Professional Comment

How Singapore’s Tourism Industry Coped with COVID-19 and What the UK Can Learn

By Benedict Pek, Lecturer, School of Hospitality & Tourism at LSBF Singapore (

Singapore has always been a popular tourist destination, the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has greatly affected its tourism industry. Due to unprecedented global travel restrictions and border closures, there was a major decline in both visitor arrivals and tourism receipts in 2020.Visitor arrivals fell by 85.7% in 2020 to reach 2.7 million, while tourism receipts declined by 78.4% to S$4.4 billion in the first three quarters of 2020.All tourism-related industries saw their sales plunge as they were unable to sustain the high rental costs and staff wages. Some restaurant chains chose to wind down business as they were not able to sustain with little profit. Hotels suffered as their occupan- cy rates continued to decrease drastically and employees were being laid off from work, causing high levels of anxiety.

Even during these difficult times, tourism businesses played a key role in Singapore’s battle against COVID-19. Hotels offered their properties for various accommodation purposes, including quarantine facilities and Stay-Home Notice facilities. Our two resorts also contributed in other ways. More than 2,000 Resorts World Sentosa employees served at the Community Care Facility at Singapore EXPO where they managed operations, provided meals and packed care kits. Marina Bay Sands donated around 15,000 kg of food and packed 15,000 care kits for migrant workers and low-income families affected by the pandemic.

When the outbreak in migrant worker dormitories happened last year, Singapore’s cruise industry assisted by providing the world’s first migrant worker dormitory on cruise ships as accommodation for workers who had recovered from COVID-19.

Tour agencies played their part during the pandemic too. Many tour guides stepped up as Safe Distancing Ambassadors (SDAs) and were deployed to places like the Central Business Districts and shopping malls to ensure people were compliant with the safe distance measures in crowded areas.

The Singapore government along with Singapore Tourism Board (STB) brought in several solutions to aid Singapore’s tourism industry.The SingapoRediscover Voucher of S$100 were given out to spend at any local hotels and attractions.This also helped to boost the hotels’ occupancy rates and attraction’s revenue.

STB has introduced a scheme that supports third-party costs of professional cleaning services incurred by tourism-related establishments impacted by the COVID-19.This scheme is open to tourism-related establishments which had assisted in providing shelter aids to COVID-19 related personnel.These third-party cleaning services will be responsible in the thorough cleaning and sanitizing of these venues.

The government also encouraged tourism-related industries to upskill their employees during the period. The government cut course fees significantly when the establishments sent their employees for training. STB granted 132 study awards to employees in the tourism sector in 2020, which was a two-fold increase com- pared to 63 awards given in 2019.This shows a testament to the tourism businesses’ commitment to upskilling employees to future-proof their workforce.

The government also introduced funding for IT innovations for the tourism industry. Businesses could use the fund to adopt innovative solutions to enhance cleanliness and hygiene standards. Some hotels implemented a Smart AI Access Control to allow their workforce to remotely control doors within guest rooms to reduce risk due to touching and handling.The hotels also adopted an antimicrobial anti-viral solution that reduces the time needed to clean and disinfect areas by coating touch points with an enhanced self-cleaning photocatalytic surface treatment, which eliminates common bacteria and viruses. Finally, hotels implemented a contactless temperature screening system with facial recognition technology.

Even with the development of several vaccines, it will take time for mass leisure travel and traveller confidence to return.Therefore, we expect tourism arrivals and tourism receipts to remain weak in 2021.We should continue to support the tourism industry to sustain key capabilities, meeting evolving consumer needs and emerging travel trends once cross-border travel resumes.We will also continue to support local jobs and create opportunities for the industry to thrive in the new environment by encouraging domestic advocacy and building domestic demand.