COVID-19 has made a hard-hitting impact on the tourism industry.

Singapore started off the year strong with 1.69 million visitors in January — an increase from 1.62 million the same month a year ago.

However, as travel restrictions were imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, numbers plunged about 99 per cent year-on-year in recent months.

“Given that we are a small country and we don’t have the benefit of domestic travel, what we are trying to do now is 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 shortfall in tourism revenue by turning to domestic tourism.

S$320M Worth Of “Tourism Credits” For S’poreans

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that S$320 million will be set aside for “tourism credits”.

Called SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, they aim to drive local spending in domestic travel.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) recently shared that Singaporeans aged 18 and above this year will each receive S$100 in digital vouchers.

The SingapoRediscovers Vouchers will come in denominations of $10, and can be used at all licensed hotels, leisure attractions and for local tours by operators that are approved by STB.

It will be accessible via SingPass from December and can be used to offset ticket purchases and hotel stays through the end of June next year.

These vouchers complement the S$45 million SingapoRediscovers marketing campaign, launched in July to encourage locals to holiday at home and support local businesses as COVID-19 keeps borders closed.

The hope is that Singaporeans will inject a fraction of the S$34 billion they spent on international travel in 2018 into the domestic market.

Hotel Stays, Attractions Likely To Be Popular Choices

These tourism vouchers undoubtedly give locals an incentive to rediscover their backyard, but to what extent will it help boost the ailing tourism industry?

Richards Lee, Vice President of Operations (SEA) of Millennium Hotels and Resorts, is confident that it will have a “positive impact” on tourism.

Some of their hotels like Orchard Hotel and M Social have already seen an increased interest in their staycation packages since they opened doors to the public.

Samuel Tay, founder of axe-throwing range Axe Factor, echoes Richards’ sentiment, adding that Singaporeans will most likely spend the vouchers on staycations and local attractions.

Axe throwing at Axe Factor / Image Credit: Klook

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Axe throwing at Axe Factor / Image Credit: Klook

“Staycation is one thing that Singaporeans, especially the millennials, would love. It’s like a small getaway for them,” he reasoned.

“Attractions would be the next in line, as nowadays people are more into buying experiences than material stuff. So with these vouchers, it will give them an opportunity to lower the cost of the activities and stays.”

For homegrown boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn, they have observed many Singaporeans staying at their hotel for “staycations and workcations”.

I think (the SingapoRediscover vouchers) is a great initiative and campaign to raise awareness of a getaway in Singapore, and to aid spending in domestic tourism (and) help spending consumption for the economy.

– Joan Chang, director and co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn

a bedroom with a large bed in a room: Hotel room interior / Image Credit: Lloyd’s Inn

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Hotel room interior / Image Credit: Lloyd’s Inn

She added that the staycation market will benefit most from this initiative as it “helps to waive the rate of a hotel (stay) by S$100, which is significant”.

“And not being able to travel, Singaporeans want somewhere they can just escape or do their work outside the comfort of their home.”

Samuel also noted that beyond boosting the tourism industry, this initiative helps lighten the load on some Singaporeans who are in need of some form of relaxation during such trying times.

Not all of us have the spending power we used to have pre-pandemic, but all of us need to have some form of entertainment to get us through the stressful days.

– Samuel Tay, founder of Axe Factor

Local Tour Operators One Of The Hardest-Hit In This Sector

Commenting on the SingapoRediscover vouchers, Stanley Foo, founder of Oriental Travel and Tours, feels that the S$320 million investment will not significantly impact the tourism industry.

S$320 million is a small amount, considering (that) the industry has been badly affected since March this year. If one is to spread out the S$320 million over several months, the amount is simply insignificant.

However, although the amount is small, it is still better than none.

– Stanley Foo, founder of Oriental Travel and Tours

His company has been badly hit by the pandemic as they have lost all income that were previously derived from overseas tourists.

“We can only depend on locals to attend our tours now,” he lamented.

While he agrees that hotels will probably benefit the most from this voucher, he finds that “S$100 is not a lot of money in the context of tourism.”

“If a couple combined their vouchers, the S$200 is not enough to even pay for a single night stay in a hotel,” he explained.

Since most tour packages cost under S$100, he remains optimistic that Singaporeans will utilise the vouchers for local tours and that there would be an increase in such sales.

a group of people standing around a fire: Creepy Tales Of Singapore tour / Image Credit: Klook

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Creepy Tales Of Singapore tour / Image Credit: Klook

Currently, the company’s offerings include its Creepy Tales Of Singapore paranormal activity tour, as well as tours to Pulau Ubin. 

While they offer many tours, most of them are designed for tourists so they are now working on curating several unique tours to appeal to Singaporeans once they receive their vouchers in December.

How Tourism Industry Players Are Coping With COVID-19

With the decline in foreign visitorship, Richards admits that it has definitely been a challenging period.

However, this is also an opportunity to relook the future of hospitality by adapting to technology and reinventing new revenue streams to engage with our guests.

One such example is the co-working space offered by Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel. (Since) restaurants (run) at lower capacity due to social distancing measures, we decided to revamp the hotel’s dining space to create a new offering that has seen positive response.

– Richards Lee, Vice President of Operations (SEA), Millennium Hotels and Resorts 

a group of people sitting at a table: Work from hotel / Image Credit: Millennium Hotels

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Work from hotel / Image Credit: Millennium Hotels

When they launched on 18 September, they received about 40 enquiries and the S$88 promotion for Grand Millennium package was fully sold out within three days.

As leisure travel will take some time to pick up for now, he stressed that the domestic market is the main focus so hoteliers need to think up of fresh ideas that can appeal to Singaporeans.

M Social, for one, has launched special interest-centric packages for guests who enjoy learning a new craft such as making cocktails or creating their own perfume.

According to Richards, these packages have seen strong take-up rates with both hotels running at almost full house on weekends.

“Singapore may be small, but we have many offerings that can rival holiday destinations,” said Richards, adding that he is confident that the SingapoRediscover campaign will revitalise domestic travel.

Sharing about the business challenges brought about by COVID-19, Samuel said his axe-throwing range has been unable to take in corporate bookings, which took up 50 to 60 per cent of their revenues pre-pandemic.

“On top of that, due to safe-distancing measures, there’s only a limited number of customers who can be in our venue at all times. This led to lesser bookings per hour, (which caused) lower revenues as well.”

However, the silver lining of the pandemic is that the travel ban has led Singaporeans to look for local activities, which have helped pushed their bookings.

With this new initiative, he expects an additional increase of 20 per cent in terms of bookings — “if we manage to be listed as one of the vendors for the campaign,” he added.

Featured Image Credit: Roslan Rahman via AFP