Chinese tourists top arrivals in Singapore, surpassing Indonesia

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - They are also the biggest spenders, and helped drive visitors to a record 17.4 million last year.

The world's most populous country has become the biggest source of visitors to Singapore for the first time ever, while its tourists remain the biggest spenders here.

The surge in visitors from China last year ended Indonesia's 20-year reign as the biggest source of arrivals here. Overall tourist numbers and spending hit record highs for the second year in a row.

Some 17.4 million visitors landed here last year - a jump of 6.2 per cent over 2016 - while tourism receipts rose by 3.9 per cent to S$26.8 billion (US$20 billion), according to preliminary estimates released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) yesterday (Feb 12).

The jump in spending was driven by the growth in arrivals across all 10 of Singapore's top markets.

Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders for the third year in a row, spending S$3.08 billion, while visitors from the United Kingdom and United States posted the highest growth in spending based on estimates for the first three quarters of last year.

Visitors to Singapore spent 9 per cent more on shopping between January and September compared with the same period in 2016, thanks to higher spending on confectionery, fashion accessories and health and wellness products.

Sightseeing, entertainment and gaming enjoyed a 6 per cent boost, while the food and beverage sector saw a 5 per cent dip as tourists chose to forgo fine dining for casual eating and hawker fare.

The top three largest markets for visitor arrivals were China, Indonesia and India, where the STB has been courting tourists from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.

There were an estimated 3.23 million tourists from China last year, compared with 2.95 million from Indonesia. India edged out Malaysia for third place and saw the highest growth rate at 16 per cent, while Hong Kong posted the largest decline - of 13 per cent - for the second year in a row.

Higher spending by visitors on accommodation and shopping helped the business events sector to grow by 4 per cent to S$3.15 billion for the first three quarters of last year, despite a 5 per cent dip in the number of these travellers to 1.75 million.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry continued its double-digit year-on-year growth from 2016, with passenger traffic increasing 17 per cent last year to 1.38 million, a record high for the third year running.

STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said that the agency was "pleasantly surprised" by the better-than-expected performance. He attributed this to a strong glo-bal economic recovery and increased flight and cruise connectivity to Singapore.

For this year, the STB forecasts tourism receipts to grow by between 1 per cent and 3 per cent, and visitor arrivals to be in the range of 17.6 million to 18.1 million, an increase of 1 per cent to 4 per cent.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said that the stronger growth in visitors from Tier 2 Chinese cities likely demonstrates Singapore's appeal to first-time travellers for its safety and large Mandarin-speaking population.

The nascent cruise market also offers plenty of room for growth, he added.

But as other regional countries continue to grow and upgrade their ports, competition for tourist dollars will become more intense, he said.