Singapore sharpens strategy to draw wider range of visitors from China

Singapore sharpens strategy to draw wider range of visitors from China
Travellers and tourists at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

THE Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is sharpening its approach in attracting Chinese travellers to Singapore amid recovering Chinese tourist arrival figures.

It hopes that the new partnerships forged on Wednesday with Chinese online and media platforms will help reach out to more independent Chinese travellers and travellers from smaller Chinese cities.

Edward Chew, regional director for greater China at STB, said at an interview after announcing these partnerships that it is crucial to link visitors' impressions of Singapore with tourist arrivals and receipts, and these partnerships can help enhance that.

"If you get a lot of people coming to Singapore and they don't have a good time, you kill the goose that lays the golden egg," he said.

STB signed four memoranda of understanding (MOUs) on Wednesday with Chinese online travel services platforms Alitrip and Tuniu, and online review sites Dianping and Mafengwo. Content on these four sites will present possible destinations in Singapore to their users.

STB also launched a new YourSingapore service account on WeChat, a mobile messaging platform, and a Baidu Connect service on the Chinese-language Internet search website. These two services will give users real-time, location-based services on their mobile devices while they are exploring Singapore.

These initiatives were launched at the TravelRave ITB Asia, a travel and tourism event held at Marina Bay Sands.

China was Singapore's second largest market last year - both in terms of visitor arrivals and tourism receipts; the 1.722 million Chinese who came here spent S$2.6 billion collectively.

STB already has a presence on Weibo, China's microblogging platform, and a WeChat subscription account.

In addition, the agency works with Chinese video portals such as Youku to push out content about Singapore.

The initiatives launched on Wednesday are expected to help deepen STB's reach into the Chinese market, at a time when Chinese tourist arrivals are climbing back to 2013 levels.

Latest figures show that in the first eight months of this year, 1.463 million Chinese tourists came to Singapore. This was a 19.3 per cent jump from last year's 1.226 million arrivals, but still 15.5 per cent lower than 2013's total of 1.732 million.

With these new partnerships, STB hopes to capture a larger slice of the independent traveller market.

Figures from the China Tourism Academy show that more than 65 per cent of Chinese travellers last year were independent travellers.

Noting that more than half of Chinese visitor arrivals in 2014 were free-and-easy visitors, STB's chief executive Lionel Yeo on Wednesday described China's digital travel landscape as "a parallel universe to what's offered in the West".

"It is thus important that we work with the right Chinese digital players to engage Chinese consumers," he said.

The partnerships will also help STB reach out to travellers from China's smaller cities such as Nanjing, or its Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Donald Yu, chief executive of Tuniu, said that more than half the website's revenue comes from such cities.

Businesses in Singapore would also have a chance to reach out to this pool of Chinese tourists.

Khoo Shao Tze, chairman of the Sentosa Harbourfront Business Association, said that it wants to highlight destinations within the Sentosa-Harbourfront area.

The association has 49 members, among them Sentosa Development Corporation, St James Holdings and Mapletree Investment.

Mr Khoo said: "Word of mouth is so important to us, so these platforms are crucial in helping us reach out to these independent travellers."

This article was first published on October 22, 2015.
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