SINGAPORE, July 17 — The first official figures on how the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the tourism industry showed international visitor arrivals plummeted 43.2 per cent to 2.7 million in the first three months of 2020 compared with the same period last year — with worse pain ahead.
The data, released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) today, also showed that tourism receipts slumped 39 per cent to S$4 billion in the first quarter. Shopping expenditure saw the sharpest drop, diving by 52 per cent to S$656 million.
According to statistics up till May, released on STB’s website, an even harsher impact is expected in the second quarter ending June 30 as only 750 and 880 visitors arrived in April and May respectively. Singapore entered a partial lockdown from April 7 to June 1.
The data showed that visitor arrivals in January were in line with usual figures, dipping only slightly from 1.72 million in December 2019 to 1.69 million, before arrival numbers dived to about 733,000 in February and 240,000 in March.
The drastic drop in February was caused by a ban on travellers who had recently been to China from entering Singapore from Feb 1 as the authorities moved to curb the number of imported cases of the novel coronavirus after they confirmed the first case here on Jan 23.
This measure cut off mainland Chinese visitors who had previously accounted for around 20 per cent of international visitors — the leading source of visitors to the city-state.
More travel restrictions were imposed in March, such that travellers entering Singapore with recent travel history to countries including the Asean countries, Japan and the United Kingdom were issued with a 14-day stay-home notice.
Chinese visitors still spent the most in Q1
With the travel ban, Indonesia became the top source of visitors to the Republic with 443,000 Indonesians arriving in the first quarter of 2020, as the drop in visitors from the neighbouring country — 39 per cent — was less acute than the 65 per cent drop in Chinese visitors.
But despite numbering only 337,000 in the first quarter of the year, Chinese visitors still emerged as the biggest spenders.
Excluding their expenditure on sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, a component which the STB left out of country analysis owing to the commercial sensitivity of such information, mainland Chinese contributed S$471 million in tourism receipts.
They spent disproportionately more on shopping, at 40 per cent of their overall spending. Visitors to Singapore in general spent 21 per cent on shopping.
Together with Indonesian tourists who collectively spent S$421 million and Indian tourists who collectively spent S$238 million, Singapore’s top three markets contributed to more than a third of the tourism receipts.
The other top markets for Singapore included Australia, Japan, the United States, the UK, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Those countries contributed between S$97 million and S$225 million to tourism receipts.
Meanwhile, gazetted hotel room revenue for the first quarter of the year totalled S$687.3 million, which is a 30.9 per cent drop from the same period last year.
Average occupancy rate dropped by 27.2 percentage points to 58.6 per cent, while average room rate declined 1.2 per cent to S$215, resulting in a 32.5 per cent decline in revenue per available room to reach S$126.
What experts think
In response to questions from TODAY, Christopher Khoo, the managing director of international tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services, said that the drastic drop in both tourist numbers and receipts was expected, and that it was “in line with world trends”.
He added that the second quarter should see a greater drop in figures.
“We had a good (number of tourists in) January, which is why the drop in tourists during the first quarter will not be as bad as the second quarter of this year,” Khoo said.
When asked how long it would take for Singapore to see an increase in tourist numbers again, Khoo replied that the easing of border restrictions between countries would need to happen first.
He also said that it is difficult to predict when borders between countries will be reopened given that the world is still in the middle of a pandemic.
Khoo said: “There might be a second wave in certain countries, which might continue to come into play and wreak havoc on policy makers, Singapore does not want to import any cases.”
However, he is optimistic that the country’s tourism sector will recover once these border restrictions ease, adding that he is confident that Singapore would be “one of the first few countries to come out strongly” from the crisis.
“Our airports, attractions and hotels have been very proactive in putting in place Covid-19 safety measures. Safety has always been very high and will be coming up very strongly in terms of factors people consider when they visit a country,” he said. — TODAY