Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts of Tourism in Singapore

Singapore is the smallest country in Southeast Asia and one of the smallest countries in the world. Despite its small size, Singapore is ranked 4th in terms of international tourist arrival in the ASEAN region in 2019 behind Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam (Seasia, 2020).

Tourism is a major contributor to Singapore’s economy and this can be proven by that fact that there were more than 19 million people who visited the island country in 2019 prior to the COVID19 lockdown (Singapore Tourism Board, 2020). The number of visitors almost quadrupled the country’s population which is about 5.6 million (Population Pyramid, 2019). According to the report published by the Singapore Tourism Board (2020), Singapore was able to generate almost S$ 28 billion in gross tourism receipt, a 2.8% increase as compared to 2018 figure.

As reported by the World Travel and Tourism Council, Singapore revenue from the tourism industry supports 164,000 jobs that translate to around 4% growth of gross domestic product of the country in 2019. Recognizing the importance of tourism, the Singapore Tourism Board expanded its role beyond promotion and began to establish Singapore as a tourism center for both the tourism industry and tourists. This paved way to the creation of iconic products and promotional activities promoting Singapore tourism for all market segments (Singapore Tourism Board, 2020).

Since Singapore is highly connected with tourism, there is a need to understand the positive and negative economic, social and environmental impacts of the tourism industry in the country.

Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Singapore

According to a report by Facts King, Singapore is the cleanest country in Southeast Asia and this can be seen with the country’s clean water, well-maintained sanitation, and clean air. Like in Japan, the cleanest country in Asia, most Singaporeans follow government’s guidelines for proper trash disposal and respect for the environment.

The country also keeps its cities and streets beautiful with constant maintenance and care. Also, the Singaporean government uses strict sanitation programs to make sure that the environment is always clean (Facts King, ND).

However, there are challenges to the environment because of tourism and they are:

1. Intensive use of energy and electricity – Singapore is one of the most energy intensive countries in Asia to power its tourism industry – hotels, attractions, transportation, and food supply. The severe use of air-conditioning units say for instance in the accommodation sector puts the country at risk of climate change. Because of the inevitability of these energy consuming devices, the government has focused on energy efficiency such as strict building codes and appliance labelling to curb the growth of carbon emissions and has steadily switched its power stations to burn gas instead of fuel oil. On the other hand, electricity demand in Singapore is continuously growing where consumption doubled from 2010 to 2020. According to a report, government figures show that long-term reliance on fossil fuels for energy is unlikely to change given limited space for green energy such as solar panels. Hence, the government is pushing for greater energy efficiency where they have virtually no natural resources (Facts and Details, ND).

2. Cruise ship and shipping line carbon emissions – Singapore is ASEAN’s top port of embarkation for cruising and the world’s largest bunkering port. According to a report, bunkering is huge in terms of carbon emission and Singapore can play a key role in how to handle global shipping and cruising emissions. What the Singapore government is doing to handle bunker fuel is to tax it higher, cap-and-trade it, and require shipping companies to have emission certificates. Though this will translate to higher fare, at least the impact of carbon emission in the cruise industry is lessened (Facts and Details, ND).

The diversity of actors involved in the operational life of a ship poses challenges in distributing the load of emissions reductions. A ship’s energy use and efficiency starts with its construction to standards designed to achieve cargo-carrying capacity, optimal fuel use and emissions outcomes. Thus, to meet new energy use and efficiency standards, a new build will have to consider mortgage costs in addition to crewing, operations, maintenance, insurance and other expenditures. Moreover, during the ship’s life cycle it is likely that newer equipment standards will have to be implemented, requiring retrofitting and incurring new mortgage costs (Chricop, et al, 2018).

3. Increasing waste – Singapore has no landfills and relies heavily on incineration facilities but Singapore can not afford to keep on building more incineration plants. In a report, only 40% of waste, including those coming from hotels, are recycled. The government is targeting to increase this to at least 60%. What the government is doing now is setting-up “eco-recycling parks” to recycle plastic, paper, glass, wood waste, and all others that can be recycled. Also, recycling companies are using advanced technological innovations in these eco-recycling parks (Facts and Details, ND).

