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Singapore: Tourism Industry Analysis Report

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021


The tourism industry in the case of Singapore is a significant contributor to economic earnings. The absence of natural resources has made tourism a valuable tool for economic growth and development. Steady economic growth, improvements to air travel, and the commencement of budget carriers have increased the tourism prospects for Singapore.

Singapore, a small tropical island country of only 617 square kilometers located at the junction of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has always attracted a regular flow of visitors from all over the world. Visitors traveling from North America or Europe to Southeast Asia usually make a ‘stop-over’ in Singapore. Singapore is a place where “the East meets the West”. Due to the rapid economic development of the region, tourist arrivals in Singapore have increased.

Tourism Development in Singapore

Despite the rapid increase in the number of arrivals, the tourism industry in Singapore, like tourism industries worldwide, faces a turbulent environment. For example, with the strong Singapore dollar, the attractiveness of Singapore as a shopping haven has been eroded. On the other hand, the number of business visitors has increased with the rapid economic development of the region. At the same time, with several tourist resorts in the region (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines) acquiring international recognition, these new resorts may either draw away potential tourists from Singapore or increase the number of tourists visiting Singapore as a side-trip. (Can-Seng, p. 247) As the tourism industry is linked to a large number of business establishments (airlines, shipping companies, railways, coach and tour operators, hoteliers, food and catering establishments, providers of entertainment and souvenir retailers), fluctuations in tourist arrival figures are likely to have a serious impact on the operation of these establishments. (Time Out, p. 157) Hence, the accurate forecast of tourism demand, especially the demand from major tourist markets, is of interest not only to academicians, but also to tourist boards, tour operators, and business establishments catering to the needs of the tourists.

Of the major tourist groups in Singapore, visitors from neighboring ASEAN countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines) still constitute the largest group. Other than the ASEAN countries, Japan is the largest market for the local tourism industry. (Can-Seng, p. 256) However, as Japanese tourists generally spend more on shopping, hotel, and entertainment than Mainland Chinese visitors, the Japanese market remains important to the local tourism industry. Research on the preferences and habits of Japanese tourists is important not only to the Singapore tourism industry but can also be useful to other tourist destinations frequented by Japanese tourists.

Tourism Patterns

Looking at the pattern, the lull periods of Japanese arrivals occur in April and October each year. Ideally, one should aim at attracting more Japanese tourists to Singapore during these periods. In reality, it would be difficult to do so as the weather in Japan is very pleasant in April and October. With cherry blossoms blooming in April, and with children still in school and mountaineering and other outdoor activities in full swing in October, additional efforts to attract more Japanese tourists to Singapore during April and October may not be cost-effective.

On the other hand, although July/August (and to a less extent December) is already a heavy season for Japanese tourists, it is possible either to attract more Japanese visitors to Singapore during these periods or to get the visitors to extend their stay in Singapore. Both August and December are holiday periods in Japan, and the weather (in the height of summer and well into winter) is not particularly pleasant. The fact that the stability indices for both periods were significant (i.e., arrival figures across the different periods were not stable) suggests that while there are potentially more Japanese tourists, they may sometimes choose other destinations. In the summer, Japanese tourists may choose Hawaii, Europe, or North American, while in December; they may opt for the scenery and winter sports in Canada. (Can-Seng, p. 263)

Although August and December are usually busy tourist periods in Singapore, and the industry may face constraints in hotel rooms and other tourist facilities, it is still good for the industry to have more Japanese tourists and have them stay longer. Japanese tourists usually spend more on hotels, shopping, and entertainment than their counterparts from China and the neighboring ASEAN countries. Higher overall demands mean that even the less competitive hotels will be able to charge higher rates and/or achieve higher occupancy rates. One can also look for innovative ways to expand capacity, and at the same time, add a new dimension to the local tourism industry. (Time Out: p. 153)

In recent years, there have been talks about developing a couple of the small islands south of Singapore into idyllic tropical resorts for the sun, the sea, golf, and water sports. As these islands are close to the main island and the fun island of Sentosa, it is possible to develop longer tourism packages that combine a relaxing holiday on a tropical island with shopping, fun at Sentosa island, cultural events (such as the art festival), visits to tropical forests, the Botanical Garden and other cultural heritage. A longer package may even include a side-trip to Malaysia or Indonesia. With recent concern about security on outlying holiday resort islands in Southeast Asia, Singapore can even market itself as offering water sports, sun, beach, and golf in a secured environment.

The beach resorts can also be used to entice business visitors to extend their stay in Singapore. With more business visitors as the result of regional economic development, and with Singapore establishing itself as the exhibition center of the region, the city-state can offer 2–3 day resort packages to business executives so that they can relax for a couple of days after completing their official businesses. Such packages will also be attractive to honeymooners.

Tourism Developments and Culture

Over the years, Singapore has consciously developed its tourism industry. Several attractions are well established/received, including, the fun island of Sentosa, the Botanical Garden, the Great Singapore Sale in July/August, the Zoological Garden, and the 81 ha of the nature reserve (tropical rainforest) that contains more species of plants than the entire North American continent. At the same time, new attractions are also being developed/redeveloped such as the Arts Festival, Chinatown, nightspots, and open-air bazaars/markets at Boat Quay and Clark Quay. (Can-Seng, p. 270) In the past, Singapore has steered clear of the beach resort business as neighboring countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia provide such facilities at a very reasonable price. It may be time that the city-state looks into developing beach resorts to complement and add diversity to existing attractions.

