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Singapore keeps 2015 tourism forecast, brushing off weak first half

Changi Airport on Aug 10 2015.

[SINGAPORE] Singapore is sticking to its forecast for more than 15 million visitor arrivals this year, encouraged by a spurt in travellers from China and India in July, the head of its tourism board said, despite a subdued first half.

The city-state, which is preparing for the eighth edition of its annual Formula One weekend frenzy under a pall of smoke from fires in neighbouring Indonesia, last year posted the first fall in visitor arrivals since 2009 and missed its own estimate.

For 2015, it expects 15.1-15.5 million travellers, or flat to a 3 per cent rise. "That's something we are still on target to achieve," Lionel Yeo, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, told Reuters in an interview. "We are somewhat hopeful that we have turned a corner," he said ahead of the marquee race that helps pull in average tourism receipts of S$150 million.

July arrivals rose 7.7 per cent, but were still down 1.7 per cent in the first seven months.

Singapore, named Lonely Planet's 2015 top travel destination, has over the years built itself into a tourist destination famous for its glitzy malls, street food, casinos and the night street race.

While tumbling local currencies have hit vacationers from Indonesia, its biggest market, and Malaysia, efforts to promote Singapore in smaller Indian and Chinese cities are paying off.

Chinese travellers picked up pace after falling last year for the first time since two casinos were opened in Singapore in 2010. Visitor arrivals have risen about 56 per cent from 2009-end to last year.

Mr Yeo said Singapore was comfortable with a moderate annual growth rate of 3-4 per cent over the medium term.

Tourism contributes 4 per cent to Singapore's economic output, which is forecast by economists to see the weakest expansion since 2009.

Falling tourism has hurt January-July room rates, which dipped 5.5 per cent.

Average revenue per available room (RevPar) was S$205, with the key industry measure poised for its lowest showing since 2010. Room rates are expected to continue to fall, hurting the outlook for hospitality real estate investment trusts.

"We expect there to be negative pressure on RevPar, particularly for the Singapore assets of hospitality REITs over the next one to two years," said Hasira De Silva, a director at Fitch Ratings in Singapore.

Hotel room supply is set to grow about 20 per cent by 2018.