With little international demand and travel restrictions, the government of Singapore is encouraging residents to support local businesses and take staycations.
GLOBAL REPORT—With a growing number of international borders closed due to resurgences of COVID-19, global travel is at a near standstill and smaller countries are pondering what opportunities remain open to them, according to sources.
Singapore, which is among the top 10 most densely populated countries in the world, is a good example.
The Asian city-state has a population of nearly 6 million in an area of 280 square miles. From Singapore’s easternmost point to its westernmost point, it takes less than an hour to cross by car. Geographically, Singapore comprises a mainland surrounded by tiny islands, with Malaysia to the north, reached via a causeway, and Indonesia to the south.
Approximately 80% of the population resides in high-rise buildings, according to government statistics, which likely contributes to plenty of wanderlust among those who are feeling cabin fever due to the pandemic. In the pre-COVID-19 era, Singaporeans would indulge in spontaneous short trips to Malaysia or Indonesia. But the pandemic has decreased the number of shopping and golf excursions, spawning a market of frustrated would-be travelers and leaving Changi International Airport eerily desolate.
Singapore residents have been urged by government officials to explore their own backyard, despite the country’s size.
The government also has imposed what is known as the Circuit Breaker, a stay-at-home order and other restrictions and closures that runs to the end of October and could be extended.
In an effort to increase tourism, the Singapore government announced a 45-million Singaporean dollars ($33 million) “SingapoRediscovers” campaign in early July targeted at the local community. The initiative is aimed at encouraging citizens and expat residents to explore the island with a host of incentives.
Small businesses, restaurants, hotels, attractions and industry partners have banded together to whip up attractive offers and deals to stimulate excitement and bookings. According to STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, Singapore finished 2019 with a total of 407 hotels and 74,057 rooms.
“We are very thankful for the overwhelming support from our local guests,” said Fernando Gibaja, GM at Capella Singapore. “Since reopening, we see an average of 65% to 70% occupancy. Because international travel is not permitted yet, the next best thing closer to a vacation would be in Sentosa (Island), which provides a resort-style vibe. It is very easy to be very comfortable in maintaining social distancing at Capella across 30 acres of lush greenery.”
Cinn Tan, chief sales and marketing officer for Pan Pacific Hotels Group, oversees eight hotels in Singapore. She said hoteliers in the market are trying to increase the attractiveness of staycations.
“Singaporeans love to travel,” Tan said. “It’s almost their second favorite activity after shopping. With the Circuit Breaker and international borders closed, locals are seeking out their home country to satisfy their desire for a holiday experience.”
So far, those marketing strategies are working, Tan said.
“With travels being curbed during this season, there is a pent-up demand as locals are keen to get out of the house to experience the luxury of travel through hotel stays,” she said. “We saw over 200 roomnights booked on the first day we launched our staycation offers, and response has continued to be healthy.”
Sources said the SingapoRediscovers campaign focuses on partnering with local communities to help locals discover hidden gems, curating precinct-based tour itineraries and collaborating with hotels, tour operators, attractions and neighborhoods to develop quality experiences and attractive promotions for what are termed “Singapolidays.”
Most hotels have jumped on the bandwagon to offer staycations. Sources said staycations are the most viable alternative to keep businesses going and staff employed with hardly any global leisure or meetings, incentives, conventions and expositions’ visitors in sight.
As of mid-August, more than 200 hotels received the official green light to offer such staycation packages, which led to absolute occupancy higher than 70% in May, June and July, according to STR. Many hotels also have housed returning residents requiring isolation and quarantine.
Now, hoteliers are offering perks such as cooking workshops, mixology classes, yoga sessions, scavenger hunts, family-bonding activities and restaurant and spa discounts, while also bolstering COVID-19 safety protocols.
For instance, the Raffles Singapore has begun history tours and children’s bedtime stories, the Capella that has rum-appreciation and sunset-meditation initiatives and Pan Pacific’s Parkroyal on Beach Road provides tea appreciation and cocktail classes.
These packages are attracting a mix of young families, multigenerational families, groups of friends and young couples, with the majority staying over weekends and holidays.
On 17 August, Singapore’s government announced a SG$320-million ($235-million) program of tourism-credit vouchers for Singaporeans to spend domestically, The Straits Times reports.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the plan in mid-August as a SG$45-million ($33-million) extension of an original program, and more cash might be forthcoming.
Tourism accounts for 4% of Singapore’s gross domestic product, according to government sources, and with Singaporeans reportedly spending more than SG$34 million ($25 million) on overseas travel in 2018, hoteliers in the market hope a portion of that will be spent domestically.
Noting the drastic drop in inbound visitor arrivals, Heng was optimistic that the program would boost Singapore businesses.
“Local consumption will not fully make up for (international) tourist spending, but I hope Singaporeans will take the opportunity to explore our local culture and heritage, nature, art and architecture,” Heng said, as reported by The Straits Times.