Singapore has unveiled further support for business sectors suffering the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, including offering wage support for jobs in the battered tourism sector and the launch of tourism credits for locals to spend domestically.
In a ministerial statement on August 17, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a further round of S$8 billion (US$5.9 billion) in support for sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – including the tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors – as well as plans to position Singapore to seize growth opportunities in a post-Covid world.
Among these measures, the Job Support Scheme (JSS) – originally set to end this month with a final payout to firms in October – will now be extended by another seven months, although the percentage is adjusted according to the projected recovery of the different sectors.
Currently, the aviation, hospitality, hotels, tourism and cruise sectors are receiving 75% in JSS support. With this announcement, the support will drop to 50%, covering wages paid up to March 2021. This still remains the highest percentage of support, reserved for businesses in the hardest hit Tier 1 sector.
Under the scheme, qualifying criteria for travel agents include having over two-thirds of their revenue derived from their agency business, based on the Annual Business Profile returns submitted to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 2018.
Gated tourist attractions must have more than 30% of visitorship from tourists, while regional ferry operators must be licensed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore as a regional ferry services operator.
The closely linked aviation sector will also receive an additional S$187 million in the enhanced aviation support package up to March 2021. “This package will also support local carriers to regain our air connectivity to the world,” said Heng.
The source of this extra S$8 billion to fight Covid-19, according to the minister, was derived by relocating monies from other areas such as development expenditures that were delayed due to the pandemic.
“Our foreign visitor arrivals have dried up because of the travel restrictions but we are determined to support our tourism sector by encouraging local tourism,” said Heng, adding that his cabinet has set aside S$320 million for tourism credits specially for locals.
“We’ll call them the Singapore Rediscovers vouchers. Local consumptions will not fully make up for tourist spending, but I hope Singaporeans will take the opportunity will explore our local culture and heritage, nature, arts and architecture. You may be surprised by what you discover," he stated.
More details are expected to be revealed by the Ministry of Trade & Industry in September, he added.
The additional support announced for the battered tourism sector was well received by travel business leaders.
National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) president Steven Ler said: “We at NATAS are appreciative that the government appreciates the challenges that our travel agent community is facing. The extension of JSS definitely gives all travel agents more time to calibrate as well as keep their staff to prepare for recovery."
Stanley Foo, founder and managing director of Oriental Travel and Tours, finds the tourism credit initiative a timely support for Singapore tour operators, who have been encouraged by STB to pivot their offerings towards the domestic market as Covid-19 restrictions ease in the country.
"We are quite happy with this announcement and think we will probably get something out of this," he remarked.
- Additional reporting from Xinyi Liang-Pholsena