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Singapore remains on radar of China tourists

China growth may be slowing but more flights, new attractions and STB-Alibaba tie-up keep Chinese tourists hooked

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According to data from the Singapore Tourism Board, for the whole of last year, Singapore received about 18.5 million visitors, and China accounted for about 18.5% of total arrivals. From January to May this year, Singapore received 1.5 million tourist arrivals from China - the biggest inbound market for the Republic.

Singapore

CHINA'S economy is slowing down - weighed down by a trade spat with the US with no resolution in sight - but there's no let-up in its consumers' wanderlust.

Tourists from the Middle Kingdom continue to stream here in the first half of 2019, with some travel agencies posting double-digit growth in Chinese visitors. Tour operators and hotels are also sanguine about the rest of the year.

From January to May this year, Singapore received 1.5 million tourist arrivals from China - the biggest inbound market for the Republic - marking a "good absolute growth'' of 4 per cent over the same period last year, according to Poh Chi Chuan, director of digital transformation at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

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The 4 per cent outperforms the 1.5 per cent year-on-year growth for all tourist arrivals to Singapore for the same period. China accounted for about 19 per cent of the 7.8 million in total arrivals for the January-May period.

Over the same period, Fayyaz Travels saw a robust 18 per cent surge in China tourist arrivals, compared with the same period last year.

Yasser Faiz, the agency's head of sales, cites new attractions in Singapore and the launch of the movie Crazy Rich Asians for the "pleasant surprise".

Likewise, tour operator Monster Day Tours chalked up a 10 per cent increase in Chinese customers from last year.

"China is the largest tourist market for Singapore now. Currently, it is 5 per cent of our customers and we intend to grow that further,'' said founder Suen Tat Yam.

"We intend to tap into the Chinese market by offering more innovative tour products and through various platforms such as WeChat and OTA distribution channels,'' he added.

Among hotels, Royal Plaza on Scotts saw about 2 per cent more China guests so far this year. They make up 11 per cent of all their guests. "The number of China visitors are growing year-on-year,'' said Patrick Fiat, the hotel's general manager and chief experience officer (CEO).

Even for industry players that did not witness strong growth in China visitors, there's still a silver lining.

At Chan Brothers Travel, Chinese arrivals this year remain constant, and demand is also expected to remain constant over the next few months, according to Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager for the travel agency.

However, he noted that the length of stay of tourists has gradually increased, as has expenditure, due to tourists choosing to shop more.

"Some Chinese visitors come to Singapore specially for designer goods from international brands because of the assurance of genuine products,'' he said.

Overall, the China market clocked the highest amount of tourism receipts in Singapore in 2018, said Mr Fiat.

But China's growth slowdown may have started to filter through to travel plans.

Travel agency Travel Star saw a 10 to 20 per cent drop in the period from June to early-July.

Still, many remain positive about the rest of the year. Macy Cheng, director of sales & marketing, Ramada and Days Hotels by Wyndham Singapore at Zhongshan Park, said: "The overall outlook seems to be fairly stable.''

She pointed out that the Singapore Tourism Board had recently signed a three-year partnership with Alibaba Group to drive Chinese visitor arrivals and spending.

Additionally, Urumqi Air and Guangxi Beibu Gulf Airlines started their inaugural flights to Singapore this year, boosting air connectivity.

Shirley Shi, managing director of Travel Star, shares her optimism for the second half.

She said the opening of new mid-tier hotels in Sentosa by Far East Hospitality this year will provide more affordable options for tourists in Sentosa, potentially driving tourist numbers.

Added Fayyaz Travels' Mr Faiz: "We predict the (growth) trend will continue at least till the end of the next quarter; Singapore always has something new to offer, whether you are visiting the country for the first time or the tenth.''

STB's Mr Poh gives his take on the macro view: "While global economic outlook for 2019 and Asia-Pacific travel growth seem favourable, we remain cautiously optimistic.

"We have to take into consideration the good performance in 2018 and potential geopolitical tensions that might affect consumer confidence and travel sentiments.''

For the whole of last year, Singapore received about 18.5 million visitors, and China accounted for about 18.5 per cent of total arrivals, according to data from STB.