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Lingering haze casts pall on businesses

Local events are also disrupted, with outdoor attractions hit hardest; business costs forecast to mount if haze stretches to end-October

Sales at the Singapore Flyer dropped slightly last month due to the haze, with walk-in ticket sales affected most. The number of visitors to Sentosa has fallen 20 per cent since the haze started acting up.


THE prolonged haze continues to disrupt businesses and events in Singapore as visitorship to attractions declines and events are cancelled, leaving firms still counting the costs.

Over the weekend, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) remained largely in the unhealthy range of 101-200, while the three-hour PSI crossed the "200" threshold on Saturday afternoon. This prompted organisers to cancel the Saturday evening finals of the Fina Swimming World Cup in Singapore.

According to Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA), early estimates suggest a 5-10 per cent drop in visitorship across the board at its members' attractions. One outdoor attraction has seen numbers plunge by up to 40 per cent.

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"If the haze continues, we're expecting cancellations or diversion of traffic from overseas," said Mr Cheong.

The hardest hit are outdoor attractions as some tour groups tweak their itineraries to opt for indoor attractions instead, such as the local museums or Madame Tussauds.

While October isn't a peak period for inbound tourism, business costs will mount if the haze stretches to end-October, Mr Cheong added. He expects a rise in medical costs as staff - especially those stationed outdoors - have been falling ill more frequently.

Most of ASA's members have set up a designated room for customers and staff to rest, while employees are being given more frequent water breaks and rest breaks.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun reckons the extent of the damage on the tourism industry hinges on how protracted the haze is.

"The longer this carries on, the larger the impact will be," he said. "The challenge for the sector, even without the (haze), is that arrivals from the region were already down."

Tourist arrivals dipped nearly 2 per cent year on year to 8.78 million in the first seven months, based on preliminary data from the Singapore Tourism Board, thanks to the strong Singapore dollar and a slowdown in China's economy. Source markets which registered a decline in tourist volumes include Indonesia (-11 per cent), Russia (-32 per cent) and Malaysia (-4 per cent).

Mr Song estimates potential a revenue loss of between S$400 and S$500 a day from every tourist that decides to eschew the country for cleaner pastures.

Over at Sentosa, visitorship has fallen 20 per cent since the haze started acting up.

According to divisional director (island operations) of Sentosa Leisure Management, Koh Piak Huat, the island may suspend its outdoor attractions if the PSI level crosses the 300 threshold or if visitor experience is adversely impacted.

"If the PSI rises to levels where visibility becomes a safety consideration for our cable car operations, we will also suspend the cable car rides until the situation improves," Mr Koh added.

At the Singapore Flyer, sales have dropped slightly year on year in September due to the haze, with walk-in ticket sales being the most affected. The attraction is allowing passengers to re-schedule their rides since the haze tends to be unpredictable, a spokesman said.

Restaurants and bars are also feeling the heat as the haze stubbornly lingers over the city-state.

Howard Lo, owner of Tanuki Raw at Orchard Road, estimates that it costs the outlet up to S$3,000 in lost revenue when it has to shut down its al fresco area on hazy days.

"We're still running at full house (but) we can't use half the restaurant," he said, adding that the number of patrons drops by about 35 per cent on such days.

The group owns food and beverage establishments such as Standing Sushi Bar and The Secret Mermaid.

The haze is also causing a slight decline in business at another of his restaurants in Queen Street, despite the indoor location. "People don't want to stray too far from the office," Mr Lo said.

Hinoki Japanese Dining at Shenton Way, which is facing a similar problem, has got creative to tackle the issue. The restaurant has started offering deliveries, taking orders directly to customers as the poor air quality deters customers from coming to them.

A number of events have been cancelled or disrupted in recent days due to the haze too, including Pedestrian Night - where a stretch of Orchard Road is closed to traffic the first Saturday of every month - and open-air picnic Diner en Blanc. The 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Singapore and Afghanistan this Thursday reportedly may be called off as well if the haze worsens.