Singapore (India) fact of the day

…it [Singapore] draws more travelers than countries such as India, Indonesia and Philippines.


Here is the story.

I sometimes say that large, populous places mostly will get better, so visit them later.  Small countries, islands, and regions will become worse to visit, losing their ethos to massive crowds, so see them now before it is too late.

The small Singapore, with its weird mix of hyper-modernity and charming retro, is an exception to this rule.  It may well be more interesting to visit ten years from now, by extending its modernity, even if it loses more of its retro.  But you cannot say the same about Bali, Tahiti, or Split, Croatia.  Amsterdam already has been ruined, more or less, by the crowds, Venice too during many times of the year.

Twenty years from now, Java, India, and Nigeria will be splendid to visit.  They will be easier to deal with, but won’t have lost much of their style and flair.  Sheer numbers locks that in.  So some of you should just wait.  That said, if you follow my advice and visit the small units now, you only make this problem worse.


Most people don't spend more than a few days in Singapore. Many visitors to India spend months. They might spend a similar amount of money in each visit, however.

My family and most of the immigrant Indian families of my friends find it very hard to stay in India for more than a few weeks - the visits are almost always cut short due to some kind of illness, or the kids getting fed up very quickly. The reason could be that we stay with our relatives rather than in five star hotels.

The reason could be that we stay with our relatives rather than in five star hotels.

Yes. The whole point of visiting the Old Country is to engage in intense social interactions within the context of the society you fled years ago.

Can't say if you were being sarcastic or not, but two points:

-- Many migrants, probably most, don't "flee" their countries. They "move", typically because their destination country has better occupational opportunities for them.
-- People don't visit the Old Country to engage socially with the society they left, but rather the family they left. There's a big difference, which people living in Western countries will probably not understand. In the West, family ties are relatively weak compared to community ties; that's probably a big factor in those countries being orderly, law-abiding, and trustful. In more traditional Third World countries, it's the opposite; family provides a level of emotional, financial, and social support that's almost impossible to find in the West; this is also a big contributor to these countries being low-trust, corrupt, and disorderly, because people just care less about the larger society than about their extended family.

According to worldbank data, the tourism receipts (current USD) and numbers for 2014 for the two countries are India: 20,756,000,000USD, 7,679,000 visitors; and Singapore: 19,203,000,000USD; 11,864,000 visitors. In other words, India receives around 2,700USD for each tourist, and Singapore receives 1,600USD for each tourists.

But the average length of stay is also different between the two countries. I can't find up to date data. What I did find says it's 31.2 days for India (1998 data) and 3.63 days for Singapore (2007 data). Let's say is around 30 days vs. 3.5 days. What this means is that India receives around 90USD/tourist-day, and Singapore receives around 460USD/tourist-day.

I'd suspect that a difference is that many Indian visitors are actually emigrants who are going back home (or their parents' home) to visit family. Those trips will often be longer and not especially expensive. Yes, the uncle visiting from America will splurge on some things and hand out dollars to extended family, but he isn't spending $400/night on a hotel.

The other factor is that you can basically see all of Singapore in a week. Few can afford to stay there as a tourist for much longer than that anyway.

India also attracts backpackers and those with a spiritual bent. These types can linger, bring up the average.

Do tourism receipts include business travelers and convention attendees?

Those are also short timers.

Yes, they are supposed to include business travelers and convention attendees. A big chunk of the receipts for Singapore are of that nature.

The growth of the middle class in China will likely be a game-changer for much of the Southeast Asian tourism industry. The article notes some if not most of this growth is from mainland Chinese visitors who go there to gamble. I recall hearing that Singapore decided to legalize gambling for foreign tourists in order to compete with Macau.

The UN's 2015 "Population Prospects" forecasts that Nigeria will grow from 182,000,000 to 294,000,000 in 2035.

I dunno ... for some reason that doesn't sound like a real tourist attraction.

I don't think Tyler is necessarily wrong. For big developing countries like China, India or Nigeria, one should be specific where you will visit. For instance, it's more helpful to say I visited or will a specific (e.g. Kerala) rather than say, visit India. After all, visiting Bihar is not the same as visiting Tamil Nadu. The same could be said for Nigeria and China.

