SINGAPORE – Singapore is turning to domestic tourism as its borders remain largely closed to overseas visitors due to the coronavirus.
"The tourism sector in Singapore has been very hard hit as a result of this pandemic," said Chaly Mah, chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the Singapore summit.
Singapore got off to a strong start into the new year with 1.69 million visitors in January – an increase from 1.62 million in the same month last year. However, when authorities tried to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, travel restrictions were put in place. Immigration controls have seen the numbers fall 99% in recent months from a year earlier, he said.
"As we are a small country and do not have the benefit of domestic travel, we are now trying to encourage Singaporeans to visit some of our local tourist attractions," Mah said.
Authorities are trying to make up some of the tourism revenue deficit by enticing Singaporeans to visit attractions in their own country.
With our borders still closed now, the idea of flying to nowhere and driving to nowhere is an interesting idea for a small city-state like Singapore.
Chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board
Singapore travelers generated around $ 34 billion Singapore dollars ($ 25 billion) in overseas tourism spending last year. The goal is to get around 10% of that amount from domestic travelers, Mah told CNBC's Street Signs. Tourists who came to Singapore spent $ 27.7 billion (US $ 20.4 billion) on revenue here last year, according to the Singapore government.
The Singapore Tourism Board launched the SingapoRediscovers campaign in July to encourage Singapore residents to spend on hotels, restaurants and attractions.
The government also announced it would distribute Singapore $ 320 million in "tourism credits" to residents to increase local spending on domestic travel.
"The idea is for Singaporeans and local residents to visit some of our local tourist attractions and rediscover Singapore," said Mah.
"In order for us to have an authentic experience for our tourists in Singapore, our own Singaporeans need to experience some of these local attractions so that they can tell an authentic story when they connect them with the tourists," he added.
People wearing face masks as a preventive measure jog along Marina Bay Sands along Merlion Park, a major tourist destination in Singapore, during the Covid-19 crisis.
Maverick Asio | SOPA pictures | LightRocket | Getty Images
There are many attractions and experiences in the country that "Singaporeans take for granted but have never visited," Mah said.
He added that the tourism authority is also investigating cruises to nowhere to help boost cruise traffic. Singapore Airlines is also said to be considering flights to nowhere.
"With our borders closed now, the idea of not flying to anywhere and not going anywhere is an interesting idea for a small city-state like Singapore," Mah said.
Meanwhile, Singapore has mutual green lane travel arrangements with several countries including China and Malaysia. They are currently aimed primarily at business and official travelers.
The city-state is slowly reopening its borders to more international travelers in "deliberate and calibrated ways," Mah said.