Singapore woos Indian tourists as desis turn globetrotters

October 3rd, 2008 - 10:28 am ICT by IANS  

Singapore, Oct 3 (IANS) The Indian tourists are coming. It’s a rallying cry that has hotel managers, restaurant and shop owners in Singapore sitting up and taking notice!Despite rising air travel costs, Indians have retained their spot among the top five nationalities to visit Singapore and, thanks to their growing disposable incomes, are acquiring a reputation of being big spenders as well.

Although the global economic slowdown has in recent months somewhat dampened the overall number of tourists visiting Singapore, Indian families are holidaying abroad as never before and Singapore has emerged as their destination of choice.

And it’s not just affluent families from the big metros but also those from the smaller cities who are going abroad - a detail that Singapore tourism officials have factored into their marketing strategy.

“With its burgeoning economy and growing outbound tourism, India continues to remain a key market for Singapore,” says Kang Siew Kheng, regional director for South Asia at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The board is pitching to get Indians to opt for Singapore not just for holidays but for meetings, company retreats, honeymoon getaways, school trips and family outings.

“Indians now seem to be looking beyond just vacations and are travelling for a plethora of reasons,” said Kang. So far Indians viewed Singapore largely as a leisure travel destination, but in a shift, the city state is “fast gaining ground as a destination with multiple business options,” she said.

Newly-affluent Indians, many of them on their first trip abroad, have no qualms about spending a packet on eating out and shopping, say travel agents and retail trade watchers. In statistics released earlier this year, the STB found that Indian tourists were the highest spenders, surpassing even travellers from China and Japan.

“In our experience, the average Indian tourist spends between 300 and 400 Singapore dollars a day on shopping alone during a visit,” Balaji Narayanan of Millennium Travels, a Singapore-based travel agency, told IANS.

This weekend Singapore’s first Grand Prix Formula One race saw an influx of visitors, many of them from India. While the race was a night event, tourists spent their days seeking bargains in shopping malls and giant department stores, all offering enticing discounts and mega-deals as part of the festive atmosphere surrounding the racing spectacle.

Although many of the big brand names are now available in Indian malls, especially in the metro cities, Singapore offers more choice in style, cuts and colours for clothes, said Gini Sharma, a 23-year-old hotel management graduate, holidaying here with her parents who hail from Lucknow.

“And the prices here are comparable especially when the big sales are on,” she said.

From the latest i-Phones and cameras to natty Armani suits and ties, golfing equipment to decorative oriental-style ‘antiques’ to do up their homes, Indian tourists have been spending with abandon.

It’s not difficult to see why Indian tourists travelling abroad for the first time feel comfortable in the city state. “Indians are most comfortable when they can understand the language and here almost all the staff in hotels and most shop assistants speak English,” said Narayanan.

He also lists Singapore’s reputation as a safe city, its ethnic mix and the easy availability of vegetarian food among other factors contributing to the comfort level.

Many Indian tourists also use Singapore as a hub to travel to nearby Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, combining a visit to the city state with visits to Kuala Lumpur, Bali or Bangkok.

“Indians travel in family groups and they find that local travel is very affordable,” Pankaj Tandon, who runs two Indian-themed lounge bars and a restaurant in Singapore, told IANS.

The STB has plunged in with a spate of road shows in Indian cities, including in the tier II cities, especially geared at the upwardly mobile professional. Kang said a ‘weekend’ campaign “invites young professionals to take a short weekend break in Singapore to dine, party and chill”.

With the Dussehra and Diwali holiday season approaching, another tide of holiday makers from India is expected. The ups and downs of the global economy and soaring airfares notwithstanding, Singapore is still hoping to come close to the ‘one million Indian tourists’ target it has set for this year.

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