Visitor arrivals to Singapore and tourism receipts exceeded expectations to achieve new record highs in 2018, especially in the MICE market.
Total arrivals rose by 6.2% to 18.5 million, while tourism receipts increased by 1% to S$27.1 billion, according to preliminary estimates released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on Wednesday.
China, Indonesia and India remained the top three source markets, with volumes from China rising 6% to 3.4 million.
India posted the largest increase - 18% - in spending, excluding sightseeing, entertainment and gaming, and was the top feeder market for cruise with a 27% rise in passengers to Singapore.
Also noteworthy was the revitalisation of Japan, a mature market, which saw record visitor arrivals last year, partly thanks to a trade partnership with the country's largest travel agency, JTB, that attracted 130,000 Japanese.
Two high-profile events contributed to Singapore's strong growth: the historic meeting between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the debut of Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians.
Google registered over two million hits on the phrase "Where is Singapore" from the US, one day before the DPRK-USA Summit, while organic search interest in Singapore increased by over three times during the movie's release, said STB.
In comparison, while the number of visitors exceeded initial forecasts, tourism spending did not keep pace.
Visitors spent less on shopping (-14%), accommodation (-5%) and food and beverage (-4%) as compared to 2017, although this was partially offset by growths in sightseeing, entertaining and gaming (+6%) and other spending components (21%) comprising airfares on Singapore-based carriers, port taxes, local transportation, business, medical, education and transit visitors.
"Overall, there is a trend that travellers are travelling more but spending less. There's also the effect of currency fluctuations - In 2018, eight of our top 14 markets saw their currencies depreciate to their lowest levels against the Sing dollar since 2015.
We also observed that visitors are spending less time in Singapore due to the way their itineraries are structured - these could be daytrippers, visitors twinning Singapore with other destinations, or cruise passengers," noted STB's chief executive Keith Tan.
Key industry performance
The BTMICE, hotel and cruise sectors registered good growth.
There was a 14% increase in business, travel, meetings, incentive, convention and exhibition visitors to two million. Together, they spent S$3.44 billion, a 10% year-on-year increase as compared to 2017.
Total gazetted room revenue rose by 7.4% to hit S4 billion, which occupancy increased by 1.2 percentage points to 86%. Revenue per available room grew 2.4% to S$189.
Cruise saw a significant 35% increase in total passenger throughput to 1.87 million, thanks largely to the year-round deployment of Genting Dream and extended sailings from Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.
An eye on 2019
Looking ahead to 2019, STB forecasts that tourism receipts will grow 1-3% to S$27.3-27.9 million, while visitor arrivals will rise 1-4% to 18.7-19.2 million.
Boosting retail is one key aspect of the strategy to achieve growth targets. According to Tan, STB will work with pioneering mall owners who are already introducing new concepts such as Funan Mall, and provide pop-up opportunities along Orchard Road for new brands who wish to trial the market before investing in a brick-and-mortar shop here.
With local designers, Tan said the focus would be to offer an "unparallelled location", in the form of Design Orchard, for them to showcase their products, promote shopping in other precincts including Kampong Glam and Chinatown, improve the quality of product packaging so they are "internationally-ready to be taken home like in Japan", and upgrading back-end processes of their business.
In the pipeline are also new and refreshed offerings such as Floral Fantasy @ Gardens by the Bay, "50-Best" F&B-related events, the Orchard Road rejuvenation, and unique collaborations including The New York Botanical Garden Singapore-themed Orchid Show and an SG Festival in Vietnam.