Mr Saktiandi Supaat: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) how many companies in the tourism-related and retail sectors have closed down since January 2020; (b) what is the employment situation in the tourism sector including number of tour guides who have been re-deployed; and (c) what further efforts can be made to stimulate local retail demand and transform the tourism sector to position themselves for future growth opportunities.
Oral Answer (to be attributed to Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan)
1. From January 2020 to September 2021, 8,600 retail businesses ceased operations. This was 330 more than the same period between 2018 and 2019. However, there were 15,570 new retail businesses set up, resulting in a net increase of 6,970 retail firms over the same period from January 2020 to September 2021.
2. For the tourism industry, despite some exits since January 2020, new entrants have kept the number of tourism businesses in operation fairly stable. For example, the number of licensed hotels today remains at around 420 despite 13 hotels having ceased operations, while the total number of licensed tourist guides is still around 2,900, even with 176 tourist guides choosing not to renew their licences during this period. Travel agents have been impacted more. 157 travel agents ceased their operations, representing eight percent of all licensed travel agents, although around 30 new travel agents entered the market.
3. The Government has supported the sector with the highest tier of support under the Jobs Support Scheme. Together with other broad-based Government support measures, this has helped cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the sector. Initiatives like the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers (SRV) scheme have also helped stimulate demand by encouraging Singaporeans to rediscover our city and support our local tourism businesses.
4. The launch of the SRV scheme has also helped tourist guides. Between the launch of the SRV scheme and the start of Heightened Alert in May 2021, monthly tour participants grew fivefold from just over 10,000 to more than 50,000. To further help tourist guides cope with business costs, STB also waived the tourist guide licence fees in 2020 and 2021, as well as test fees for those who wish to be licensed in another language.
5. STB expects tourism to reach pre-pandemic levels in the next few years. In the meantime, we are helping companies in the retail and tourism sectors transform and upgrade themselves so that they can better capture opportunities when travel resumes. Retailers looking to develop their online sales channels can receive support from Enterprise Singapore’s (ESG) E-Commerce Booster Package, which defrays the costs of joining e-commerce platforms, or use ESG’s Productivity Solutions Grant to build capabilities such as digital marketing and e-commerce. The tourism sector is also receiving support from STB to pursue transformation efforts to ready itself for the recovery. Examples include the Business Improvement Fund for technology innovation and adoption of business models and processes to improve productivity and competitiveness; and the Training Industry Professionals in Tourism scheme which supports employee upgrading and talent and leadership development.