Waves of cautious optimism are lapping Sentosa island’s tourism businesses, a month after Singapore rolled out its largest campaign to entice locals to become tourists at home.
The SingapoRediscovers campaign was launched by Enterprise Singapore, Sentosa Development Corporation and Singapore Tourism Board. With S$45 million (US$330 million) set aside, SingapoRediscovers is the nation’s biggest push to stimulate local spending at tourism and lifestyle establishments, surpassing the Step Out campaign post SARS in 2003 and BOOST (Building on Opportunities to Strengthen Tourism) in 2009 after the Global Financial Crisis.
International tourism may be at a standstill, but Sentosa is seeing an encouraging return of domestic visitors since the partial resumption of businesses activities in July.
In fact, the number of domestic visitors in July and the first three weeks of August was up approximately 40% year on year, continuing Sentosa’s recent success with growing local visitorship, according to Lynette Ang, SDC’s chief marketing officer. For the period of April 2019 to January 2020, there was a 16% year-on-year increase in local visitors.
“Prior to the onset of Covid-19 in Singapore, we attracted strong annual visitorship of 19 million, of which about 20% - 25% were locals. Our other key markets were China, India and Southeast Asia,” Ang shared.
“With our borders largely closed due to Covid-19, businesses in Singapore will need the support of the domestic market to tide through this period.”
Tourism establishments approached by Travel Weekly Asia are, likewise, looking expectantly to local demand to keep them afloat, with hopes further buoyed by aggressive new marketing efforts.
Resorts World Sentosa, which is home to the S.E.A. Aquarium, is seeing strong demand for its staycation packages.
Attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore and S.E.A Aquarium have seen “brisk and enthusiastic footfall” since reopening in July, according to a Resorts World Sentosa spokesperson.
He added that demand for RWS’ newly launched staycation packages has been “very good”.
“Many families, theme park fans and food lovers have been very excited to visit us again to enjoy all our offerings, and relive the RWS moments they have missed these past few months. In fact, many have already made plans for return visits,” he said.
The Barracks Hotel Sentosa had just opened in December 2019 before the pandemic hit. Today, rooms are gradually filling up, driven wholly by domestic demand.
“Knowing that many locals have been yearning for a holiday given the travel restrictions, we set out to build experiences that go beyond the typical staycation, bringing the getaway to locals,” shared Arthur Kiong, CEO of the hotel’s parent company, Far East Hospitality.
In line with SingapoRediscover’s focus on collaborative package promotion, The Barracks Hotel Sentosa has worked with island partners to put together attractive themed stays.
Its Island Life package, for example, features a sail over breakfast by yacht charter company Ximula Sails, among other inclusions such as lounge access and limousine transfer. Another of its packages targeting outdoorsy Singaporeans gives guests access to the Sentosa Nature Trail and Segway Fun rides.
These are among the raft of packages and deals pushed out recently to drive up demand for “Singapolidays”. Apart from The Barracks Hotel Sentosa, accommodation providers on the island including ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove, W Singapore Sentosa Cove, Capella Singapore, Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa, are also offering staycation packages themed around Island Life, Wellness Escape, Heritage Discovery and Nature Adventure.
While Sentosa reports a sizable increase in footfall, it is still unclear if enough of this is translating to overnight business for hotels, with many Singaporeans still viewing Sentosa as a destination for day-time activities.
In response, Ang shared that beyond the existing Sentosa Grillfest and Peroni Sunset Cinema, SDC has been looking more into how to bring Sentosa’s night-time offerings safely to guests. “For example, by offering hybrid ‘phygital’ experiences that integrate the virtual and physical. We will share more details in the coming months.”
Tourism businesses in Sentosa expect the domestic focus will persist for a while. Although Singapore is beginning to open up its borders, most short-term visits to the country are still not allowed. At press time, the main exceptions are visitors from across the border in Malaysia under the Reciprocal Green Lane and Periodic Commuting Arrangement; approved visitors from China via the Fast Lane; and travellers from New Zealand and Brunei, who will be able to apply for the Air Travel Pass to enter Singapore from September 1.
“We do not expect international leisure traffic to be in the cards till the summer of 2021, and recovery [is likely] to be slow, starting with the regional markets,” FEH’s Kiong told TWA.
This does not mean that businesses are hitting pause on international markets.
“While we are unable to invite international guests to come stay with us, we have continued to engage our clientele on social media to bring a piece of the hotel experience online and keep us top of mind,” Kiong continued. “For example, The Barracks Hotel Sentosa recently conducted a latte art class via Instagram Live to show guests how to replicate it at home.”
Meanwhile, SDC is preparing for the return of business travellers through maintaining brand recall within the MICE industry, all while looking into ways to keep future events safe.
Said Ang: “SDC is a one-stop solutions provider for novel MICE experiences in Sentosa, and has been working with DMCs, PCOs and other venue operators to increase awareness of Sentosa on an industry level, providing them with constant updates on offerings on the island and helping them include Sentosa in their events where suitable.”