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ECONOMY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Chris Reed

The haze: Is it time to boycott Indonesia and its companies?

BY CHRIS REED

Directly and indirectly brand Singapore and the Singaporean economy are taking a battering from the haze. According to both the Singapore Tourism Board and the Association of Singapore Attractions, there has been a 10% drop in visitor numbers to Singapore and its attractions and a 40% drop in outdoor attractions and outdoor eatery usage. I think that's the tip of the iceberg.

Anecdotally outdoor places along East Coast Road, where I live, have closed up their doors if they are outdoor or closed if they have no ability to do that. As soon as the PSI goes over 100, people stop going to outdoor venues it has become like a ghost town. This has especially affected kids and outdoor play parks which are now empty as the risk to kids is greater than the risk to adults.

There are businesses having to lay off workers as a result of the Indonesian haze. People's families and lives are being put at risk and their livelihood damaged because people can't dine outside, can't do outdoor activities in a country where it was always taken for granted that you could do this.

Outdoor events and fitness enthusiasts such as daily cyclists like myself risk our lungs, even with masks, every time we go out. Many outdoor enthusiasts have reported increasing numbers of coughs, more difficulty breathing, and lung infections. Many events have had to be cancelled as a result.

The places that have benefited from the haze are malls and indoor play areas which have seen soaring trade, but that is not making up for the loss of business of the outdoor venues. The Singaporean economy is taking a battering but it goes beyond that. It's psychological too.

What I have noticed about the haze is that not only are people not going out and not doing things as a result of it when the PSI rating gets over 100 but they are not doing things when the PSI is less than 100 when it merely "looks hazy". There is a general distrust of official PSI figures when people can see and smell haze for themselves. This in itself is a massive problem for the government and the tourism/F&B industry.

There is now a psychological barrier for residents and tourists to get over to enjoy the innumerable outdoor activities that Singapore has to offer. When there is no haze many people still think that there is.

Another knock-on effect of the haze is the high increase in sick days being reported at businesses across the island. It is not helped by government advertising saying if you have a cough/feel sick, you should see a doctor. All this does is encourage people to justify a non-related sickness by saying it was caused by the haze.

This has also resulted in many more people going to the doctors for something which the doctor can do nothing about. This disproportionately affects SMEs like my business.

It's like saying you breathed in passive smoking and ask the doctor to fix a cough... the two could be related but only if someone has breathed in smoke for hours on end. Either way the doctor can do nothing about it, so why encourage people to go unless they are old or young?

What is not in doubt is that some people with asthmatic and other breathing problems along with kids and babies are suffering as a result of the haze. This is damaging for Singapore and the ability for people to enjoy themselves here. Many people, who could, have left the country, some temporarily or some permanently.

All of this have had a massive effect on brand Singapore. This is not good both short term and long term for Singapore. People see pictures of the haze on TV, social media, and in communications from people living and visiting and get a negative impression. Do they want to visit? Do they want go to a rooftop bar?

It doesn't matter how many TV adverts you see about Singapore or for attractions, everyone can now see the reality for themselves.

The same applies to Indonesia, ironically. Bizarrely, ironically and without any shame they are running a marketing campaign called "Wonderful Indonesia" with clear skies and beautiful scenery. This is joke when you look at the reality. They not only caused the haze but they are being hardest hit and they don't appear to see this connection at all and do something about it.

Singaporean residents know the truth and increasingly are reluctant to give Indonesia money through tourism or through any other related products and services from companies that are causing the haze and from the areas creating it.

In fact money is where the answer to this lies. A boycott of all Indonesian goods and services would affect their economy more than the haze is currently affecting ours.

Retailers such as Giant, Cold Storage, and Fair Price are emptying their shelves of products from companies who are causing the haze. I believe that we should all go further and boycott all goods from Indonesia and all travel to Indonesia. Indonesia appears to care less about effecting not only our economy but that of their and our ASEAN neighbours, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines who are all being affected by the haze from Indonesia.

Time to hit them harder with a boycott. No more Bali, no more Jakarta, why give money, any money to a country that has done nothing to prevent the haze, that took months to ask for help to put the haze out, and that have arrogantly and misguidedly expressed little remorse for causing the haze and the economic damage it's doing for their neighbours?

In fact on many occasions Indonesian ministers have done the opposite and said that we Singaporean residents should be grateful to Indonesians for giving them blue skies and lovely air the other 11 months of the year. The fact that one month has become four and could go on for many more shows how disconnected and lacking in empathy Indonesia has become to our daily situation. Time to take action.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.

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