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Tourist arrivals remain strong despite June haze crisis

SINGAPORE — Tourist arrivals to the country have remained strong despite the haze crisis in June, with latest figures from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) showing an increase in year-on-year visitor arrivals for the months of January to August. The haze — which caused the Pollutant Standards Index to reach a record 401 — had minimal impact as it was sudden and short-lived, said experts who cited the strength of the Singapore dollar as a greater factor that would affect visitor numbers.

Tourists posing with the Merlion. Visitor arrivals from China could fall, due to its government curb on ‘shopping tours’. TODAY file photo

Tourists posing with the Merlion. Visitor arrivals from China could fall, due to its government curb on ‘shopping tours’. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Tourist arrivals to the country have remained strong despite the haze crisis in June, with latest figures from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) showing an increase in year-on-year visitor arrivals for the months of January to August. The haze — which caused the Pollutant Standards Index to reach a record 401 — had minimal impact as it was sudden and short-lived, said experts who cited the strength of the Singapore dollar as a greater factor that would affect visitor numbers.

In fact, June was a month of robust growth in visitor arrivals with 1.26 million visitors recorded, an increase of 8.9 per cent from last year. Visitor arrivals in the first eight months of this year also grew 8.5 per cent year-on-year to 10.5 million.

Mr Edward Koh, Executive Director for Strategy and Planning at STB, said hotel room and tour bookings during the weekend of June 21–23 had seen a decline, but the overall impact of the haze in this area was “minimal”. He added that the STB was “cautiously optimistic” of achieving its forecast of 14.8 million to 15.5 million visitors, and S$23.5 billion to S$24.5 billion in tourism receipts this year.

Hong Thai Travel Assistant General Manager Tony Aw said many of its inbound tour groups had wanted to cancel their trips in June. But, all the travellers eventually went ahead with their plans as there were no official travel advisories issued by governments, which would have triggered refunds from tour operators. Some frequent independent travellers, however, did cancel their trips, said Mr Aw.

CIMB-GK Research Regional Economist Song Seng Wun believes Singapore will easily surpass the 7 per cent growth in visitor arrivals he had projected at the start of this year, to about 15.7 million visitors for the year. But, he said the weakening of currencies, like the Indonesian rupiah and Indian rupee, could deter some travellers.

“We were more concerned subsequently with the impact of weakened currencies ... than the haze.”

Though some doctors here have told him that the number of Indonesian patients have fallen in recent months after the rupiah weakened significantly against the Singapore dollar, Mr Song said “per visitor, (spending is) almost unchanged”.

Visitor arrivals from China — the second-largest inbound market for Singapore — could also fall, due to the Chinese government’s curb on “shopping tours”, which took effect last month.

With the new regulation, Mr Aw said such tours could double in price and cost 8,000 yuan (S$1,620) for a seven-day trip.

Though such “shopping tours” were not offered by Hong Thai, he said several agencies that did are likely to turn their attention to frequent independent travellers instead.

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