Lina Ang, Sojern’s managing director for APAC

What will be Singapore’s biggest win if China chooses to reopen

The sleeping giant is expected to move the benchmark of Singapore’s international arrival.

Though Singapore has seen a huge improvement in its travel and tourism industry in 2022, it has yet to return to its pre-COVID levels; however, an expert said that the Lion City might be able to achieve this goal in 2023 if China will relax their restrictions and allow outbound travel.

“Let’s not forget that this [China] is a sleeping giant. This market, as we know, is huge. When they start travelling, it will certainly move the benchmark of international arrivals in destinations that they visit,” Lina Ang, Sojern’s managing director for APAC, told Singapore Business Review in an interview.

“When they are ready to travel outbound, the spike is going to be huge. Potentially, we are going to see history repeating itself, where there is more demand than supply, driving higher airfares, as well as hotel rates,” Ang added.

Based on data from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), China was Singapore’s top international visitor-generating market in 2019, bringing 3,627,000 travellers to the Lion City. The Mainland was also the top contributor to Singapore's tourism receipts in 2019, generating $900m.

In the same year, China also ranked sixth amongst the top origin countries of Singapore’s international visitors during the Formula 1 race weekend. In 2022, however, China fell out of the top 10.

Apart from China’s reopening, Ang said the industry can also be elevated if industry players ramp up their workforce which she said is already happening.

“If industry players are ramping up their workforce it will minimise demand over supply issues,” Ang added.

On the flip side, Ang said a resurgence of the virus, escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war, and increasing inflation rates, might cause turbulence in the industry.

“Despite these, we are still seeing an upward trajectory in 2023 for the Asia-Pacific region,” she said,

Renewed optimism

After a strong recovery in 2022, Ang said the travel and tourism industry will see renewed optimism in 2023.

“We’ve seen room rate hit a 10-year high. Hotels are reevaluating distribution strategies, like how they can drive books directly to the website versus through agents,” Ang said.

In 2023, Ang also believes that more hotels will lean into the idea that guests want more than just a room, but an experience.

“There is an opportunity for hotels to adopt technology that makes the guests' experience seamless, and more personalised,” she said.

One way to do this is by having an app where guests can access experiences offered by the hotel.

“Guests want to be able to book on their mobile, check-in online, have keyless access to their room by utilising a QR code, order breakfast or champagne in a single app,” she said.

To further prepare for the year ahead, Ang emphasised the need for hotels to also utilise data like travel intent and behavioural data to create better offers for travellers.

“For example, looking ahead to Chinese New Year, use data to see which destinations are conducting flight searches and booking and target those travellers. Next is marketing; marketing should always be on, meaning to say, have a live campaign. Lastly, build brand trust,” she said.

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