The relative absence of a domestic market means that tourism in Singapore has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just 2,200 people visited in June 2020, down from 1.6 million the year before. Tourism receipts fell 39% year-on-year to S$4 billion in the first quarter of 2020, and that’s not even taking into account April and May where things got really bad.
In light of this, DPM Heng Swee Keat announced yesterday that Singaporeans would receive S$320 million in tourism credits, known as SingapoRediscovers Vouchers. These are meant to encourage Singaporeans to explore Singapore’s local culture, heritage, nature, art and architecture.
More details will be provided by the MTI in September, but here’s some educated guesses as to what we can expect.
How much SingapoRediscovers Vouchers will each person get?
According to SingStat, there are ~3.5 million Singapore citizens as of 2019. A quick and dirty measure would be to take the S$320M divided by this population, which yields ~S$91 per person.
However, I think it’s more likely that the vouchers will only be issued to those above a certain age. If we take the 21 years cutoff used for the Solidarity Payment, we’ll have ~2.65 million Singapore citizens, or ~S$120 per person.
How will the vouchers work?
I’ve heard some people suggest that to encourage spending, the vouchers will come with some sort of minimum spend attached.
No chance, really. Leaving aside how difficult it’d be to calibrate that (how would you decide the threshold for each attraction?), such a system would be downright elitist. A well-to-do individual may think nothing of spending a minimum of S$300 to save S$120, but that might be out of reach for someone financially worse off.
At the end of the day, these vouchers are meant to benefit all Singaporeans, not just those with the ability to spend more. Sure, the intention is to achieve a multiplier effect, but that will come naturally from ancillary spending (e.g people going to Sentosa to use their vouchers and buying F&B/souvenirs).
What I think we’ll see is something like the ActiveSG system, where credits will be linked to one’s NRIC, and can be spent at approved tourist attractions.
Where can the SingapoRediscovers vouchers be used?
Since this initiative is meant to supplement the existing S$45 million SingapoRediscovers campaign launched in July, it’s a safe bet that any attraction or tour featured on the site would be a potential merchant.
All the usual suspects are here, such as the ArtScience Museum, Gardens by the Bay, and Universal Studios. However, it’s good to see some lesser-known (at least to me) attractions and tours by smaller operators featured too.
Expedia, Klook and Trip.com are all involved in the SingapoRediscovers campaign too, so it’s possible these vouchers may be usable on their platforms for selected local attractions.
Can SingapoRediscovers Vouchers be used on staycations?
Again, no official word here, but I’d be surprised if this were the case.
Hotels have arguably received their fair share of government support already through the SHN program, and anecdotal evidence suggests they’re doing pretty well with staycations too. I think other sectors might have some choice words to say if they saw the hotel industry capturing most of this largesse.
Moreover, I think the ideal outcome here would be for people to spend their credits over multiple visits- one trip to the zoo and one to Fort Siloso would generate twice the opportunities for ancillary spending. A staycation would likely result in all the credits being used at once (well, unless you went to a Hotel 81), and again, the idea is to have people out and spending, instead of camping in a room playing Monopoly Deal.
We’ll see what happens, but don’t get your hopes up.
While these vouchers are something to look forward to, STB’s chief executive has already positioned the SingapoRediscovers initiative as a matter of damage control more than anything else:
“We do not expect domestic consumption to fill the hole left by the diminution of national travel… What we’re hoping to do is to cushion the impact so that there is no catastrophic job loss or massive retrenchments that would maybe destabilise not just the economy, but destabilise Singaporeans’ sense of well-being, sense of hope and confidence in the Singapore economy.”
The hard truth is that local tourism can’t hope to plug the S$27.7 billion hole left behind by the absence of international travellers. That said, every little bit helps, and I hope to explore and write about some local attractions in the months ahead (starting with this tour of Changi Airport).
What are your predictions for the SingapoRediscovers vouchers?