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S'pore tourism players offer service with a 'Chinese touch'

Publication Date : 11-02-2014


The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore recently translated its self-guided art tour podcast into Mandarin. Wildlife Reserves Singapore plans to have Mandarin commentaries on Night Safari trams for special occasions such as the Chinese New Year.

Tourism industry players are having more Mandarin-speaking front-line staff, translating their websites into Chinese, and establishing a presence on social media platforms in China.

All this because of the boom in visitors from China.

Official figures show that the number surged from 937,000 in 2009 to a record 2,033,000 in 2012. In the first half of last year, 1,241,000 came - a 27 per cent increase compared with the same period the year before.

These days, they move about without a guide, stay longer and seek more in-depth experiences. More of them are going online to plan their own holidays.

Not so long ago, most arrived in tour groups for two-day shopping trips.

Edward Chew, the Singapore Tourism Board's Greater China regional director, said Chinese travellers are tech and social-media savvy, and do their own research to plan and book their trips online.

Royal Plaza on Scotts started accounts on Chinese social media sites such as Sina Weibo and Youku through a digital agency in China in the middle of last year.

"We have observed a positive correlation between an increased presence on Chinese social media channels and reservations from Chinese travellers," said general manager Patrick Fiat.

A new Chinese tourism law meant to protect its citizens took effect last October, and put a stop to cheap shopping tours which came with a catch - travellers were often forced to tip guides or taken to shops and given the hardsell.

This has resulted in more independent travellers and fewer tour groups at Sentosa, but Sentosa Leisure Group expects group arrivals to bounce back with China tour agents adopting new marketing strategies to promote value-added tours.

Freelance tour guide Yong Yang, 50, who focuses on the China market, said Chinese tourists who come to Singapore now tend to be more affluent than those who came on shopping tours previously.

"They really like branded goods such as handbags and watches. They like to go to Marina Bay Sands for the casino and Skypark, and they like to eat seafood," added Yong, a guide since 1987.

Zhang Guo Feng, a 43-year-old housewife from southeast China's Jiangxi province, visited Singapore for six days with her husband last week. It was her third free-and-easy trip here since 2011.

"The air is clean, public transport is efficient, and language is not a problem," she said. "Even when I take taxis driven by non-Chinese, the drivers can say simple phrases like 'hello' and 'where do you want to go' in Mandarin."

Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said that while being Chinese-friendly is important, Singapore's product and experiential design should still be culturally authentic and local.

"This is why any tourist comes to Singapore - to experience Singapore," he said. "They don't come to Singapore to see more of China."


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