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Local hotels expect festive boost

Meanwhile travel agents say sales are softer this year given the proximity to Christmas; those who choose to travel, opt for short-haul trips

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Visitors watching a light display at Sentosa. Resorts World Sentosa was among the properties that ran at full or close to full house over the Chinese New Year weekend.

Singapore

UNRUFFLED by a slower economy, local hotels and Chinese restaurants here are expecting brisk business this Lunar New Year.

Outbound travel, on the other hand, is a mixed bag as travel agents that The Business Timesspoke to report weaker to flat sales due to the festive season's proximity to the year-end holidays.

Properties such as Marina Bay Sands (MBS), Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), The Fullerton Hotel, The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Orchard Hotel and Royal Plaza on Scotts (RPS) are among those which ran at full or close to full house over the Chinese New Year weekend.

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MBS' 2,561-room hotel is experiencing "high demand" from locals and tourists alike, with limited rooms available.

"Restaurants continue to receive reunion dinner bookings while expecting numerous walk-ins during CNY (Chinese New Year)," said a spokesperson for MBS. Other restaurants such as Punjab Grill, Adrift and db Bistro & Oyster Bar are also serving up their own take on traditional Chinese fare. For instance, Italian restaurant Osteria Mozza is offering an Italian Riviera style Yu Sheng with seafood, topped off with cannoli.

"We anticipate being very busy this Lunar New Year, especially at The Shoppes," the spokesperson added. "The mall, which sees an average daily footfall of close to 130,000, enjoyed strong trading performance throughout CNY last year, and well above 20 per cent increase in sales on the first day of CNY (in 2016)."

A spokesperson for RWS told BT that its hotels are "fast reaching full occupancy", with guests coming in from around the region, especially China. China is usually a key source market of visitors for Singapore, followed by Indonesia.

Meanwhile, general manager of The Fullerton Heritage, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale said that both its Fullerton and Fullerton Bay properties are at full occupancy over the Lunar New Year weekend.

At Grand Park Orchard, bookings are on par with last year, while the first seating on Chinese New Year Eve for its Cantonese restaurant Mitzo has been fully booked since late December.

"As Chinese New Year is a long weekend, we observed an increase of Singaporeans booking with us for staycations as well," said David Lam, executive assistant manager (sales & marketing) of Grand Park Orchard.

"Despite the market sentiment, local guests are willing to spend more during Chinese New Year, including on staycations for a festive respite," seconded Amy Ang, director of marketing communications at Orchard Hotel. Its restaurant Hua Ting was fully booked for the Chinese New Year Eve dinner by July last year.

Similarly, other restaurants such as RPS' Carousel, Jade at the Fullerton and RWS' restaurants are seeing strong demand for key dates during the festive period.

Meanwhile, travel agents ASA Holidays and Dynasty Travel said that sales are softer this year as some would have taken trips over the Christmas and New Year period.

"As the upcoming CNY falls in January, which is too close to the year-end holidays, we do not see incremental sales for the holiday season - especially for long-haul destinations," said Alicia Seah, director of public relations for Dynasty Travel. Sales for the agency are down about five per cent year on year.

This year, travellers are opting for short-haul trips to Asian destinations and cruise holidays to destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Demand for short-haul trips are up 20 per cent this Chinese New Year, Ms Seah added.

ASA Holidays is seeing keen interest for its exclusive chartered flights and itineraries, which operates non-stop services to new destinations such as Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang province in China. "This year, we have more groups (going to China) as compared to other destinations," said ASA Holidays. "Our charter flights fly non-stop to destinations that the usual commercial flights do not fly."

For Chan Brothers Travel, however, bookings are on par with last year.

"With the strong Singapore dollar, regardless of a good or bad economy, there are generally always good travel offerings or forex savings to be mined for the prudent traveller," said a spokesperson for Chan Brothers, adding that the Chinese New Year holiday traditionally sees a 100 per cent to 200 per cent increase in demand over a regular weekend.

Over at Changi Airport, flight frequencies are being bumped up by some airlines on several routes to China during the festive period. Xiamen Airlines, for instance, is adding 60 additional services between Jan 21 and Feb 8, to cities including Xiamen, Fuzhou and Hangzhou. A number of airlines are also upgauging to bigger aircraft on popular routes - such as Shanghai and Guangzhou - to add capacity.

Last year, Changi's passenger traffic for Feb 5-11 was 5.4 per cent higher compared to the immediate seven-day period prior. (Chinese New Year fell on Feb 8 and 9 in 2016.)

According to travel data firm Sojern, Singapore travellers keen to hit the road were mainly eyeing destinations in Asia, with Penang topping the list. Other popular destinations were the usual suspects - Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur - as well as Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Russell Young, managing director for Sojern (Asia Pacific), added: "Singapore is seeing intent for trips in larger groups, with an 8 per cent increase for a party of three or more travellers compared to last year. Solo travellers are also on the decline."

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