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MH370 mystery and Thai crisis play havoc with Singapore's tourism sector

SINGAPORE -- Singapore is mounting a drive in China to market itself as a standalone tourism destination, officials said Tuesday, after a drop in Chinese arrivals to neighboring countries affected the city-state.

The Straits Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Singapore tourism was being hurt by Chinese travelers' reluctance to visit Malaysia due to the ongoing Flight MH370 mystery, and Thailand because of its political crisis.

The 5 million yuan (US$800,000) marketing campaign that will last until October will encourage Chinese travelers to visit Singapore alone.

It is jointly organized by Singapore airport operator Changi Airport Group (CAG), the Singapore Tourism Board and Chinese and Singaporean travel agencies.

The CAG said Changi handled 1.87 million passengers to and from China from January to May, a decline of 1.7 percent from the previous year, but Singapore officials declined to link the fall directly to events in nearby countries.

Out of a total 15.5 million visitors to Singapore last year, over 2.27 million were from China, according to government data.

They spent a total of US$298 million, making them the biggest tourist spenders in the city-state.

Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Singapore's Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said “it makes sense for Singapore to dissociate itself” from its crisis-hit neighbors.

Most Chinese tourists currently visit Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand at the same time as part of large tour groups, he said.

Chinese tourists have grown wary of traveling to Malaysia after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board. Two-thirds of the passengers were from China.

Thailand has also seen a plunge in arrivals after the military seized power in a May 22 coup.

Edward Chew, regional director for the Greater China region at the Singapore Tourism Board, said the city-state is already “seeing more Chinese visitors traveling to Singapore as a mono-destination.”

“They also stay longer than those on multi-destination package tours so as to enjoy Singapore at a more in-depth level,” he told AFP.

Lacking the white-sand beaches and other natural wonders of its bigger neighbors, Singapore offers a wide array of man-made attractions, including two casino resorts and Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme park.

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Tourists visit Merlion park in Singapore on Tuesday, June 24. Singapore is mounting a major tourism marketing drive in China, said officials. (AFP)

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