SINGAPORE ECONOMY

Singapore May visitor arrivals plummet to just 880

It's a far cry from 1.49 million arrivals in May 2019; sharp drop caused by strict border controls amid pandemic

Singapore

SINGAPORE had just 880 visitor arrivals in May 2020, as the country remained closed to short-term visitors to stem the risk of importing Covid-19 during the second month of its "circuit breaker" period.

Although visitor arrivals slowed to a trickle compared with the 1.49 million arrivals in May 2019, the average length of stay for each visitor ballooned to 51.7 days, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Friday. Before February, the average length of stay was four days.

May's visitor arrivals were, however, a slight improvement over the 750 visitor arrivals in April. The average length of stay then was 39.1 days. On the whole, year-to-date visitor arrivals was 2.7 million in the first five months of the year - a plunge of 65.7 per cent. The government took the unprecedented step to bar short-term visitors from entering or transiting in Singapore from March 24, in view of the heightened risk of importing coronavirus cases into Singapore.

Economists told The Business Times the figures were unsurprising given the curbs.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah believes it will be "extremely difficult" for visitor arrivals to recover to pre-pandemic levels without a vaccine or cure, estimating that a recovery could take about two years. "It will be a very tall order to even return to 10 to 20 per cent of what it used to be. At 1.49 million, 10 per cent is already more than 100,000," Mr Seah said.

Given that government support for jobs in industries directly affected by Covid-19 is set to run out by the fourth quarter, Mr Seah believes companies may be forced to let go of more workers then.

In the meantime, hotels have been given a lifeline, albeit a flimsy one, by serving as dedicated facilities for people who need to serve their 14-day Stay Home Notice (SHN). This was made mandatory in late March for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning from the US and UK. The rule was extended to cover all returnees from April 9.

In May, the standard average occupancy rate in hotels was 57 per cent, an improvement over April's 40.3 per cent. The rate for May 2019 was 82 per cent.

With hotels used as dedicated SHN facilities during the circuit-breaker period from April 7 to June 1, they were not allowed to offer staycations, a rule that continues even into Singapore's phased reopening.

However, a separate STB advisory on Friday said hotels may now apply for permission to reopen recreation areas for children and provide accommodation for leisure, including staycations, in Phase 2, although they would also have to present a plan for safe-management measures.

Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the Singapore Hotel Association, welcomed the measure, saying that domestic tourism will give a much-needed financial boost to hotels in Singapore.

DBS's Mr Seah said the pent-up demand for vacations could result in a "transient spike up", but believes it will ultimately not move the needle. "The economy is in recession, the employment outlook is not bright. Henceforth, I think consumers will also be more conscious in terms of their discretionary spending."