Tourists give local businesses a big boost

Tourists spent $4.3 billion on shopping between January and September last year.
Tourists spent $4.3 billion on shopping between January and September last year.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Tourism spending was a silver lining for the struggling retail industry last year.

Tourists spent $4.3 billion on shopping between January and September. That is nearly 50 per cent more than in the same period in 2015, according to figures released yesterday by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

And local businesses are benefiting. These visitors are turning to "mass market" goods such as confectionery, gifts and souvenirs, and fashion and accessories, as opposed to globally available luxury items, STB said.

One shop that has been pulling in the crowds is local souvenir shop Supermama.

"Souvenir" brings to mind run- of-the mill keychains and magnets, but the shop, which opened in 2011, sells nothing of that sort.


Instead, stocked at its four outlets are Singapore-themed porcelain items, with designs such as the HDB corridor and tembusu tree.

Founder Lee Meiling said today's savvier tourists avoid the "usually tacky souvenirs created to get a quick buck from the tourist".

"The visuals are designed by local Singapore designers telling very local aspects of the Singapore culture and lifestyle,"she said.

Some items come with a write-up on the Singapore icons they feature. Tourist sales make up between 20 per cent and 35 per cent of sales, an increase from the 15 per cent two years ago, added Ms Lee.

Explaining visitors' interest in home-grown brands, deputy chief executive of STB Melissa Ow said during a press briefing yesterday: "People want to have some affinity with the destination, so something that is going to be intrinsic and unique, and speaks to the attributes of the destination will, I think, continue to have a lot of value among our visitors."

Another retail store, Megafash, which carries more than 600 independent local brands, has also gained traction among tourists, which comes as a bit of a surprise to the company, as it did not target this group.

Items sold by the outfit include plates that are designed with recipes for local dishes such as nasi lemak, "rainbow agar agar" doorstops, and T-shirts with Singlish phrases.

Several of its six stores are near tourist areas. The outlet in Tanjong Pagar shopping mall 100AM, for example, is next to a hotel.

The Farm Store - which sells items such as chilli-crab aprons and supplies these items to other shops, including Megafash, Naiise and Tangs at Tangs Plaza - has seen a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in tourists looking for "uniquely Singapore" souvenirs.

Head of retail and marketing at Singapore Polytechnic's business school Amos Tan said such Singapore brands tend to do well because consumers are looking for novelty.

"Consumers today, they have been there, done that, travelled all over, and seen the global brands elsewhere. So they look for something that is truly Singaporean, and these shops offer them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Tourists give local businesses a big boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe