The Big Read: Fancy spending weeks on a tropical island? Singapore aims to shed ‘stopover’ tag amid tourism market shifts

He added that regional tourists, such as those from Indonesia and Vietnam, are returning but they have not done so in large groups as well.

Prior to the pandemic, China was the biggest source of tourists to Singapore, with 3.6 million of them visiting here in 2019. Indonesia was in second spot, with 3.1 million visitors in 2019.

Mr Foo from Oriental Travel and Tours said that most of his agency’s tourists are now coming from Europe and the United States.

“Previously, there were many tourists from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong which we don’t see coming to Singapore now,” he said.

With tourism here poised for a revival, businesses will have to learn how to adapt to longer term shifts in order to cash in, said experts.

Mr Walton from Deloitte said that attractions that are “predominantly geared towards international visitors”, such as the Big Bus and Duck Tours which introduce foreign visitors to the city, as well as the casinos, will continue to see a slow recovery initially as mass tourism will not be returning so soon.

He added that some attractions commonly patronized by Asian visitors are “vastly different from those that are visited by tourists from Europe and the United States”.

“Having fewer Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Filipino tourists will have a larger economic impact on these places, such as the shops in Marina Bay Sands, that previously had throngs of shoppers as they were part of these package tours,” said Mr Walton.

Mr Benjamin Cassim, a senior lecturer for hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Business, noted that previously, Singapore had served as a stopover for visitors planning to explore tourist destinations in the region.

“The current level of attractiveness of these neighboring sites to visitors has an impact on their decision to visit Singapore,” he said.

Dr Cheong from ASA said that currently, tourists may not see Singapore as a stopover to other countries in the region due to the differing COVID-19 protocols which make it complicated and expensive for travelers to visit multiple countries. This may lead them to shun the region and Singapore altogether.

According to data platform Statista, the average length of stay for an inbound traveler into Singapore in 2019 was 3.36 nights. Last year, the average length of stay for an inbound traveler was 22.42 nights.

The website noted that this was due to the disruptions in global travel due to COVID-19, which resulted in longer durations of stays overseas due to mandatory quarantine periods, for instance.

Earlier this week, tourists interviewed by TODAY said they were staying in Singapore for longer than they would pre-pandemic due to various reasons.

Ms Charlotte Scharpenack from Germany is on a two-week vacation in Singapore with her husband. On a previous trip here, the 26-year old, who works in telecommunications, had spent just one week here, and spent the second week traveling to other places in Southeast Asia.

They had intended to do the same for this trip, but decided against it given the different testing requirements and documentation in various countries.

Still, the couple found that there were a surprising number of attractions to explore in Singapore.

“Actually, we discovered more things about Singapore, we went to Lazarus Island, which we had never been before, and even took a staycation in Sentosa,” Ms Scharpenack said.

With longer stays becoming the norm, Dr Cheong said that Singapore needs to reposition itself as a “one-destination” holiday.

For this to happen, it will be important for the tourism sector to work together and come up with a “holistic, multi-dimensional experience”, he said.

For instance, ASA will have to work with tour operators and travel agencies on how to better curate longer itineraries for tourists.

“If we do it successfully and do it well, the length of stay can compensate for the fewer (visitor) numbers, as the quality of stay goes up,” he said.

SINGAPORE TOURISM BANKING ON ‘URBAN WELLNESS’, ‘CITY IN NATURE’

With changes afoot in the tourism landscape, the authorities have been seeking to differentiate Singapore as a tourist destination from other competitors which have also recently reopened their borders.

The initiatives include plans to position the city as an “urban wellness haven”, which is meant to “enhance the discoverability of Singapore’s wellness offerings, or (its) wellness quotient”.

Among the activities lined up is a 10-day Wellness Festival Singapore in June, which is focused on wellness and mindfulness. STB also plans to leverage Singapore’s identity as a “City in Nature”, referring to the Government’s vision of creating a liveable and sustainable home for the people by increasing green spaces.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Ms Ong Ling Lee, STB executive director for sports and wellness, said that the tourism board has developed “various strategies and initiatives to realize our wellness ambition, leveraging Singapore’s existing strengths in accessibility, technology and as a strong business hub “.

She added that Singapore’s wellness offerings are “multi-faceted”, and include mental, physical and emotional wellbeing as well as lifestyle experiences.

For example, STB last year launched a one-year partnership with fitness company ClassPass, which typically offers yoga, gym, and meditation classes, among other activities.

This collaboration means that ClassPass’ range of wellness experiences will be expanded to activities such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, and mental wellness services such as personal coaching and sound healing therapy.

“We welcome ideas that can help Singapore grow stronger in the wellness tourism space and encourage more creative partnerships among industry players from the wellness and tourism sector, to differentiate our offerings, experiences, and events from the rest of the world,” said Ms Ong .

Agreeing with the plan, Mr Walton from Deloitte said that Singapore is in a good position to differentiate itself from other places which are well-known as wellness-oriented getaways.

“Singapore may be more expensive for these wellness and sustainable activities compared to Phuket and Bali but it does have some advantages such as security and personal safety, particularly in terms of COVID-19 response, which will make people feel more comfortable visiting,” he said.

ASA’s Dr Cheong reiterated that the concept of wellness has many facets. “It need not always be about spas and massages, another form of wellness is outdoor activities, immersing yourself in nature, and I think Singapore is well positioned for that.” he said.

Green spaces such as MacRitchie Reservoir, St John’s Island and even park connector networks can be considered spaces that promote wellness, he noted. “This is an opportunity to reintroduce a part of Singapore which most visitors have never seen in that perspective, as we have always been known to be a cosmopolitan city,” he added.

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