Hotels, attractions gearing up for launch of SingapoRediscovers vouchers, platforms expect surge in bookings

SINGAPORE: Hotels, attractions and tourism businesses are gearing up for the launch of the SingapoRediscover…

SINGAPORE: Hotels, attractions and tourism businesses are gearing up for the launch of the SingapoRediscover vouchers, with packages ready to be rolled out from Dec 1. 

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) detailed on Monday (Nov 23) how Singapore citizens aged 18 and above in 2020 can redeem S$100 worth of vouchers. 

The vouchers can be redeemed online through five authorised booking partners: Changi Travel Services (also known as Changi Recommends), Klook, Trip.com, GlobalTix and Traveloka.

READ: SingapoRediscovers vouchers can be redeemed from Dec 1

Executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) Margaret Heng said the vouchers will “go a long way” in encouraging domestic expenditure at tourism businesses, including hotels. 

“Staycations will not just help hotel establishments but also potentially create spin-offs and increase domestic spending in other sectors of our tourism industry, including F&B, tour operators and retail,” Ms Heng told CNA. 

“It will encourage Singaporeans to support our tourism businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including hotels.” 

The association represents about 160 hotels in Singapore. Members are working with tour operators, local businesses and attractions in the vicinity to offer bundled experiences, said Ms Heng. 

The SHA is also working with the hotel industry to offer “value-for-money” bundled staycation packages, she added. 

The average occupancy rate for hotel rooms in September was 60 per cent, “significantly below” the optimal level of 85 per cent, noted Ms Heng. Room revenue has “remained significantly below” last year’s level. 

As of the end of October, staycations contributed to an average occupancy rate of more than 20 per cent in hotels, said Ms Heng. 

READ: Ready to explore Singapore? Here’s how to redeem your S$100 SingapoRediscovers vouchers

Chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions Kevin Cheong told CNA that no fewer than 50 attractions will be rolling out packages for the SingapoRediscovers vouchers. The association has about 63 members.

“Hundreds” of packages will be available, with “many permutations”, as attractions look to bundle their tickets with hotels and other nearby attractions for different audiences, said Dr Cheong. 

Adding that Singaporeans are “waiting” for the vouchers, he noted that the number of Singaporean visitors to attractions has decreased in the past few weeks. 

“I think there is a level of anticipation (as to) what the packages are, and Singaporeans are going to jump on board and redeem the vouchers,” he said. 

Most Singaporeans will probably redeem the vouchers for staycations and attractions like Universal Studios Singapore or the Night Safari, said Dr Cheong. 

“With the vouchers, it makes them a lot more accessible. But we are hopeful that … Singaporeans will go onto those online platforms and find out a bit more (about other attractions), so the level of awareness is likely to increase,” he added.

The Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore) is reaching out to members to invite them to take part in packaging tours with hotels, attractions and other tourism businesses so they can “take advantage” of the increased demand for tours. 

The society represents more than 500 STB-licensed tour guides in Singapore. 

“We have planned a few tours, but we haven’t put (them) together for the vouchers just yet, because we are open to working with hotels and other businesses,” chairperson Jean Wang told CNA, adding that it was difficult to plan for tours before they knew how the vouchers could be redeemed. 

“(Compared to) a tour on its own, we think it would be more attractive to package in other elements – food, and maybe other attractions.” 

PLATFORMS EXPECTING SURGES IN BOOKINGS

With the vouchers only redeemable via the five authorised booking platforms, the platforms have started to receive more customer enquiries.

There will be more than 200 activities eligible for use with the SingapoRediscovers vouchers on Klook. Most of them were already available on Klook before the vouchers were launched, said Southeast Asia marketing director Sarah Wan. 

The platform is expecting “quite a large surge” in bookings, especially in December and January, she added. 

“Typically we do see surges around the school holiday periods, so we can anticipate that the booking patterns should more or less match that,” said Ms Wan. 

“But for us, we are hoping Singaporeans will consider booking off peak as well. We’re working together with our merchants to make sure that they have some off peak packages with more favourable pricing to facilitate better social distancing and capacity management.” 

Many merchants are also trying to offer more innovative or value-added packages, she noted. 

