Travel agencies see limited benefit from tourism vouchers

Scheme generates some cautious optimism; hotels and attractions expected to gain the most


THE SingapoRediscovers vouchers aimed at propping up the tourism industry have generated some cautious optimism among travel agencies, but they remain uncertain over how much they will be able to benefit from the scheme.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced on Wednesday that all Singaporeans aged 18 and above this year will receive S$100 in digital vouchers which can be spent on hotel stays, tickets to leisure attractions and local tours. These vouchers will be accessible from December for use until the end of June 2021.

In addition, tourist attractions will be able to apply to STB from Friday to increase their operating capacity from 25 to 50 per cent. They can also apply to scale up outdoor show capacity from 50 to 250 people, if the shows are split up into zones containing a maximum of 50 people each and with safe distancing between groups and zones.

Balaji Narayanan, director of Millennium Tours & Travel, said the business generated by the voucher scheme will help ease the industry into the "new normal", by giving attraction operators a chance to update their crowd-control measures and implement the necessary safety systems before overseas tourists return.

He added: "They can expect decent crowds, and this will also help the other supporting enterprises like food outlets to open and be sustained."

The lead time of about three months before the vouchers can be used will allow him to finalise his plans for tours to Singapore's southern islands, which he hopes to launch in October.

Mr Narayanan suggested that the government could stimulate the tourism industry further by providing some incentives to companies that work on increasing their domestic tourism offerings. Some vouchers could also be given to permanent residents, in lower amounts, to encourage them to spend too.

Travel Wander founder Sheryl Lim said her company might be able to benefit since the scheme is said to be extended to companies that run local tours, but she will be looking out for more details to know for sure.

Her agency specialises in outbound active holidays, but has had to offer local walks and cycling tours instead to generate some revenue while borders are closed.

One travel agent, who declined to be named, said the scheme might benefit hotels and attractions the most, since consumers are more likely to spend the vouchers directly on staycations and attraction tickets.

His company's in-bound travel arm has never seen much interest from Singaporeans for local tours, and he does not expect the vouchers to cause a surge in demand.

"With just S$100, people would carefully pick where they want to spend it. They would put it more to things they normally like to do, like staycations and attractions," said the travel agent.

He added that the extent to which spending spills over to other local businesses like food and beverage and retail outlets as a result of the vouchers will depend on how much disposable income Singaporeans have, since they will need to top up such spending from their own pockets.