Singapore braces for 30% tourism drop after virus outbreak

A woman wearing a protective mask rides an escalator connected to the Orchard MRT station in Singapore


Singapore could see a 25% to 30% decline in tourist arrivals and spending this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, as the industry braces for a worse impact than the 2003 SARS pandemic, the city’s tourism chief said.
The city-state is losing about 18,000 to 20,000 tourists a day, and the figures could plummet further if the situation persists for longer, Keith Tan, chief executive of Singapore Tourism Board, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
“The main cry that I’m hearing is ‘help’ right now from the entire tourism industry,” Tan said. “There’s lots of anecdotal evidence of business drying up, but that’s not surprising given how much China contributes to our visitor arrivals.”
China accounts for about 20% of Singapore’s tourism intake, the biggest source of visitors ahead of Indonesia and India. China’s ban on outbound tour groups and Singapore’s move to bar Chinese nationals from entering has led to an “evaporation” of a key source of revenue, Tan said.
“We have over 1,600 tourist guides who guide in Mandarin and their livelihoods have also evaporated because many of them are freelancers,” said Tan. Tourists from other countries are also deferring visits to Singapore and other parts of Asia amid the outbreak.
South Korea and Kuwait have both advised citizens to minimize or delay travel to Singapore, as well as travel to some other countries in the region.
Singapore isn’t the only nation reeling from the coronavirus. Across the globe, hotels, casinos, airlines and retailers who have come to rely on Chinese tourists have been hit. About 163 million Chinese tourists made overseas trips in 2018, accounting for more than 30% of travel spending worldwide.
For the city-state, though, its 2020 tourism projections stand in stark contrast to last year’s record arrivals of 19.1 million. Tourism receipts rose to S$27.1 billion ($19.5 billion) in 2019 based on preliminary estimates, from SGD26.9 billion the year before.
But in a report last week, DBS Group Holdings Ltd. said it sees a decline of 1 million tourists, equal to about a SGD1 billion loss in spending, for every three months the travel bans are in place. The lower arrivals will cut about 0.5% off Singapore’s full-year GDP growth, the bank added.
Cost-cutting measures have already been put in place by Singapore’s hospitality sector, such as getting some workers to clear leave or go on a four-day work week, Charles Tan, secretary-general of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, said at a media briefing yesterday.
The Singapore Tourism Board will also form a Tourism Recovery Action Taskforce, comprising tourism leaders from public and private sectors to help with recovery efforts. That’s similar to the action taken during SARS, when tourist arrivals declined by 18% to 19%. Faris Mokhtar & Haslinda Amin, Bloomberg

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