13 February 18 The Straits Times by JOSE HONG
Players in the Singapore tourism industry have been gearing up for a slice of the Chinese tourist pie, as China became the largest source of visitors here for the first time last year.
Chinese visitors were also the biggest tourist spenders here last year, for the third year running.
InterContinental Singapore general manager Michael Martin said that since 2015, the hotel has made itself a "China-ready" establishment. This means, for example, that staff are taught Chinese etiquette, such as presenting a name card with two hands. Mandarin-speaking staff are also readily available to attend to guests' needs.
Mr Martin said the hotel saw a 15 per cent increase in the number of Chinese guests last year compared with 2016, a rise seen on a smaller scale at Regent Singapore, which had a 5.1 per cent increase in Chinese guests over the same period.
When asked how Chinese tourists' habits have changed, a Regent Singapore spokesman said: "We have started seeing a trend where more individual travellers book either directly through the hotel's website or online travel agents... we have noticed that experiencing new dining trends has also become a focus for these travellers."
Last year, 3.2 million tourists from China arrived in the Republic, beating traditional chart leader Indonesia, which accounted for three million tourists.
A record 17.4 million tourists visited Singapore last year, according to Singapore Tourism Board (STB) figures revealed yesterday.
China maintained its top spot for visitor spending last year, with receipts hitting $3.08 billion from January to September, a 10 per cent increase year on year.
The growth of Chinese tourism comes on the back of STB's marketing push to sell Singapore in other parts of China and not just major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Industry experts also say Singapore appeals to Chinese tourists as offerings here have evolved beyond just shopping and sightseeing to giving guests a chance to learn more about Singapore's heritage and culture.
STB assistant chief executive Chang Chee Pey said the focus for future growth will be on China, India and Indonesia - as a way to minimise the risks of depending too much on one country.
Mr Chang said Singapore needs to stay relevant to the young, millennial traveller from China's Tier 1 cities, which is why, for example, the music festival ZoukOut was streamed to China via Chinese Internet giant Tencent last December.
A Science Centre Singapore spokesman also reported strong growth in the number of Chinese tourists, noting that around 75,000 visited the attraction last year. She said Chinese tourists made up more than half of the overall foreign tourist groups visiting.
She added that the centre catered to them by having some programmes in Mandarin for Chinese school groups, and highlighting to travel agents that it has a Chinese restaurant to cater to their taste buds.
Local tour agencies also find themselves buoyed by the trend. The head of SingExpress Travel's inbound Asia department, Mr Bernard Yu, said that nine years ago, 5 per cent of his tourists came from China. Now, they make up 40 per cent.
The local retail scene has also re-angled itself. For example, Suntec City and Alipay last week announced a two-year partnership to launch Alipay touchpoints in the mall. Some shops like Fossil and Sephora already allow transactions via the Chinese payment service.
Alipay general manager Cherry Huang said Suntec City is a natural partner. "This mall is very popular among Chinese tourists, thanks to features such as the famous Fountain of Wealth, and is a great shopping experience... It is also a strategic place to reach Chinese expats and business travellers who attend meetings at the convention centre."