Singapore Posts First Drop in Visitors Since Global Crisis

Singapore reported its first decline in visitor arrivals since the global financial crisis, as a new Chinese law curbed tourists from the mainland while political turmoil in Thailand and aviation disasters damped travel.

Visitors to the tropical island nation fell 3.1 percent to 15.1 million in 2014, the first drop since 2009, the Singapore Tourism Board said. Tourism receipts totaled S$23.5 billion ($17 billion), unchanged from the previous year.

Weakening tourism adds to risks for Singapore, which unexpectedly eased monetary policy last month as growth slowed amid a faltering global economy. The Southeast Asian island, home to an Asian leg of the Formula One series and two casino resorts, had previously targeted 17 million tourist arrivals for 2015.

“We had somewhat stormy weather,” Tourism Board Chief Executive Lionel Yeo told reporters in Singapore Wednesday. The original target for 2015 was set in 2004, before the global financial crisis, and the agency will release an updated projection for this year later, he said.

The number of Indonesian visitors, who made up the biggest group of arrivals last year, fell 2 percent to 3 million as the rupiah depreciated, while travelers from China dropped 24 percent to 1.7 million. Numbers from Malaysia, Australia, Japan and the Philippines also fell.

‘Some Headwinds’

Chinese arrivals were hurt by the country’s tourism law, regional socio-political issues and the plane disasters, the tourism board said. China’s economic growth is slowing, adding to the impact of a new law that clamped down on cut-price shopping tours.

“We do see some headwinds in 2015,” Yeo said. “It’s a mixed picture because we think that there are also other things working in our favor.”

Last year was the worst for the aviation industry globally since 2005, discouraging tourists from traveling in the region. Malaysia Airlines lost two Boeing Co. 777 planes: MH370 disappeared on its way to Beijing while flight MH17 was presumed to have been shot down over Ukraine.

In late December, an AirAsia Bhd. plane heading to Singapore from Indonesia crashed into the sea. Yeo said the cancellation of some flights by the budget carrier between the two countries would affect short-term travel demand.

“There’s definitely an immediate-term impact but I think if you look at it more broadly, the outbound traffic and the desire to travel in Southeast Asia is going to grow,” he said in an interview after the briefing. “So that will continue to fuel tourism growth in Singapore.”

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