Second record year for visitor arrivals, tourism spending: STB

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Notching new highs for the second consecutive year, 17.4 million tourists blew a record S$26.8 billion in the Republic last year.

And for the first time, China has overtaken Indonesia to become Singapore’s top source market for tourist arrivals, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in its year-in-review report on Monday (Feb 12).

New records were set last year for both tourism spend and visitor arrivals. Visitor arrivals were up about 6 per cent, whereas preliminary estimates showed tourism spend to be some 3.9 per cent higher than 2016. The increase in visitor spending is due mainly to growth in the number of visitors from the top 10 markets, said the STB.

China tourists led the charge, setting a new record with more than 3.2 million visitors here last year, a jump of 13 per cent from 2016’s figures. They now account for nearly one-fifth of all tourist arrivals.

Last year also saw China — Singapore’s second biggest tourist source market since 2003 — beating Indonesia off the top spot, a position it has occupied for 20 years.

Excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, Chinese tourists were also the top spenders for the third consecutive year. Preliminary estimates in tourism receipts from January to September last year showed that they shelled out more than S$3 billion here, with the bulk of it going to shopping.

China, alongside the United States and United Kingdom, registered the highest absolute growth, year-on-year, in tourism receipts excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, said the STB.

For China and the UK, which saw increases of 10 and 24 per cent respectively, that growth was attributed to a larger number of leisure travellers and higher spending on shopping.

As for the US, which notched an increase of 22 per cent, it was because of a larger number of business travellers coming to the Republic.

Generally, the STB noted that last year, tourists were spending more on shopping and sightseeing, gaming, and entertainment.

Spending for food and beverage, however, saw a drop of 5 per cent from 2016’s data for the first three quarters of the year. The STB attributed the dip to lower spend on fine dining, which offset growth in casual dining and hawker food.

Although Indonesia fell to second place last year for visitor arrivals, the 2.95 million visitors who came still represented an increase of 2 per cent over 2016.

Other noteworthy trends last year included Vietnam inching into Singapore’s top 10 markets for visitor arrivals for the first time, with a 13 per cent increase, year-on-year, to hit 531,000 visitors.

Australia visitor arrivals also saw growth for the first time since 2014, noted the STB, as it hit 1.08 million visitors, an increase of 5 per cent from 2016, in part buoyed by a realigned marketing focus towards Singapore as a family-friendly destination.

Tourist arrivals from Hong Kong, meanwhile, tumbled 13 per cent to hit 466,000, putting it out of the top 10 markets last year.

Across the various tourism industries, the STB noted strong growth in the cruise sector. Passenger throughput for last year grew 17 per cent, setting a new record with 1.38 million passengers.

In the Business Travel and Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions and Exhibitions (BTMice) sector, visitor arrivals for the first three quarters of last year saw a dip of 5 per cent, to hit 1.75 million arrivals. The STB attributed the dip to a general contraction in business travel, but noted that some of the Mice events still notched healthy growth last year.

Despite the drop, tourism receipts from BTMice, excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gambling, notched a 4 per cent growth in the same period, to S$3.15 million.

Commenting on the Republic’s strong tourism showing, STB’s Mr Yeo said: “The combined efforts of STB and our industry partners yielded strong results, against a context of better-than-expected global economic recovery, continued growth in Asia-Pacific travel and increased flight and cruise connectivity to Singapore.”

For the coming year, the STB is forecasting tourism receipts to hit between S$27.1 and S$27.6 billion, buoyed by a better global economic outlook, as well as a growth in Asia-Pacific tourism.

As for international visitor arrivals, the STB has set the target of between 17.6 and 18.1 million arrivals.

“STB will augment its marketing efforts and roll out more initiatives in destination attractiveness and industry competitiveness to stay on course for quality tourism growth,” the agency said on Monday.

Better air connectivity, marketing efforts and the Republic’s appeal as a safe and secure holiday destination are among the chief reasons for the large growth in China tourists, said tourism experts.

The common use of Mandarin and prescence of bilingual signages make Singapore “very Mainland Chinese-friendly”, said senior lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic’s Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management Shirley Tee.

To grow this market, Ms Tee said both the STB and industry players need to move towards “creating personalised, intimate experiences” to cater to changing travellers’ tastes, particularly the younger set.

Agreeing, Ngee Ann Polytechnic tourism lecturer Michael Chiam, added that the STB’s continual efforts to reach out to  and market the destination to more Chinese cities beyond the larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, would help sustain the momentum.

While China is an important source market, the STB will continue to “maintain a diversified source of markets” to “hedge the risks”, said STB assistant chief executive officer (International group) Chang Chee Pey.

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