange" after locally transmitted cases were established, prompting countries such as Kuwait and Qatar to urge their citizens to defer non-essential travel.
STB's Mr Tan said: "We see no reason for other countries to have travel advisories on Singapore - we are very confident in the measures the Government has in place to contain the cases here."
Despite the difficult year ahead, Singapore is unlikely to suffer any long-term effects, and there are no plans to push back tourism projects, he said. The sector expects support measures to be announced at this year's Budget.
The Government provided a $230 million relief package in 2003, which included higher property tax rebates for gazetted tourist hotels and a reduction in foreign worker levies. Visitor arrivals and spending rebounded in 2004, even outstripping pre-Sars numbers in 2002.