SINGAPORE - Visitor numbers from China plunged in the last three months of 2013 after a new tourism law kicked in there - but this did not stop the Chinese from spending the most money here that year.
Arrivals by Chinese travellers fell 31 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year but their spending rose slightly - by 1 per cent - compared with the same period in 2012.
Fewer Chinese came on multi-country package tours, but more travelled here on their own, said Mr Edward Chew, the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) point man for Greater China.
"These travellers tend to stay longer than those on multi-destination package tours," he added.
This means that despite the fall in visitor arrivals in the last quarter of last year, tourism receipts have gone up, he said.
According to statistics released by the board yesterday, Singapore welcomed 2.27 million Chinese visitors last year, up 12 per cent from the year before. They spent $2.98 billion, a year-on-year rise of 18 per cent. Their Indonesian counterparts spent just under that amount.
This meant that for the first time, the Chinese spent more than the Indonesians, who had been the biggest-spending visitors here since 2007.
Indonesia, however, remained the largest source of tourists last year, with 3.09 million arrivals.
STB attributed the fall in Chinese visitor numbers to a new tourism law in China which took effect last October.
It clamped down on cheap shopping tours sold at or below cost to boost sales. But travellers were often taken to shops and given the hard sell.
The law meant that travelling to places such as Thailand, Yunnan and Hong Kong, where such tours were common, cost more. A handful of agencies in Singapore offered such tours as well.
Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said the law weeded out cost-conscious, low-spending travellers from China. But this encouraged more independent travellers from China, who tend to spend more, he said.
He predicted that the trend of higher spending by Chinese travellers despite a drop in their numbers is "likely to sustain itself for a while".
Agencies here are not worried about the drop in arrivals.
"There was a 20 per cent fall in inbound Chinese travellers after the tourism law kicked in. But we're not worried because we still have groups coming in for our non-shopping tours," said a staff member of a travel agency who declined to be named as she was not authorised to speak to the media.
"There's not much difference in our revenue because now all our tours are non-shopping tours, which have higher fares," she added.
Overall, international visitor arrivals here reached a record 15.6 million last year, up 7 per cent from 2012.
They spent $23.5 billion, a 2 per cent increase from 2012. For the full year, accommodation receipts grew 6 per cent.
Revenue from sightseeing, entertainment and gaming increased 4 per cent, while food and beverage receipts rose 2 per cent. Shopping, however, recorded a 1 per cent fall.
This article was published on May 10 in The Straits Times.
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