Strong Singdollar sparks yen for travel to Japan, rush for ringgit

Christmas came early for travellers stepping out of Singapore as major currencies fell against the Singapore dollar.

The hardest hit was the yen, which fell to its weakest in at least 25 years. One Singdollar could buy 91.3 yen yesterday, compared with 82 yen at the start of the year.

Holidaymakers have taken notice. Travel agencies reported a surge in bookings to Japan this year, with last-minute December bookings still coming in.

Some are using the strong Singdollar to snap up the Malaysian ringgit, causing money changers to stock up more ringgit, which fell to a 16-year low of 2.64 against the Singdollar yesterday.

The Australian dollar has also hit a five-year low of 1.103 against the Singdollar.

All this adds up to a holiday rush, especially to Japan, with a rising number of tour groups heading there. Dynasty Travel is taking 5,000 Singaporeans to Japan, up nearly 70 per cent from the 3,000 last year. Chan Brothers Travel, SA Tours and CTC Travel reported a 10 to 15 per cent year-on- year increase.

"We are still seeing last- minute December bookings coming in," said Chan Brothers' marketing communications manager, Mr Jeremiah Wong.

The Japan National Tourism Organisation expects over 200,000 Singaporeans to visit the country this year. Last year, the number was 189,220.

Other than Singaporeans' stronger purchasing power, more charter flights to Japan and increased publicity for lesser- known destinations such as Okinawa in southern Japan may have led to the rising numbers, said the travel agencies.

Retired accountant Chew Moi Ying, 57, plans to take another trip to Japan next year, despite touring Okinawa in October.

"The people there are nice and the place is clean," she said. "The weakened yen gives me even more incentive to go there again."

The weaker yen has not translated into cheaper Japanese products in the supermarkets just yet.

At FairPrice and Sheng Siong, prices of products from Japan have remained stable so far.

Prices are sometimes maintained despite short-term currency fluctuations, to keep them stable for consumers, said FairPrice's senior director of purchasing and merchandising, Mrs Mui-Kok Kah Wei.

"It also usually takes some time for retail prices to reflect changes in foreign currency fluctuations," she added.

Meanwhile, the favourable exchange rate has made the cheaper Malaysian ringgit particularly popular this week.

Long queues have been forming to buy the currency and some money changers also said that the ringgit sells out so quickly that they have had to replenish stocks several times a day.

According to Mr Omar Wahid, 53, vice-president of the Money Changers Association (Singapore), many money changers here have had to increase their daily stock of Malaysian ringgit from around RM200,000 previously to RM300,000 this week.

In general, demand has risen by around 30 per cent for Malaysian ringgit this week, added Mr Mohamed Rafeeq, 49, the secretary of the association.

Said Mr Jalal Mohamed, 55, who runs A.R. Money Exchange in Bishan: "Before this week, only 10 to 30 customers would come to buy the ringgit every day. This week, I have seen around 200 to 300 customers coming to do so daily. They buy small amounts of less than $1,000. Some will keep the money and sell it back to us to make a profit later on."

This article was first published on December 6, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.