WORLD TOURISM COUNCIL: S’PORE SHOULD RELAX VISA REQUIREMENTS TO ALLOW MORE PRC TOURISTS IN

The tourism industry has been hit in recent months following events such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, but Singapore could attract up to half a million more visitors in two years’ time if it improves its visa procedures, said a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and World Tourism Organization.

Key markets that require a visa for Singapore include China, India and Russia. Visa facilitation could result in about 358,000 to 504,000 more visitors in 2016 than under current policies and an additional S$768 million to S$1.08 billion in tourism receipts, estimated the report, The Impact of Visa Facilitation in ASEAN Member States, published earlier this year.

The report’s projection of 2016 figures, however, was based on the World Tourism Organization’s international arrivals figure of 11.9 million for Singapore last year – significantly below the 15.6 million visitor arrivals published by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

On the discrepancy, WTTC head of communications Emma Coulthurst said the World Tourism Organization’s arrivals figures are generally seen as the most authoritative and consistent source across countries.

“VISAS INHIBITING TOURISM”

Differing statistics aside, Singapore should consider e-visa programmes and regional agreements for visa facilitation and maximise infocomm technology to improve visa procedures, among other possibilities, the WTTC told TODAY.

Visas are inhibiting the growth of tourism in general and governments need to automate processes, produce more visas-on-arrival and, eventually, get rid of visas altogether, said WTTC president and chief executive officer David Scowsill.

“The ability that airlines now have in supplying data to the government authorities really removes the need in the future for visas at all,” said Mr Scowsill, who was in town last week for the Asia Travel Leaders Summit and ITB Asia conference.

The tourism industry here is also feeling the manpower crunch and foreign labour restrictions and Mr Scowsill encouraged more flexibility in labour permits for foreign workers in the service industry. “If you want to maintain the service standards in Singapore in this industry – attractions, hotels, airlines – you have to make sure those jobs are filled and they are filled with customer-orientated individuals,” he said.

The tourism industry is good at forecasting growth and this would help in working with the authorities on future manpower needs, he added.

REINVENTION KEY TO REPEAT VISITORS

The STB’s latest tourism sector performance quarterly report, which was released last month, showed that visitor arrivals numbered 3.6 million from April to June, a drop of 6 per cent from the previous year and the steepest year-on-year decrease in five years. Tourism receipts fell by 3 per cent to S$5.6 billion.

Still, Mr Scowsill gave the thumbs-up to Singapore’s efforts in drawing visitors, praising its constant reinvention, the introduction of new products every two to three years and its infrastructure. “When I travel around the world and talk to other governments about what they need to do to develop their tourism industry, I use Singapore as a good example of what needs to happen,” he said.

Reinvention is key to drawing repeat visitors, “because you’re not interested in the one-shot visitor who comes once, spends three or four days running around doing everything and does not come back for 20 years.”

In addition to continued innovation and investment in infrastructure, Singapore has to focus on China, said Mr Scowsill. About 100 million Chinese travelled abroad last year and this number is expected to hit 200 million by 2020. Singapore would do well to stimulate demand from Chinese tourists, given their propensity to spend, he said.

And in the face of competition with other markets, “the trick for Singapore is to make sure you’re always (part of travellers’ itineraries), in terms of not only groups, but individual leisure consumers”, he added.

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