COVID-19 has hit the tourism industry hard.
Singapore got off to a strong start into the new year with 1.69 million visitors in January – an increase from 1.62 million in the same month last year.
However, with travel restrictions in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the numbers have dropped 99 percent in recent months from a year earlier.
"As we are a small country and do not have the advantage of domestic travel, we are now trying to encourage Singaporeans to visit some of our local tourist attractions," said Chaly Mah, chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on the sidelines of the Singapore summit in July.
In other words, Singapore is trying to make up some of the tourism revenue deficit by turning to domestic tourism.
S $ 320 million in "tourism loans" for S & # 39; poreans
Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that S $ 320 million would be made available for "tourism loans".
They are known as SingapoRediscovers Coupons and are aimed at boosting local domestic travel spending.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MTI) recently announced that Singaporeans aged 18 and over will receive digital vouchers worth S $ 100 each this year.
The SingapoRediscovers vouchers come in denominations of $ 10 and can be used at all licensed hotels, attractions and local tours from operators approved by STB.
It will be accessible via SingPass from December and can be used to balance ticket purchases and hotel stays until the end of June next year.
These coupons complement SingapoRediscovers' S $ 45 million marketing campaign launched in July to encourage locals to vacation home and support local businesses as COVID-19 keeps borders closed.
The hope is that Singaporeans will invest a fraction of the S $ 34 billion they spent on international travel in 2018 in the domestic market.
Hotel stays, attractions that are likely to be popular choices
These tourism vouchers will undoubtedly give locals an incentive to rediscover their backyard, but how much will that help kickstart the ailing tourism industry?
Lee Richards, Vice President of Operations (SEA) for Millennium Hotels and Resorts, is confident that this will have a "positive" impact on tourism.
Some of their hotels such as Orchard Hotel and M Social have already seen increased interest in their room packages since they opened doors to the public.
Samuel Tay, founder of Ax Throwing Range Ax Factor, agrees with Lee's assessment, adding that Singaporeans are most likely to spend the vouchers on stays and local attractions.
Ax Throws at Ax Factor / Image Credit: Klook
“Staycation is one thing that Singaporeans, especially Millennials, would love. It's like a short getaway for them, ”he argued.
“Attractions would be next in line because people are more interested in buying experiences than material things these days. With these vouchers, you have the opportunity to reduce the costs of activities and stays. "
For the local boutique hotel Lloyd & # 39; s Inn you have seen many Singaporeans who stayed in their hotel for "stays and workcations".
I think (the SingapoRediscover coupons) are a great initiative and campaign to help raise awareness of Singapore mini getaways and support domestic tourism spending (and support consumption for the economy).
– Joan Chang, director and co-founder of Lloyd & # 39; s Inn
Interior of the hotel room / Photo credit: Lloyd & # 39; s Inn
She added that the staycation market will benefit most from this initiative as it "helps cut the price of a hotel (stay) by S $ 100, which matters".
"And since Singaporeans can't travel, they want a place where they can easily escape or do their work outside of their home."
Samuel also noted that this initiative not only boosts the tourism industry, but also helps relieve some Singaporeans who need some form of relaxation during such troubled times.
Not all of us have the purchasing power we had before the pandemic, but we all need some form of entertainment to get through the stressful days.
– Samuel Tay, founder of Ax Factor
Local tour operator One of the hardest hit in this sector
Commenting on the SingapoRediscover vouchers, Stanley Foo, founder of Oriental Travel and Tours, believes the S $ 320 million investment will not materially impact the tourism industry.
S $ 320 million is a small amount when you consider that the industry has been badly affected since March this year. If you want to spread the S $ 320 million over several months, the amount is simply insignificant.
Although the amount is small, it is still better than none.
– Stanley Foo, founder of Oriental Travel and Tours
His company was badly hit by the pandemic as it lost all of its revenue previously from overseas tourists.
"Now we can only rely on the locals to take part in our tours," he complained.
While he agrees that hotels will likely benefit the most from this voucher, he notes that "S $ 100 is not a lot of money in the tourism context".
"When a couple combines their vouchers, S $ 200 is not enough to pay for a single hotel night," he said.
With most tour packages costing less than S $ 100, he remains optimistic that Singaporeans will use the vouchers for local tours and that those sales would increase.
Creepy Tales Of Singapore Tour / Photo credit: Klook
Currently, the company's offering includes the Creepy Tales Of Singapore paranormal activity tour, as well as tours to Pulau Ubin.
While they offer many tours, most are designed for tourists. As such, they are currently working on curating several unique tours to appeal to the Singaporeans once they receive their vouchers in December.
How the players in the tourism industry deal with COVID-19
With the drop in overseas attendance, Lee admits it was definitely a challenging time.
However, this is also an opportunity to re-examine the future of hospitality as we adapt to technology and reinvent new sources of income to connect with our guests.
One such example is the common room offered by the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel. (Since) restaurants operate at lower capacity due to social distancing measures, we decided to redesign the hotel's dining room to create a new offering that has received positive feedback.
– Lee Richards, Vice President of Operations (SEA), Millennium Hotels and Resorts
Work from the hotel / Photo credit: Millennium Hotels
When they launched on September 18, they got about 40 requests and the S $ 88 promotion for the Grand Millennium package was completely sold out in three days.
Since it will be some time before vacation travel resumes, he emphasized that the domestic market is at the fore, so hoteliers need to come up with new ideas that Singaporeans can appeal to.
On the one hand, M Social has brought out special interest-oriented packages for guests who like to learn a new trade, e.g. B. Prepare cocktails or create your own perfume.
According to Lee, these packages have seen strong acceptance as both hotels are almost full on weekends.
"Singapore may be small, but we have a lot of offers that rival vacation destinations," said Lee, adding that he is confident that the SingapoRediscover campaign will revive domestic travel.
Reporting on the business challenges COVID-19 posed, Samuel said his ax throwing area was unable to accommodate corporate bookings, which accounted for 50 to 60 percent of their pre-pandemic revenue.
“In addition, due to security measures, there are only a limited number of customers who can be at our venue at any time. This resulted in fewer bookings per hour (which resulted in lower revenue). "
The silver lining of the pandemic, however, is that the travel ban has led Singaporeans to look for local activity that has helped boost their bookings.
With this new initiative, he expects an additional increase in bookings of 20 percent – "if we manage to be listed as one of the providers for the campaign," he added.
Selected Image Source: Roslan Rahman via AFP