Visa exemption sends Singapore travel soaring 960%

Nowhere has the absence of Chinese tourists been more apparent than in Southeast Asia. Not only was China one of the largest sources of inbound tourists for many countries in the region, but its tourists were also renowned for their spending power – an especially important point in countries with a large GDP contribution from travel and tourism. 

All that has changed, with China’s weary post-pandemic tourists increasingly thrifty and drawn in by destinations closer to home. Hoping to offset the cost of international travel with the lure of convenience, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have all entered into visa-exemption deals with China in recent months.

For Singapore, these efforts might be starting to pay off. According to the latest data from Ctrip, China’s foremost online travel agency, bookings for trips to Singapore soared 960% year-on-year over the recent Spring Festival period. These travellers represent the first batch of Chinese tourists to make use of the new mutual visa-exemption deal between China and Singapore.

Since February 9, one day before the official start of the Lunar New Year, Chinese nationals have been permitted to travel visa-free to Singapore and stay for up to 30 days. Within just one hour of the announcement on January 25, searches for flights to Singapore on Alibaba-owned travel platform Fliggy increased over 15 times compared to the previous month, and the search volume for hotels increased by more than 6 times month-on-month.

All travel bookings for the first day of the holiday period jumped 102% compared to last year and far exceeded 2019 levels, offering hope of a full rebound for the tourism industry. However, projections for the rest of the year are slightly less upbeat. International travel from Chinese tourists is set to reach about 62% of pre-pandemic levels this year, according to Singapore-based digital marketing firm China Trading Desk.

Chinese tourists are increasingly allocating more funds to goods rather than services. This trend is expected to continue in the year ahead – welcome news for the travel and tourism industry. But with Singapore consistently ranked the most expensive city in the world, the visa waiver might not be enough to attract budget-conscious Chinese tourists. In fact, following the burst of Spring Festival travel to the city-state, many Chinese netizens have shared mixed reviews: they enjoyed their trip to Singapore but would not return simply due to the high costs of food, accommodation, and attractions.  


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