Indian tourists now are the second highest number of visitors arriving in Singapore, overtaking China. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, China had the highest number of tourists visiting the island nation.
A major contributor to this is residents of India who make up the second largest group of visitors to Singapore with a total of 612,300 visitors up to November 2022.
They also stay the longest with an average length of stay of 8.61 days compared with an average of 5.19 days. For comparison, Indonesians on average stayed 4.66 days, Malaysians for 4.28 days and Australians for 4.05 days.
With 986,900 visitors up till November, Indonesia is the largest source of foreign visitors to Singapore. Malaysia is in third place with 495,470, followed by Australia (476,480) and the Philippines (325,480).
Singapore is set to report its best year for tourism since the COVID-19 pandemic shut the travel sector down with help from visitors from Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Australia.
Based on data from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) till November, these four countries together account for almost half (48 per cent) of the total arrivals to the small island state.
As of November, the number of foreign arrivals in Singapore reached 5.37 million. In July this year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said that Singapore expected to receive between 4 and 6 million visitors in 2022.
The number of visitors for October and November was both around 816,000. With December traditionally a busy travel period for visitors to Singapore, this figure is expected to be maintained and arrivals are projected to reach around 6.2 million.
These numbers are still a far cry from Singapore’s heyday as the fifth most visited city in the world in the last pre-COVID year of 2019 when it received over 19.1 million visitors. During that year, Singapore had over 3.6 million visitors from China, then Singapore’s largest tourism source.
With China announcing last week that it will finally allow its citizens to travel abroad again, it looks like 2023 will see Singapore tourism reach a new post-pandemic level.
Although details are still sketchy, Chinese authorities said that Chinese tourists will no longer need to quarantine on return home starting January 8. Pre-COVID, China was the world’s largest outbound travel market generating over USD250 billion a year of tourist receipts in 2019, according to Reuters.
As China re-opens, the last of the major world economies to do so, the countries that will benefit the most are Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States, which were among the top ten destinations for Chinese visitors before the pandemic. China is the largest source of foreign arrivals in these countries, and with travel restrictions lifted, it will be a boost to these countries’ economies. For example, tourism accounts for almost 20 per cent of Thailand’s GDP.
“There is little doubt mainland Chinese are the spark plug for Thailand’s tourism recovery,” said Mr Bill Barnett, managing director of hospitality consultancy C9 Hotelworks, to Reuters. “It’s not a question of if it will happen, it’s now just a matter of how many and how fast.”
Indeed, according to the travel booking website, trip.com, on the morning of the China announcement, they recorded a 254 per cent increase in mainland China’s outbound flight bookings compared to a day earlier. Bookings for inbound flights surged more than four times compared with a year earlier.
Singapore was the fastest-growing of all the destinations, with flight bookings jumping six-fold on trip.com. The other four most popular countries South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand together saw a 400 per cent increase. Long-haul flight bookings to the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia rose significantly.
The upcoming Lunar New Year, starting on January 21, will be the first time in about three years that Chinese travellers will be allowed to travel abroad, and many countries are preparing for Chinese “revenge” travel during what is traditionally a peak travel period.
However, the expected surge of Chinese visitors is not without concern due to the reported wave of COVID-19 infections erupting across the country. Health is authorised to say that this will increase the risk the spread of new, more lethal variants. Many countries have announced stepped-up COVID-19 measures for travellers from China.
So far Japan, India, Italy, Israel, Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and the US have announced new rules for travellers from China in response to rising cases.
Japan says it will require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travellers from China, with those testing positive having to undergo a week in quarantine. Tokyo also plans to limit airlines increasing flights to China.
Many others are considering imposing a testing requirement.
Singapore however is sticking with its current travel guideline for travellers from China, which is that they need to be fully vaccinated, based on the World Health Organisation’s definition, otherwise, they will have to submit a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test.
Mr James Shen, general manager of Melbourne-based tour agency Odyssey Travel believes that any hopes of a massive rebound in Chinese travel to Australia during the Lunar New Year holiday are likely misplaced due to the sky-high airfares.
“There are still very few flights and they would be booking very last minute,” he said when talking to Reuters in December. “I suspect any meaningful rebound will have to wait until the travel boom in June or July next year.”