Visitor arrivals up 7.2% at new record of 15.5m

But tourism spend drops to weakest showing since 2009

[SINGAPORE] Singapore notched a record 15.5 million visitor arrivals last year, a 7.2 per cent rise from 2012 that outpaced the more subdued 1.6 per cent increase in tourism spend, which was dragged down partly by smaller corporate budgets.

Tourism spend worked out to $23.5 billion in 2013, the weakest performance since the global financial crisis in 2009, when tourism receipts sank 19 per cent to $12.4 billion.

But the industry's performance still met the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) earlier projections, with receipts hitting the bottom end of the $23.5-24.5 billion target range, and visitor arrivals, the upper end of the 14.8-15.5 million range.

At a media briefing yesterday, STB chief Lionel Yeo touched on the slower growth rate of tourism receipts, saying: "It's certainly something which is very much on our minds, which is why when we embark on our marketing campaigns, we need to be even more focused on the target audience. That's one way we can drive higher-yielding visitorships. That will continue to be a focus for us."

Mr Yeo added that Singapore would work on bringing in more quality meetings, incentive travel, conferences & exhibitions (MICE) events, given that the business travel and MICE segment (BTMICE) tends to spend more on average than leisure travellers.

The Republic has been seeking out more discerning travellers who are willing to pay a premium for unique experiences, on expectations that the high growth rates in visitor arrivals and tourism spend of recent years are no longer sustainable, due to labour constraints and regional competition.

Derek Tan, an analyst at DBS Group Research, maintains that tourism receipts will hit $26 billion for 2014, while visitor arrivals will climb to 16.3 million. Meanwhile, communications director for Dynasty Travel Alicia Seah expects that the overall tourism industry will benefit this year from the upcoming Sports Hub, the pick-up in the US economy as well as the return of biennial MICE events such as the Singapore Airshow.

The STB is expected to release its 2014 projections for the industry's performance in coming months.

For the nine months from January to September 2013, spend from leisure travellers climbed 10 per cent year on year to $6.29 billion, even as BTMICE spend slumped 6 per cent to $4.1 billion, which STB attributed to tighter corporate budgets amid an uncertain global economy.

This is despite a 6 per cent increase in the number of BTMICE arrivals for the same period. The full-year figures are not available as yet.

Robert McIntosh, executive director of CBRE Hotels (Asia Pacific), noted that the growth in the total number of hotel room nights sold was smaller than the increase in visitor arrivals, which could be cause for concern, especially since Singapore is trying to improve the quality of visitorship.

"They're spending less money, or less time in hotels than they were before," he said.

For the nine-month period, Indonesia remained the top visitor-generating country for Singapore, followed by China and Malaysia.

Last year, hoteliers saw a marginal softening in operating indicators as the industry absorbed a 6.5 per cent increase in room supply, taking the total number of hotel rooms here to 54,962. Gazetted hotel room revenue grew 3.9 per cent year on year to some $2.9 billion. The average occupancy rate slid one percentage point to a still-healthy 86 per cent, while the average room rate declined from $262 in 2012 to $258 in 2013. Revenue per available room (RevPAR) worked out to $223, down slightly from $226.

When comparing the data across hotel categories, it was a mixed bag. Luxury hotels had the best run last year, emerging with a 9 per cent jump in RevPAR, while other categories - upscale, mid-tier and economy - all suffered declines in RevPAR with mid-tier hotels seeing the smallest drop and upscale hotels being hit the hardest.

But even with a further 3,000 hotel rooms coming onstream this year, STB expects that the industry would be able to soak up the inventory.

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