SINGAPORE, Feb 27 — To help the hospitality and tourism-related businesses stay afloat during the Covid-19 outbreak, consumers who are not sick should still dine out, a representative of online travel firm Asia Expedia Group said.
“Go out, travel, eat,” Ang Choo Pin, the group’s senior director, said. “Right now is the time for plenty of very good deals.
“I’ve noticed that some of the best restaurants where it was hard to get a reservation for, it’s now getting easier.
“Singaporeans love staycations… and some hotels are offering great deals.”
His remarks were made during a panel discussion hosted by Singapore’s American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), which released a business survey on Wednesday showing that the travel and hospitality industries here have been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak the most.
Done between February 12 and 18 and opened to AmCham Singapore members in these industries, the online survey aimed to understand the outbreak’s impact on companies’ operations, the business environment in Singapore, and the outlook on the region.
Of the 225 firms that took the survey, 78 per cent of them reported that the coronavirus outbreak has had an extensive or moderate impact on their business operations — both within Singapore and the broader Asia-Pacific.
For those in the hospitality and travel sector, this figure was 88 per cent. The survey also found that half of those in this sector are expecting more than 20 per cent losses in revenue.
Analysts told TODAY earlier this month that Singapore’s tourism sector is likely to take a hit in the next six to eight months.
A fifth of the international visitors here are from China, and visitors who have travelled to China in the past 14 days are banned from entering Singapore during this period.
As of Wednesday, Singapore is the country with the fifth-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases outside China — after South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran.
The governments of India, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar and South Korea have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Singapore as well.
However, Ang of Asia Expedia Group is staying positive and hopeful that things will look up for these industries.
“One thing we have to bear in mind is that tourism has traditionally been a very resilient industry,” he said.
Referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 that was caused by a coronavirus, he recalled how the number of arrivals of tourists dropped to 4.7 million but went up to 7 million just two years later.
“That’s a 40 per cent increase and it rebounded to an extent that was even greater than pre-SARS, so I think it kind of tells you how this might go.”
Confidence in Singapore as business hub
The upside is that the AmCham survey showed that 98 per cent of the firms still have long-term confidence in Singapore as a business hub and destination.
A key reason for this is due to the government’s handling of the outbreak.
An overwhelming 97 per cent of the firms in the survey said that the government has been effective in communicating health and safety updates with regards to the outbreak, while 79 per cent of the firms said that the government has been effective in addressing the potential economic impact of this public health crisis.
Scenario planning for businesses
Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry who was present at the AmCham event, said during a dialogue session that there are three key scenarios Singapore could possibly face in the coming weeks and months.
The impact from the outbreak is sharp but there is a “very quick recovery”.
This was the case with SARS when the mortality rate was 10 per cent but the outbreak did not last long. The first infected patient landed in Singapore in March 2003 and the country was declared SARS-free in May by the World Health Organisation.
However, this scenario is unlikely because the Covid-19 coronavirus is infectious but the mortality is very low. Outside of China, less than one per cent of patients have died.
So this outbreak may last longer than one that has a very high mortality rate.
The virus takes some time to be eradicated.
Chan said: “We must be prepared that if need be, we must put in other measures to work with the businesses to overcome this crisis in a more prolonged time period that was originally envisaged.”
He also said that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has already given Singaporeans the assurance that the government is closely monitoring all measures in the next two to three months to see whether they should be adjusted according to the appropriate conditions and needs.
The virus mutates into something that causes symptoms similar to the seasonal flu, becoming endemic within the world’s population.
Singapore may then have to deal with the virus in a similar way that it would a common flu.
“And then we would then have to find ways to see how we can get back to normalcy (while still taking certain) precautions, Chan said, without elaborate on what these precautions would be.
He emphasised that at this point, it is still too premature to say which of the three scenarios will likely take place, but businesses should begin “mental preparations” by using these scenarios to best position themselves for recovery.
“For those of you who are familiar with the scenario-planning methodology, you will know that we are not trying to forecast which is the scenario.
“We are just trying to ask ourselves: If any of these three scenarios happen, are our businesses prepared to handle the consequences of that, and that is how we stress-test our business plan to see whether they are robust enough for the different scenarios.”
Strength in unity
A key point that Chan repeated a few times during the dialogue session was how businesses and Singaporeans need to band together as one.
“We have to do this together. Big businesses have to help the small businesses and we all have to help each other. We need to have a sense that we are all in this together.
“If the supply chain breaks, even if it’s the smallest part of it, it disrupts the entire supply chain.
“In Singapore, we must also distinguish ourselves that unlike places elsewhere, it is not a situation whereby it’s every man for his own. There’s a certain communitarian spirit in this, which is that we will get through this, we’ll get through this together as one. In order to do that, we have to help each other,” he said. — TODAY