Economic Impacts of Tourism in Singapore

The economic effect of the tourism industry in Singapore is massive.  The following are the indicators and challenges of the economic impacts of the tourism industry in Singapore:

1. GDP Share of Tourism – In 2019, contribution of the travel and tourism sector to the Gross Domestic Product of Singapore is 10%. The industry’s contribution to Singapore’s GDP in 2020 decreased substantially because of the pandemic.  The trend from 2000 to 2019 has been increasing (Knoema, 2019). Of the 10%, a substantial portion of this came from the integrated casino resorts – Marina Bay Sands and Resorts Sentosa which are the two leisure parks in Singapore that promote gambling (Turea, 2021).

2. Job Creation – Employment is one of the most useful indicators to measure the economic impact of the tourism industry. The tourism industry has the potential to increase the creation of employment opportunities for the locals which can help in alleviating poverty. In Singapore, the tourism industry has generated more than 164 million jobs from 2009 to 2017 according to the World Travel and Tourism Report in 2017. The figures included employment given by hotels, travel agencies, and other transportation services. The figure also included data for local and foreign employment (Glowriters, N.D.).However, since Singapore’s human capital can not supply the demand for more workers, the country relies on foreign talents. The high presence of foreigners working in Singapore is an example of tourism leakage which is considered a negative effect of jobs being generated because of increased tourism activities.

3. Economic Globalization – Singapore is one of the largest business and tourism centers in the world today. However, Singapore’s economic prowess today was far from what it was before. Through global economic trade, Singapore was able to connect to the developed world and was successful in persuading them to place their multinational companies in the country because of favorable business laws. Economic globalization paved the way to the touristic affluence of the Singapore.

With the investments from foreign countries, Singapore was able to turn tourism as one of its major industries despite the lack and absence of natural resources, raw materials for production and human labor. One negative effect of economic globalization of the tourism industry in Singapore is its reliance to foreign tourists. During the COVID19 pandemic, Singapore relied on domestic tourism but it was not enough to keep the industry afloat (Bergsteijn, 2019).

Social Impacts of Tourism in Singapore

Singapore is characterized by many cultures, religions and languages. Singapore’s culture is now a combination of Asian and European cultures, and shows influences from Malay, South Asian, and East Asian sources. Tourism is one of the forces that shape this change and has influenced some social challenges in the country (Singapore Expats, 2018).

1. Cultural Diversity – Singapore is a divergence of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures but with tourism and globalization, Singaporean culture is becoming more diversified. This can be seen in the adaptation of foreign influences and westernization.  Singaporeans are following and adapting the dressing styles and lifestyle of tourists or foreigners staying in the country. This effect is seen as a corruptor of values in places like Singapore which has a strong cultural influence and strict social norms (Glowriters, N.D.).

On the negative side for example, a temple in Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, is a sacred place for worshipping. But nowadays, it has become a tourist attraction and some tourists disrespect the place and most people will not care anymore that it’s a place of worship.

2. Historical Sites – Singapore has no natural attractions to speak of but it has few historical sites to list as tourist attractions. And because of tourism, these sites are being protected like the Merlion Park and Marina Bay, Singapore Botanical Garden, Chinatown, Clarke Quay, National Museum, and Fort Silo among others. The negative effect is over tourism (beyond carrying capacity) in these attractions are recorded in the pre-pandemic era.

3. Casino and Online Gambling – The opening of the two integrated resorts in Singapore – the Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, where gambling is legally done, has given social ills in Singapore. According to a study made by the National Council of Problem Gaming as discussed by Bergsteijn (2019), in 2018, it was reported that more residents of Singapore were gambling. The biggest increase was people aged between 18 and 29 years old, where the number of people gambling rose from 28% in 2014 to 41% in 2017. Furthermore, the study found that 52% of the participants had taken part in at least one form of gambling, compared to 44% in 2014. The average monthly spending on gambling also increased $20 to $30 in the same time span (Bergsteijn, 2019).

Conclusion

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Singapore. As a benefit, the tourism industry is continuously generating employment opportunities, and promotes development in most parts of the country. Further, the tourism industry affects the country’s GDP rate through higher sales and revenues from tourism products and services including growth of hotel occupancy. Further, tourism activity also leads to the preservation and promotion of Singapore’s heritage sites. All these positive impacts of tourism development come with negative impacts in the environment, economy and have paved way to societal ills. As a result, the government of Singapore is focused on dealing with all these environmental, economic and social impacts through increased expenditures in order to strengthen its institutions. At the same time, the Singaporean government is also improving its public infrastructures, technological innovations, and educational system to address all these issues.

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