SINGAPORE — Singapore is turning to domestic tourism as its borders remain largely closed to overseas visitors due to coronavirus.
“The tourism sector in Singapore was really badly affected as a result of this pandemic,” said Chaly Mah, chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit.
Singapore started off the year strong with 1.69 million visitors in January — an increase from 1.62 million the same month a year ago. However, as authorities sought to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, travel restrictions were imposed. The immigration controls sent the numbers plunging about 99% year-on-year in recent months, he said.
“Given that we are a small country and we don’t have the benefit of domestic travel, what we are trying to do now is to encourage Singaporeans to visit some of our local tourist attractions,” said Mah.
Authorities are trying to make up some of the shortfall in tourism revenue by enticing Singaporeans to visit attractions in their own country.
Singapore travelers generated about 34 billion Singapore dollars ($25 billion) in tourism-related spending overseas in 2018, the tourism board told CNBC. The goal is to capture about 10% of that amount from domestic travelers, Mah told CNBC’s “Street Signs.”
Tourists who came to Singapore spent 27.7 billion Singapore dollars ($20.4 billion) in receipts here last year, according to data from the Singapore government.
The Singapore Tourism Board launched the SingapoRediscovers campaign in July to encourage Singapore residents to spend on hotels, dining and attractions.
The government also announced that it will be distributing 320 million Singapore dollars in “tourism credits” to residents to drive local spending in domestic travel.
“The idea there is to have Singaporeans and local residents visit some of our local tourist spots and rediscover Singapore,” said Mah.
“For us to have an authentic experience for our tourists in Singapore, we must have our own Singaporeans experiencing some of these local attractions so they can tell an authentic story when they relate it to the tourists,” he added.
People wearing face masks as a preventive measure jog along the Merlion Park, a major tourist destination in Singapore, across the Marina Bay Sands, during the Covid-19 crisis.
Maverick Asio | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
There are many attractions and experiences in the country that “Singaporeans take for granted but have never visited,” Mah said.
He added that the tourism board wants to get some traffic back to the cruise business.
“As our borders are now still closed, the idea of flight to nowhere, cruise to nowhere is an interesting idea for a small city-state like Singapore,” said Mah. Singapore Airlines is said to be considering flights to nowhere.
Meanwhile, Singapore has put into place reciprocal green lane travel arrangements with several countries including China and Malaysia. They cater mainly to business and official travelers at the moment.
The city-state will slowly reopen its borders to more international travelers in a “deliberate and calibrated manner,” said Mah.
— Correction: This story has been amended to reflect that Singapore travelers spent 34 billion Singapore dollars in tourism-related spending overseas in 2018, not 2019. The interview subject misspoke. It has also been corrected to clarify the tourism board’s position on the cruise industry and cruises to nowhere.