Sunday, 29 April 2012

More tourists coming... and splurging

Tourism spending rose by 18%, outstripping growth in arrivals, and analysts hail this trend
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

THE drive here to get tourists to splurge is paying off.

Those who came here last year spent $22.3 billion, 18 per cent more than the year before.

Typically, 60 per cent of this expenditure goes into shopping, accommodation, sightseeing and entertainment, of which gaming is a part.

That visitor numbers went up by less - 13 per cent - means Singapore welcomed more of those who were prepared to blow money in their time here.

Giving its annual round-up of figures yesterday, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced that 13.2 million tourists turned up here last year, pipping the year's forecast of 12 million to 13 million.

Industry watchers hail the trend of total spending outstripping the growth in tourist arrivals, saying it bodes well for the continued health of tourism here.

Mr Robert Khoo, chief executive of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), said it is a sound strategy to pitch Singapore as a destination for those with deeper pockets, given Singapore's 'physical constraints'.

'There's a limit, for instance, to how many more hotels we can build or how many more tours we can run or how many more tour coaches we can have on our roads,' he said.

He added that such constraints set Singapore apart from neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, which are far larger countries.

'They have plenty of land to keep building and building, so for them, it's about driving the number of visitors up.'

Apart from spending patterns, the STB's report also highlighted key developments among hotels and in the sector for business travel, meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (BTMice).

Hotels had a bumper year, making $2.6 billion in room revenue, which was 28 per cent higher than in 2010.

They enjoyed an average occupancy rate of 86 per cent. The average room rate was $245 a night, 13 per cent higher than last year's.

Mr Khoo expects average room rates here to come down, with the launch of several three- and four-star and boutique hotels in the coming years.

This will help some of Natas' industry members who run group tours; they have been finding it tough to promote Singapore because hotel rooms here cost more than in nearby countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, he said.

Last year was also a banner year for the BTMice sector; the number of conventions, conferences and trade shows shot up by 46 per cent, underscoring Singapore's standing as a leading destination for global meetings and a hub for innovation and thought leaders, the STB said.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic tourism lecturer Michael Chiam predicts that, with new attractions coming up, the sector will continue to grow in the next few years.

'Beyond that, I expect growth to slow and hover at 8 to 10 per cent.'

This year will see two new mega attractions for tourists.

One is the River Safari in Mandai, a 12ha river-themed park that will transport visitors to eight major river systems, including India's Ganges and China's Yangtze; the other is Gardens by the Bay, a complex of three waterfront gardens in Marina Bay.

Mr Chiam said that if Singapore is to grow visitor numbers and tourism revenue, it must explore new markets and offer repeat visitors new experiences.

He cited the Middle East and Russia as markets Singapore could woo.

Mr Khoo added another item to Singapore's 'to do' list, apart from giving visitors more to see and do, and that is to work on the 'software'.

He said: 'When it comes to service levels for example, we're still lacking, compared to, say, Thailand, where giving good service seems to come naturally to the people there. Visitors will come if we give them a good experience overall.'

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