Skip to main content



Tourist arrivals, spending rebound to hit record high in 2016

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s tourism industry made a dramatic comeback last year, notching a historic high for visitor arrivals as well as tourist receipts, and reversing its fortunes from 2015.

Tourists take photos at the Merlion Park in Singapore January 11, 2017
Photo: TODAY File Photo

Tourists take photos at the Merlion Park in Singapore January 11, 2017
Photo: TODAY File Photo

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s tourism industry made a dramatic comeback last year, notching a historic high for visitor arrivals as well as tourist receipts, and reversing its fortunes from 2015.

Tourist receipts last year grew by 13.9 per cent to S$24.8 billion, based on preliminary estimates from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) released on Tuesday. Leading the charge in ringing up the tills in shopping, accommodation and food and beverage were tourists from China, Indonesia and India, said the agency. 

For the second year running, tourists from China were the top spenders in Singapore, notching up S$2.8 billion in tourist receipts, with the bulk of the spending going into shopping. 

The agency said that tourist receipts from China increased because of a larger volume of tourists, a result of the STB’s promotion efforts in Tier 1 Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and Tier 2 cities such as Nanjing, Xiamen and Shenyang. Tourists from Indonesia and India spent more on shopping and accommodation.

Meanwhile, tourism arrivals grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million, with the top three visitor markets being Indonesia, China and Malaysia. The STB also said the top three growth market sectors were China, which grew by 36 per cent from 2015; India, at 8 per cent; as well as Indonesia, at 6 per cent. 

The largest decline in visitor arrivals came from Hong Kong, with a drop of 12 per cent, due in large part to the city’s weaker economic performance, the STB said.

Neighbouring Malaysia’s weakening ringgit also dampened travel demand into the Republic, noted the agency, with the country notching a 2-per cent decrease in tourist arrivals last year.

For this year, the agency is forecasting tourist receipts to grow in the range of 1 to 4 per cent, or S$25.1 billion to S$25.8 billion. As for visitor arrivals, it is targeting a growth of 0 to 2 per cent, or a total of 16.4 million to 16.7 million. 

Last year’s figures was achieved in spite of the economic malaise and a Zika outbreak in Singapore last August. It also came on the back of a poor showing in 2015, when tourism spend fell for the first time in six years. 

Commenting on the change in the external environment between 2015 and 2016, STB chief executive Lionel Yeo pointed to the relatively healthy growth in Singapore’s three largest tourist source markets of China, Indonesia and India. 

In 2014 and 2015, a series of aviation disasters — among them the disappearance of MH370 — also impacted China tourists. Said Mr Yeo: “2016 was the first year they have put that behind that (and) were prepared to come back to this part of the world.” This allowed the strategy of us penetrating the first, second tier cities to bear fruit, he added.

Commenting on the forecasts, Mr Yeo said that while there are some bright spots in the Asia-Pacific region, the STB is “also cognisant of the fact that there are potential headwinds, economic (and) geopolitical uncertainties, which may have an impact on outbound travel”.

Asked by Bloomberg Television about hosting the Formula One race, Mr Yeo said: “I think the event is still a good one and I think it’s something we’re interested to look at provided the terms and conditions are right. Last November, then-Formula One head honcho Bernie Ecclestone suggested the Singapore Grand Prix wouldn’t be extended when the five-year deal expires this year, in an interview with a German magazine.

Tourism experts TODAY spoke to said the Republic’s strong showing last year was helped by its good management of the Zika outbreak. 

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, noted the outbreak cleared up relatively quickly thanks to vector control measures. “With that, confidence levels came back up, and this is very assuring, especially to tourists.” 

Ms Shirley Tee, course manager of Nanyang Polytechnic’s Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, said the STB did well in its targeted marketing efforts, especially in the China market, over social media. 

The STB said one marketing campaign it launched was done with Chinese digital travel companies Tuniu and Ctrip, which helped promote longer trips to just Singapore. As a result of the partnership, 99,200 Singapore-only packages were sold by Tuniu, a 52 per cent increase from 2015. 

With tourists spending more, Ms Tee noted that this means they will now have “higher expectations” in terms of service standards, and the industry must up their service offerings, both tangible and intangible.

On sustaining the good momentum, Dr Chiam said Singapore needs to evolve, and businesses should continue to work on new offerings to excite visitors, leveraging on grants — like the Experience Step-Up Fund — from the STB.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said there was a 5 per cent increase in Singapore-only packages sold by Chinese digital travel company Tuniu. That is incorrect. The increase was 52 per cent. We are sorry for the error.

Read more of the latest in



Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.