Tourism and related industries badly hit by coronavirus crisis
Projected 30% fall in visitor arrivals this year worse than during Sars in 2003, says tourism board chief
Singapore's lucrative tourism industry has hit tough times as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread across the globe.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has projected a 25 to 30 per cent drop in visitor arrivals this year - steeper than the 19 per cent during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003.
STB chief executive Keith Tan said at its annual year-in-review briefing yesterday: "At this point, we estimate that every day, we lose an average of 18,000 to 20,000 international visitor arrivals to Singapore."
The sector is already feeling the effects from the loss of visitors from China, which STB said accounts for around 20 per cent of Singapore's total international visitor arrivals, amounting to about 3.6 million visitors last year.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in the city of Wuhan at the end of last year, and the death toll in China has since surpassed 1,000 with at least 42,500 infected.
Singapore's Health Ministry last night confirmed two new cases - a 35-year-old male permanent resident who works at Resorts World Sentosa Casino and a 39-year-old male Bangladeshi work pass holder.
STB's Mr Tan said: "We believe that the situation this year will be at least as severe as Sars, and probably worse."
While Singapore is now more prepared and resilient, several unknowns make it difficult to forecast how the outbreak will play out.
With this in mind, STB is preparing for a slower recovery than Sars, which took close to a year to bounce back from.
While visitor arrivals from STB's other key markets are expected to fall, Mr Tan said: "We see no reason for other countries to have travel advisories on Singapore - we're very confident in the measures the Government has in place to contain the cases here."
South Korea and Israel have told their citizens to defer travel to Singapore, while Indonesia and Taiwan have recommended that precautions be taken when visiting the island.
Travel advisories have also been issued by Kuwait and Qatar for Singapore.
Despite difficulties ahead, Mr Tan is confident there will be no long-term effects, and STB does not plan to push back tourism projects.
A task force comprising tourism leaders from private and public sectors will be set up to lay out strategies for recovery and future growth.
The STB added that it will continue to enhance Singapore's destination attractiveness, with work progressing on the Mandai Nature Precinct, the Jurong Lake District, the Sentosa-Brani masterplan, the rejuvenation of Orchard Road, and the expansion of the Integrated Resorts.
In the meantime, many tourism-related businesses are bracing themselves for the expected slowdown.
A Sentosa Development Corporation spokesman told The New Paper that the island has seen a 20 to 50 per cent drop in visitors and business.
Mr Benjamin Tan, Deputy CEO for Commercial at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said that while the ban on visitors with recent travel history to China is understandable, it had affected its attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari.
Noting that more countries are issuing advisories against non-essential travel to Singapore, he said: "We are facing an uncertain period of disruption."
Mr Kevin Cheong, an exco member of the Association of Singapore Attractions, told TNP: "In the first 10 days of Chinese New Year, some attractions experienced a drop of 60 per cent in visitorship. We need to anticipate further decline."
With hotels and the hospitality industry also taking a hit, experts predict the industry will take some time to recover even if the outbreak situation improves soon.
Mr Chew Kian Beng, Course Chair, Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, School of Business, Temasek Polytechnic, told TNP: "Many industries could be affected by this downturn. Relief measures by the Government would help them in the short term."
During the Sars outbreak, the Government provided a $230 million relief package to help affected businesses.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has also said there will be targeted help for the transport and tourism sectors on top of broader measures to address the wider economic slowdown in the Budget, which he will deliver in Parliament next Tuesday.
Mr Kevin Wee, senior lecturer, School of Business Management, Nanyang Polytechnic, said the reason for the steeper drop in visitor numbers compared with the Sars period is the huge increase in tourists from China since then.
He added: "As in the case of Sars, fear was the bigger threat than the virus itself. The best thing we can do is to stay strong and resilient together.
"We can do our part by carrying on activities as best as we can and show the rest of the world that the country is functioning normally."
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