Singapore: Singapore tourism numbers have been climbing since it re-opened its borders to foreign visitors earlier this year with Indians making the largest number of visitors by country of origin. The island city-state now accepts all fully vaccinated travellers from around the world without any need for testing or quarantine.
Looking around the tourist areas, one can see signs of tourists returning and various businesses gearing up for more visitors from abroad. Popular tourist services like open top tour buses and trishaws (three-wheeler bicycles with a seat by the side) have suddenly made an appearance in Suntec City and Rochor Road respectively. A sight last seen pre-COVID.
Indeed, April saw tourist arrivals more than double from March's figure of 121,200 to 294,200. This is based on numbers published by the Singapore Tourism Board. However, this is still a far cry from the 1.638 million average monthly visitors Singapore received in the last pre-COVID year in 2019. Over 300,000 of these came from China, Singapore largest tourism source pre-pandemic, which is still largely closed to travel.
Indians are making up for the missing Chinese and have since the beginning of the year, been the largest group of nationals travelling to Singapore. About 95,500 Indians entered Singapore from January to April. Second are Indonesians at 89,700 and third, Malaysians with 45,600 making the trip by air to Singapore. In these numbers, Singapore does not count Malaysians coming into the country by the land border which has now fully re-opened as the majority of those who use this route, come daily to study or to work.
Passenger traffic at Changi Airport is expected to reach more than 40 percent of pre-COVID levels this month compared with less than 20 percent in March. This number is expected to reach 50 percent in the coming months with one of the two terminals closed since COVID preparing to re-open. Changi Airport has four terminals and is currently operating just two of them.
Tourist numbers are rising so rapidly that travel related firms and those providing services to visitors like restaurants are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Customers have been complaining about poor service due to the lack of service staff. The Singapore government is at the moment trying to help firms hire enough people to cope.
Little India in Serangoon Road is beginning to buzz again and is starting to burst over its seams with people especially during the weekends when migrant workers have their off days.
Until recently, there was a restriction on the number of migrant workers allowed to leave their dormitories for recreation. This was due to fears of an uncontrolled outbreak within the small quarters the workers live in. During the early phase of the pandemic, Singapore had a vast outbreak within the worker dormitories which dominated the COVID cases on the island for a period and led to criticism that the government acted too slowly.
However, this and other restrictions were lifted as the island city grew in confidence in its ability to cope with the coronavirus as more than 90 percent of its residents are now fully vaccinated and 75 percent have received a booster. COVID cases are now hovering between 2,000 and 3,000 after spiking to almost 20,000 in February. Hospitalisation rates are low - well below 100 cases for a population of around 5.6 million.
In a Bloomberg interview on the side of the Changi Aviation Summit, Singapore's Transport Minister S Iswaran said that Singapore will strive to keep its borders open and stay connected to the rest of world even if a new variant of Covid-19 emerges.
"We've all learned to adapt," the Minister was quoted as saying. "We have more tools in the toolkit. It's not as if you always only have a hammer. Now I've got you know, a wrench and a screwdriver and all kinds of other things as well. It really comes down to an assessment of the situation and the risk and then to take a calibrated response."
Minister Iswaran added that optimism is returning to the travel industry, but it is tempered by some challenges as companies scale up operations. He said that this is a challenge of transition, and the government is working hard at the system level and with aviation stakeholders to make sure Changi Airport is well prepared for the transition.
One of the companies benefiting from Singapore's re-opening is its flag carrier Singapore Airlines.
Last week, during its annual financial reporting, the airline reported that it narrowed losses in the second fiscal half year which ended in March. For the entire year, it posted a net loss of SGD 962 million (USD 697 million) for the year, an improvement of 77.5 percent or SGD 3,309 million (USD 2,398 million). It had a profitable fourth quarter.
Singapore Airlines said that it carried 1.45 million passengers in April, the most since the pandemic. As international borders re-open and people begin to travel again, the airline expects to reach 61 percent of pre-COVID passenger capacity by June and around 67 percent of pre-COVID levels by September. By September, it also expects to server over 70 percent of its pre-COVID destinations.