One of the main casualties of the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore is the tourism industry. According to a report by Today, three industry experts had weighed in their opinions on the tourism sector which is expected to take a hit for at least 6 to 8 months.

The article published yesterday, cites Dr Wong King Yin, a lecturer at the Nanyang Business School, who anticipates that about a fifth of the international visitors to Singapore are from China.

She explained that with the suspension of visas for China citizens to visit Singapore including those already issued, the country can expect to lose about one-fifth of its visitors in the coming few months.

Dr Wong elaborated that international travelers will likely keep a close eye on the  headlines news before deciding whether to take the risk of coming to Singapore, and that they are likely to be easily spooked.

Taking it further, she claims that in the event of a coronavirus related death here, it could potentially act as a “trigger point” that would cause a sharp drop in arrivals.

She added, “If more and more local residents are confirmed to be infected and if we are not able to trace their source of infection, then it would become a great deterrent to visitors to come. I think the greatest concern to visitors is whether they may get infected by someone asymptomatic in the local community.”

Overall, news reports about international visitors from Malaysia, South Korea, Great Britain and France picking up the infection while in Singapore have scared potential travelers from around the world.

As of Monday, Singapore has the third-highest number of confirmed cases outside China. And across social media platforms, airlines are inundated with requests from customers demanding refunds for their upcoming flights to Singapore.

A report by the Business Insider disclosed that India’s GoAir has offered refunds for flights to Singapore, while cruise company Royal Caribbean has offered credits to guests who want to cancel their bookings for a Quantum of the Seas cruise, which is scheduled to depart from Singapore later this month.

At the same time, the governments of Qatar and Kuwait have advised citizens to defer travel plans to Singapore unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Kuwait citizens currently in Singapore were also advised to leave the Republic as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Today quotes Mr Christopher Khoo, the Managing Director of Tourism Consultancy, MasterConsult Services, as saying that more countries could well join in the fray.

“From our experience from dealing with the Asian Financial Crisis, SARS and H1N1 virus, and their attendant impact on the tourism industry, I believe that the industry is in for a very tough six to eight months at a minimum,” he said.

However, Mr Khoo was quick to add that it is unlikely that Singapore would be the only country avoided, as traveling plans in general would be of low priority for people around the world.

On the other hand, Today highlights Mr Suan Teck Kin’s observation that the novel coronavirus would have a direct impact not just on hospitality-related companies such as hotels and travel agencies, but also on services industries such as food and beverage, retail and transport as well. Mr Suan, is the head of research for United Overseas Bank and an expert in macroeconomics and foreign exchange research.

Retooling for tourism related companies

Despite the uphill battle, experts advise tourism-related companies to take this as an opportunity to invest in things that they may not have had time for during busy tourism periods.

For instance, Mr Khoo refers to the laying off employed staff. He recommends that employers invest in the training of staff as this would lead to hotels and travel agencies having experienced staff in key positions when the economy recovers at the end of the outbreak.

Mr Khoo added that the current outbreak has also presented a unique opportunity for the renovation of rooms and facilities at hotels.

Despite the temporary blip, Mr Khoo remains optimistic that the tourism industry will bounce back, even stronger after the crisis.

Apropos the unveiling of Budget 2020 on February 18, Dr Wong reckons that it would contain measures to help the supply chain of the tourism industry through turbulent times, which among others could include addressing short-term cash flow problems and helping industry players to retain and train their employees by giving them some support to cover part of their wage costs.

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