Singapore's turn in the global spotlight helped propel tourist arrivals and spending to record highs for the third straight year. Total arrivals last year rose 6.2 per cent to 18.5 million, while tourism receipts climbed 1 per cent to $27.1 billion, according to preliminary estimates released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) yesterday.
Two events last year put the country on the global stage: the historic meeting between American President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the release of Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians, which was set here.
STB said organic search interest in Singapore rose by more than three times in the United States during the movie's release, according to Google data, while there was a 110 per cent spike in searches on travel-planning site Orbitz.
STB chief executive Keith Tan said the Trump-Kim summit and other major events held here last year had huge marketing value to Singapore.
Google registered more than two million hits on the phrase "where is Singapore" from the US alone a day before the summit, he added.
Still, while the number of tourist arrivals exceeded STB's forecast, spending did not keep pace. This is partly because more visitors came for a day trip or as a stop on a longer journey, resulting in shorter stays and less spending on gifts, STB said.
Visitors spent less on shopping (down 14 per cent), food and beverage (down 4 per cent) and accommodation (down 5 per cent) for the first three quarters of last year, compared with the same period in 2017.
However, spending on sightseeing, entertainment and gaming rose 6 per cent, making it the secondbiggest slice of the pie.
An increase in airfare revenues, led by more visitors arriving on local full-service carriers, helped a miscellaneous category - thatincludes local transportation and medical tourism - to grow by 21 per cent to $5.76 billion, forming the largest share of spending.
Visitor arrivals grew across almost all top 15 markets, with the biggest jumps coming from the US, Britain, India and Vietnam. More flights between some of these countries and Singapore and greater demand for travel to and within the Asia-Pacific contributed to this growth, STB said.
China remained the biggest source of visitors and tourist spending, with 3.4 million visitors spending $3.16 billion here from January to September. Nearly half of the spending was on shopping.
Indonesia and India also held on to their second and third places in tourist arrivals and spending.
The business events, hotel and cruise sectors all registered growth.
There was a 14 per cent increase in visitors for business travel, and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions for the first three quarters. They spent $3.4 billion, 10 per cent more than in 2017.
Gazetted hotel room revenue went up by 7.4 per cent to $4 billion, while the cruise industry continued its double-digit year-on-year growth. Passenger traffic rose 35 per cent to 1.87 million, a record high for the fourth year in a row, led by growth from the Indian market and new cruise offerings.
For this year, STB forecasts tourism receipts to grow by 1 to 3 per cent and visitor arrivals to be 18.7 million to 19.2 million, an increase of 1 to 4 per cent.
STB seeks "quality tourism" over quantity and is cautious of the country becoming "overly touristed", said Mr Tan.
"We are mindful to find a balance so that tourism does not create disamenities for our locals and add strain to our infrastructure."