Social distancing ambassadors at Universal Studios Singapore

Police and social distancing ambassadors stand near a sign of the Universal Studios Singapore theme park on Jul 3, 2020, as the attraction reopened after being temporarily closed due to COVID-19. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

READ: Commentary: What the Singapore tourism vouchers are really about

Traveloka is “very optimistic” that the vouchers will trigger a “significant spike” in bookings, said head of corporate communications Reza Amirul Juniarshah. 

To match the validity period of the vouchers, Traveloka will be running its own campaign between December 2020 and June 2021, she added. 

“Positive engagements are also seen in our social media posts and we are really excited to play an active role to restimulate local tourism and look forward to making this program successful.” 

READ: ‘Pivot, prepare to shut or hang in there’: Hostels cling to Malaysian guests for survival

General manager of Trip.com Singapore Ru Yi said they are prepared to receive 200 to 300 more customer enquiries as the vouchers are launched. 

The platform expects booking demand to spike from Dec 1, and also in June, when the vouchers are close to expiry, she added. 

Homegrown start-up GlobalTix has seen a “high level of interest” from merchants, as they can engage customers directly through their own websites, instead of through a separate booking platform. 

More than 100 merchants have come on board, allowing customers to make bookings using the vouchers directly on their websites, said GlobalTix chief operations officer Chan Chee Kong. 

“As Singaporeans are unable to travel overseas, we expect interest in domestic tourism to spike significantly. This spike will largely be in tandem with the usual peak seasons, including school holidays and public holidays,” said Mr Chan. 

APPEALING TO LOCALS

According to Trip.com data, Singaporeans who take staycations enjoy staying in the rooms and opt for F&B and spa packages, said Ms Ru. This is different from tourists who typically do not spend much time in hotels, leaving after breakfast and returning to the hotel at night. 

“So when we package the hotel rooms with meals, dining credits, it’s always very compelling to guests. Locals prefer to stay in the room, enjoy the facilities of the hotel, enjoy the gym, enjoy the swimming pool,” she added. 

Let's Go Tours bike tour

A cycling tour organised by Let’s Go Tours in Singapore. (File photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

Many locals “can’t imagine” going on a tour of Singapore to learn about Singapore, said Ms Wang. 

Adding that the association hopes to put together something “unexpected” to snatch the interests of Singaporeans, she said: “For us guides, we can do very good tours and after that, (customers) can go and eat on their own. 

“But we think that we will give them added value by introducing something (new). Because that’s what they’re looking for, a different experience.”

READ: Entrepreneurs try to find opportunity amid the COVID-19 uncertainty

Many attractions have never designed or developed activities primarily for the resident market, said Dr Cheong. 

“I think we’re all approaching it with an open mind, to know what works and what doesn’t. It’s a learning curve for all of us,” he added. 

“I think we can only thank the Government for doing it (the SingapoRediscovers voucher scheme). If the people still don’t come … then this is something very worrisome.” 

MANAGING COSTS

Although hotels, attractions and booking platforms are expecting demand to surge at peak periods, Dr Cheong is “more worried” for the off-peak periods and weekdays. 

“How do I sustain a business with my costs all ramped up? With 50 per cent capacity limitations and only the Singapore market… it’s not possible to offset the troughs of the traffic. 

“And it’s not possible for 5.5 million people to replace the 18 million foreign tourists.” 

READ: Tourism companies preparing strategies to benefit from SingapoRediscovers vouchers

Responding to questions about whether the booking platforms’ commission or transaction charges would significantly affect merchants’ earnings, the platforms CNA spoke to said that they are offering reduced rates for the redemption of the SingapoRediscovers vouchers.

STB said on Monday that it secured a “much lower range” of commission rates for all the merchants who will be using the booking platforms to push out their SingapoRediscovers products. “On the citizen front, actually there is no impact, there will be no extra fees or charges that are levied to users for the bookings,” it added.

Trip.com’s Ms Ru said the scheme would “provide assistance” and help the tourism industry “recover faster”.

Klook “significantly reduced” its commission, as they are “not really looking at this initiative for profit”, said Ms Wan. 

“We’re heartened to see that this will actually benefit our merchants. Because we are a booking platform, our business model is reliant on the strength of our merchants. Our priority for this initiative is to make sure that the merchants get as much of the support as possible to tide through this period.”