WITH headwinds continuing to exert pressure on the local tourism industry, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is launching a S$20 million global marketing campaign to boost visitors arrivals, in a year when arrivals and tourist spend are both expected to post flat-to-modest growth.
Visitor arrivals are expected to languish in the 15.1-15.5 million range this year, and tourism receipts, at S$23.5-24 billion. These figures represent a far more muted pace of growth than in past years. In the decade between 2005 and last year, visitor numbers surged 70 per cent to 15.1 million, and tourism revenue more than doubled to S$23.6 billion.
S Isawaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, speaking at the annual Tourism Industry Conference on Tuesday, said: "With an uncertain global economic environment, intensifying regional competition and a relatively strong Singapore dollar, challenges will persist in the near term."
Already, for the first two months of this year, there has been a 5 per cent decline in arrivals, translating to 2.4 million visitors.
Singapore received 15.1 million visitors last year, down 3 per cent year on year, as volumes from key source markets waned.
In contrast, countries in the region such as South Korea and Japan reported tourist volumes expanding by 17 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
But despite the drop in arrivals in Singapore, tourism spend held steady at S$23.6 billion last year, suggesting that the national drive to attract higher-yield visitors was paying off.
Another bright spot was that travellers from markets supplying some of the biggest streams of visitors, such as China and Australia, also appeared to be staying longer.
STB chief Lionel Yeo, citing growth segments such as incentive travel, the cruise industry and educational travel, said: "There are growth opportunities for us, but we need to seize them by raising our game and gearing up for growth.
"We must uplift our value proposition, innovate and transform ourselves to rise above the competition. It cannot be business as usual."
To lift the industry out of a business-as-usual mode, a S$20 million worldwide marketing campaign will be launched in May - just in time for the Great Singapore Sale. This drive will target key and growth markets such as Indonesia, China, India, Korea and Japan. This Golden Jubilee year initiative will dangle airline and hotel offers as well as retail, food and beverage (F&B) deals and special tour itineraries in Singapore.
Activities to be promoted under the campaign include extending Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road for another six months, until December. The pilot programme, under which Singapore's main shopping street is closed off to traffic one Saturday a month, has racked up footfalls of more than 50,000 for each Pedestrian Night so far - double the number of people on a typical Saturday.
Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) executive director Steven Goh said that future editions of Pedestrian Night could introduce more in-mall activities so retailers and establishments in the area can ring up more sales; longer shopping hours could also be introduced in selected shopping malls along the strip.
In his speech at the conference, STB's Mr Yeo called on industry stakeholders to tighten business processes, raise their value proposition through innovative products and services and to leverage technology to attract today's discerning traveller. This is especially important, given the factors shaping the operating environment for Singapore-based businesses, such as a tight labour market and high operating costs.
Meanwhile, the STB has set aside S$30 million under the Tourism Development Fund to support events that raise Singapore's appeal to tourists.
In addition, efforts by businesses to introduce programmes to boost productivity will be eligible for support under the enhanced Business Improvement Fund. Replacing the existing Business Improvement and the Tourism Technology funds, the new fund will not only cover a more diverse range of initiatives, but will also provide 70 per cent in funding support for small and medium-sized enterprises, up from 50 per cent now.
Hotel group Millennium & Copthorne (M&C) International, which has embarked on projects to boost productivity, is among the businesses looking to tap the enhanced Business Improvement Fund.
Bhupesh Yadav, its chief business and administration officer, said: "One of the areas we want to use the enhanced fund is in product improvement. At our hotel, the Grand Copthorne, we're looking at bringing all our F&B offerings to the lobby level."
Consolidating F&B from other parts of the hotel on the lobby level will enable the staff to work more efficiently; guests will consequently get to enjoy a better dining experience along the riverfront.
In addition, the space vacated by the F&B outlets on upper floors could be turned into new venues for events.
Mr Yadav said product changes are normally the most expensive to do, so some funding could help hotels implement these more swiftly.
The hotel group is also looking into raising productivity such as by re-engineering its front-office processes to use manpower more effectively; it has also introduced e-learning in the training of its employees.