With international travel yet to resume any semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy, governments across Asia are launching support programmes and marketing campaigns, in a bid to make up for revenue shortfalls via domestic tourism.

Singapore has launched a S$45m (US$32.5m) marketing push, in a bid to boost domestic. The nine-month campaign by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Enterprise Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) aims to give local lifestyle and tourism businesses a much-needed boost amid continued uncertainty.

Speaking during the launch of the SingapoRediscovers campaign (22 July), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing noted that the tourism market will remain depressed and volatile until a vaccine is made available, as countries are hit with recurring waves of infection. The gradual resumption will likely begin with niche rather than mass-market tourism.

STB chief executive Keith Tan told the media that the domestic market will not be enough to make up for the shortfall in tourist spending, which amounted to S$27.7bn (US$20bn) last year.

But the hope is to combine cost-reducing support measures with maximised revenue and demand to "buy as much time as possible for as many businesses as possible to survive through this time", he said.

STB’s move follows similar efforts taking place across Southeast Asia, as governments and companies focus on domestic tourism in the wake of the collapse in international travel.

This week, Japan’s travel subsidy campaign also kicked off to help revive a domestic tourism industry stricken by the pandemic. The 1.35 trillion yen (US$12.5bn) "Go to Travel" campaign, was launched in the face of worries that the initiative could worsen the virus outbreak at a time when the nationwide tally of infections has started picking up again. Last week the government made an abrupt decision to remove trips to Tokyo by its residents from the scheme because of a spike in new cases in the capital.

Under the programme, the government will eventually subsidize up to half of travel expenses, including accommodation and transport fees. Initially, it will provide discounts worth 35% of total costs. The remaining 15%will be covered by coupons to be issued after September for food, shopping and other travel activities offered at destinations.

In Thailand, the government announced a 22.4 billion baht (US$718m) domestic tourism stimulus package, to combat the shortfall in international revenue. Thais spent 400bn baht (US$12.6bn) travelling abroad in 2019 – and the government hopes to capture 75% of that sum in domestic receipts this year. In addition, there are hopes to earn at least 900 billion baht from domestic travel this year, which would nearly rival 2019’s tourism revenue of 1.28 trillion baht (US$40.4bn) generated by Thailand’s primary cities.

Last year, the country got 18% of its GDP from tourism, and domestic travel spend made up about 6% of that total, approximately one trillion (out of three trillion) baht of tourism income.

In contrast, Vietnam emerged relatively unscathed from COVID-19 lockdown and was the first SEA nation to attempt a revival of its tourism industry. In early May, the government launched a "Vietnamese people travel to Vietnam destinations" campaign, slated to continue until the end of the year. Airlines, travel agencies and resorts are offering discounts of about 50% or more to fill up resorts and restaurants bereft of guests while incoming flights are still banned.

"With a population of more than 97 million people, and an increasing proportion of middle class, Vietnam has a domestic tourism market with huge potential," Mr Vu The Binh, vice-chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, told The Straits Times.

Local tourists made up 85 million of the 103 million travellers in Vietnam last year and spent the equivalent of US$21bn.

Sourced from The Straits Times, Marketing Interactive, The Jakarta Post, TTG Asia, Kyodo News