The relationship between global tourism and local culture is a two-way process. Tourism affects the way cultural practices and landscapes are shaped, and cultural change reflects the influence of tourism as one agent of in-place transformation. The intersection between tourism and culture is substantiated as we look at Singapore’s tourism development under the New Asia – Singapore policy framework. We argue that as Singapore rises to the challenges of tourism in the new millennium, local cultural resources and landscapes are re-valorized to cater to new economic demands and socio-political realities. Although place resources have remained fixed, Singapore’s place identity and cultural geography are rapidly assuming new incarnations equipped for the latest round of tourism accumulation. Our analysis of Tourism 21 shows that Singapore’s reservoir of “cultural stock” has been reconfigured with significant implications for the “cultural-tourism geography” of the country.

According to Can-Seng (2002: p. 269), tourism is “creative of culture” because it is through the lens of tourism that local cultural identities are framed, marketed, and communicated. Our paper contributes to discourses on culture, tourism, and landscape change by identifying three strategies often used in “communicating” cultures. These include coding, stockpiling, and landscaping. Through coding, the semantics deployed to describe Singapore’s cultural offerings have subtly changed to underscore a dynamic tourism product. From inward-looking Instant Asia to a global-looking New Asia (Time Out: 150); from the re-description of Chinatown as a pristine “conservation district” to an ethnic quarter brimming with human life; and the enlargement of cultural tourism to include “arts tourism” – these are examples of “cultural codes” used to “sell” Singapore to a global market (Rex et.al; 12). On the one hand, these semantic shifts are marketing tools deployed to show that Singapore’s tourism product is constantly being improved even though as the STB admits, most of its tourism “hardware” is already in place (Time Out: p. 144). On the other hand, semantic shifts are also indicative of Singapore’s socio-cultural transformation and maturing role as a destination area.

Changing codification strategies underline a fundamental transformation in the STB’s reappraisal of Singapore’s cultural stockpile. Accompanying the semantic shift from Instant Asia to New Asia has been the STB’s increasingly elastic definition of cultural tourism. By defying the boundaries of space and time, a vast storehouse of cultural resources is created for regional visitors, Western travelers, and residents. Going beyond the “CMIO” categories represented by the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and ‘Others’, New Asia – Singapore broadly embraces the cultures of countries in Southeast Asia and East-Asia under its “regionalisation” strategy, as well as Western cultures under its “Global City for the Arts” vision. Implicit in this strategy of stockpile enlargement is the government’s concern that Singapore is a cultural desert whose tourism industry has done remarkably well over the past 30 years but whose future success is less than assured. The shakkei principle of borrowing cultural resources from the region and around the globe “offers a new way for Singapore to look at itself, as well as the world”, and in so doing create a borderless cultural-economic space (Can-Seng, p. 167).

The third strategy in cultural communication involves landscaping or the refashioning of cultural environments. As we have demonstrated in Chinatown, local Chinese culture is exaggerated through the imposition of themes on spaces; the inordinate focus on quintessential Chinese architecture, activities, and other visual elements at the expense of local lived cultures; and the reduction of the complexities of Chinese immigrant histories into linear storylines and walking routes. In so doing, culture is rendered “available and presentable; packaged for consumption into easily digestible and, preferably photogenic chunks” (Florence. et.al. 15). The histories and geographies of place are thus selectively appropriated and strategically amplified, and we caution that such a strategy does not sit well with the local community. The case of Chinatown shows that alternative re-readings of the landscape text are possible, and poor local patronage in neighborhoods like Tanjong Pagar is indicative of a grassroots rejection of the government’s strategy of cultural interpretation and landscape configuration. In this light, the government must reconsider its thematic approach towards landscape development as it proceeds with its New Asia policy.


The New Asia – Singapore slogan took the STB nine months to devise and represents Singapore’s new face to the world. It also underscores Singapore’s historic position at the crossroads of East and West, reinforcing its contemporary image as a meeting place of modernity and exoticism. As a marketing tagline, it captures the vibrancy of a global tourist destination; as a statement on local identity it embodies a new way of looking at Singapore as emblematic of the “new Asian renaissance”. Global tourism marketing and local cultural politics thus intersect with significant implications for the meaning of Singaporean heritage. The reconfiguration of cultural stock and the repackaging of cultural landscapes reflect this intersection process and reveal the influence of tourism on traditional culture, contemporary society, and local economy.

Works Cited

  1. Can-Seng Ooi, Cultural Tourism & Tourism Cultures: The Business of Mediating Experiences in Copenhagen and Singapore. Copenhagen Business School, 2002: 240-265
  2. Florence Tze-Chieh, Rex S. Toh, Habibullah Khan. Prospects for the tourism and hotel industry in Singapore. Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly: Cornell University, 2005: 14-18
  3. Time Out, Time Out Singapore. Time Out Publishers, 2007: 144-157
  4. Rex S. Toh, Habibullah Khan, Karen Lim, Singapore’s Tourism Industry. Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly, Cornell University, 2005: 10-15
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