SINGAPORE - Visitors to Sentosa will enjoy free admission from March 14 to June 30 as part of efforts to boost local visitorship and prop up business on the resort island, which has been hard hit by the tourist slowdown.
Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), which announced last month that admission will be waived during the week-long March school holidays, said on Wednesday (March 11) that it will extend the free admission through June to encourage more local residents to visit.
Businesses on the island will also be allowed to defer 50 per cent of their rental payments from April to June and repay it in interest-free instalments over 12 months, SDC said.
The measures, which are part of the $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package for businesses and workers announced in this year's Budget, follow feedback from tenants on business sentiment, it said.
They are in addition to a half-month rental waiver or property tax rebate announced last month for all 46 commercial entities - including hotels, eateries, attractions and retailers - that are direct tenants of SDC.
More promotions, including hotel and attraction packages, will also be rolled out across the island in March, said SDC, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
SDC chief executive Quek Swee Kuan said last month that businesses on the island had reported a drop in visitor-ship and sales of between 20 and 50 per cent.
He said then that island admission would be waived during the March school holidays, and may be extended if the situation did not improve.
Island admission ranges between $2 and $6, while entry is already free for those who enter through the Sentosa Boardwalk.
The rental deferment scheme may be extended to tenants of other government agencies, depending on how badly they have been impacted by the virus, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said during a visit to Sentosa on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Government was working on a second stimulus package for businesses and workers as the global outbreak has worsened since the Budget was presented last month.
Asked what it will contain, Mr Chee said the Government is studying the measures needed to support companies and ensure that as many jobs are kept as possible amid the covid-19 outbreak.
Cash flow relief is one part of the support for businesses, but bringing back demand is more important, he said, adding that this will involve boosting confidence in public hygiene and changing social norms.
"For example at our restaurants, we may have to space out the seating. At attractions, we may have to space it out so we don't have overcrowding. These are things which island partners together with SDC will look into."
There is no contradiction between encouraging locals to go out over the school holidays and the Government's recent intensifying of social distancing measures, said Mr Chee.
"We're not going to go back to business as usual, that cannot be with the virus around. We need to take extra precautions... and I think these measures will go some way in providing customers with the confidence that when they visit Sentosa and F&B and retail outlets in other parts of Singapore, it will be safe."
Sentosa's development plans for the medium and longer-term remain unchanged, he added.
SDC's strategy of growing its base of local visitors in recent years has put it on the right track to handle the tourist slowdown, he noted. Local visitorship rose by 18 per cent in 2019 following years of decline, he said.
Sentosa is among the tourist spots trying to woo more local visitors to compensate for the shortfall in tourists amid the global spread of the coronavirus.
The Singapore Tourism Board has projected a drop of up to 30 per cent in tourist arrivals for the year, with Singapore losing an average of 18,000 to 20,000 visitors a day in February.
The Straits Times reported last month that hotel occupancy rates in Sentosa had dipped below 30 per cent, after Singapore's first coronavirus case was found to have stayed at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa.
Mr Gavin Weightman, the hotel's general manager, said the current occupancy rate is lower than the 70 per cent or more it would usually see, but declined to provide figures.
Staycation packages launched last week have helped to secure bookings for 150 room nights however, while higher local visitorship to its Trapizza restaurant on the weekends has helped to cushion the fall in tourists, he said.
"On a regular busy Saturday we'd expect to see about 800 people coming through for lunch and dinner. At the moment we're seeing about 500 to 600, so it's still quite encouraging."
The hotel has also committed about 35 per cent of its 300 employees for training initiatives during the lull, and will be taking advantage of the rental deferment to aid cash flow, "which is critical at the moment".
Mr Luke Johnson, general manager of bungy jump attraction AJ Hackett, said that it has seen a 50 per cent drop in customers in recent weeks, with locals making up an increasing share of visitors.
He said the company has plans to spruce up the attraction and prepare for the eventual rebound.
Capella Singapore, which famously hosted the Trump-Kim summit in 2018, has not been spared as travel restrictions and fewer tourist arrivals have hurt business, said Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, senior vice president for hotels at Pontiac Land Group, which owns Capella.
"Fortunately on weekends we do get staycations, so we're very thankful for the Singaporeans who have been coming to stay at our hotels," she said.
Local visitors helped the group's hotels to survive during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, and the hope is that Singaporeans will once again lend their support, said Ms Kwee.
Resorts World Sentosa told The Straits Times it will be rolling out several promotions aimed at locals this month, including free all-day parking and dining vouchers for visitors to Universal Studios Singapore, Adventure Cove Waterpark and the S.E.A. Aquarium.
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.