By Lee Kah Whye
Singapore, September 26 (ANI): When the Formula One circus rolls into Singapore this week for the 13th running of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix from September 30 to October 2, it will signal Singapore's strong return as a host of world-class events after the COVID-19 pandemic brought its tourism industry to a screeching halt.
With pent-up demand for exciting live events, crowds from around the world will descend on the city-state in numbers not seen since the first Singapore GP in 2008 when a sell-out crowd of 300,000 attended the event. Since then, the best three-day attendance was the 268,000 achieved in 2019. COVID-19 shut down the world's only street circuit night race in 2020 and 2021.
It is estimated that around 40 per cent of the spectators at the Grand Prix are foreigners, no doubt many will be from India.
Indians at the moment, make up the second largest group of visitors to Singapore by country of origin. Up till August, Singapore received a total of 2.96 million visitors. Out of these, 378,490 are from India. Indonesia is the largest source of foreign visitors to Singapore till August at 588,870. Malaysia is in third place with 264,170, followed by Australia (258,670) and Vietnam (177,510).
July and August, saw about 725,000 foreigners entering Singapore each month, the highest so far this year. At this pace and if global travel continues to pick up, Singapore expects to reach approximately 6 million visitors by the end of the year.
COVID-19 caused Singapore's tourism industry to completely shut down. Tourism-dependent businesses including restaurants, hotels and retail shops were shut down (some forever), and workers in the industry had to find other forms of employment.
If the first three months of 2020 - just before the pandemic forced border closures around the world - were not counted, Singapore received just 90,000 foreign visitors in 2020. It did a little better in 2021 with 330,000 visitors. At its peak, in 2019, Singapore was the fifth most visited city in the world with over 19.1 million visitors, beating more glamorous cities like New York and Paris.
During the COVID-enforced tourism winter in Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) did not sit still. Instead, it went on the offensive to ensure Singapore remains top of mind of potential foreign visitors. STB's regional offices launched new initiatives to engage fans and strengthened Singapore's brand image around the world. It also partnered with technology, media, and tourism industry players in key source markets to jointly promote Singapore as an attractive destination for future travellers.
Since the start of the pandemic, STB has been working closely with industry partners to chart a new path for the tourism sector. In February 2020, the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC), comprising tourism leaders from both the private and public sectors, was set up to develop and implement joint recovery strategies. TRAC helped to identify opportunities arising from COVID-19, driving and implementing measures to co-create recovery plans and instil confidence in Singapore's tourism sector.
During the tourism lull, various training and upskilling activities took place to support industry workers for the time when tourism resumes. These included job redesign initiatives to train existing employees in new skills that allowed them to be redeployed to other areas outside of their specialisations.
The result of STB's active efforts to re-positioning Singapore as the top tourism and business destination in Asia was the rapid recovery of the industry as borders opened.
In the first three months of 2022, Singapore hosted more than 150 local and international events attended by over 37,000 people, according to the tourism board.
With COVID restrictions eased and as tourism bounced back as seen by the number of arrivals in the last couple of months, hotels have been busy. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that with the raft of high-profile events lined up in the coming months, Hotel rooms in Singapore are the most expensive in almost a decade.
The latest data from STB showed that the average hotel room rate in July rose almost 70 per cent year-on-year to SGD 259 (USD 185) a night since September 2012. Despite this, a stay at a five-star luxury hotel in Singapore is still reasonably priced compared with regional peers.
The growth in visitor arrivals is likely to continue with a host of international business, entertainment and sporting events planned for the rest of the year. The Formula One Grand Prix just being one of many.
Just before the Grand Prix, Singapore will host the Milken Institute Asia Summit, and the Forbes Global CEO Conference. Also in the pipeline is the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference and several crypto events in September, followed by Gamescom Asia in October, Bloomberg New Economy Forum and the World One Health Congress, both in November.
As for entertainment, world-class acts coming to Singapore include Westlife and Green Day during the Grand Prix and later in the year, Justin Bieber, Maroon Five and Guns N' Roses.
S Iswaran, Singapore's Minister for Transport and Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations who was the lead government official in charge of the Grand Prix strongly believes that the Grand Prix is a strong focal point for tourists, global events and business meetings, and enhances Singapore's reputation as a global city with a vibrant lifestyle.
Singapore extended its hosting rights to the Grand Prix in January this year for another seven years till 2028. It is reported that STB pays about USD35 million per year for the hosting rights and that it costs about USD 100 million to run it. The organisers claim that Singapore has benefited from about USD 1.1 billion dollars in incremental tourism receipts since its inception.
"The benefit overall is for our tourism industry, in particular hospitality -- so the hotels benefit, the air travel industry, but also equally, the F&B and our retail sector as well," said Iswaran in a community event held in late August. "Overall, I think it's a positive impact for the broader hospitality and other sectors that are associated with the Formula 1 event." (ANI)