National parks?

Will there be a lot of charismatic megafauna left in Nigeria for tourists to sightsee in National Parks when there are 294,000,000 Nigerians?

I Nigeria a place to go if you want to see megafauna (other than H. sapiens?).

I suppose Nigeria does have impressive parks, with elephants and leopards and all that, as does India. But that's not what draws people to either place.

With 4.5 billion people in Africa by 2100 I don't think there will be much of any thing left to see that isn't in a zoo. I suspect there will be more of the classic African mega-fauna living outside of Africa that in it by that point.

Surely Mr. Cowen is already investing his own money on the tourist industry of Nigeria?

I think he talks from the consumer perspective, "spending" instead of "investing".

He's predicting that the Nigerian tourist industry is likely to grow. To grow at amazing rates, given that it's non-existent right now. Surely Mr. Cowen is a rational actor and is eager to invest in industries with such growth potential!

Or maybe he's not, which means he doesn't really believe in what he's writing.

Some quick numbers, Nigeria's GDP 500 billion USD, tourism direct + indirect contribution to GDP around 4%, that's......20 billion USD. For comparison, France also relies on tourism for 4% of GDP but the absolute value is 80-100 billion USD. 4-5 times less compared to the world champion of international tourism, not bad.

Perhaps the issue he is what you think tourism means. "Tourism" implies domestic and foreign tourists. Even in France, 70% of tourism income is domestic. In Nigeria domestic contribution to tourism is 95%. They're poor but they are 180+ million people, even if they can afford cheap services the volume is interesting and their GDP will keep growing for a while.

The "put your money where your mouth is" is not a magical measurement tool. If so, I could never say a woman is beautiful before divorcing my wife. Unless I don't really believe that the other woman is really beautiful.

Perhaps, I'm not an Alpha Trader to understand how bragging works.

But, of course, he did not offer any such bold prediction about future growth rates in the Nigerian tourism sector. What he said is that the country will almost certainly be more comfortable to visit in 20 years than it is today. Anyone who travels in developing countries knows what he means -- economic growth in a place is usually accompanied by fewer power cuts, better hygiene in restaurants, less tropical disease prevalence, more foreign products available, faster internet, an easier time booking onward travel or hotel reservations, etc. India has traditionally been lacking in most of these categories which turns a lot of tourists off, for instance. On the reverse side, Cambodia and especially the area near Angkor Wat is quite a nice place to visit now -- I don't think too many people in 1996 would have predicted that. Certainly, almost nobody in 1976 would have predicted it.

The wording was "splendid to visit". Not "somewhat less likely to get robbed and murdered or infected with malaria".

Incidentally, Cambodia has Angkor Wat. Nigeria doesn't.

I know a guy who started a venture capital fund to invest in Rwanda back in the early 2000s. Not only did he make a killing, but when he visited there he was treated like royalty because he was an Important American Investor.

That might not work in Nigeria but at least he was willing to do the due diligence.

Still no declaration of interest?
Has the author received payment or benefit in kind from Singapore, as an advisor to Singapore?

I am not Singaporean, I don't live in Singapore, and I have no "interest" in it. But I do know it pretty well and Tyler is just being accurate.

Venice vs Nigeria offers two very different travel experiences. Given the high opportunity costs of most people for traveling, sorting by most preferred destination is important. I.e. I think Italy will be fine in the travel department.

If by Java the author is thinking of places like Yogyakarta & Borobodur, or the mountains of West Java, yes.

Surabaya, no & Jakarta definitely not.

There will always be small uncrowded places around the world. From my experience, all the islands in the Caribbean that are not connected by cruises and the largest plane can land is a 30 people turboprop are lovely. In the continent, from Alaska to Chile, just get in the car and drive to a place where there are no crowds. There's no risk of crowding, just drive beyond the border of the tourist zone.

Curious but you can have the same experience in Europe . At least the regions I've visited in Switzerland, Corsica and Sardinia. There are countless sleepy towns only an hour away by car from the crowded places. Hike, kayak or ride a horse and you can spend the day without seeing humans until you go back....even in the relatively crowded Europe.

I planned a summer trip to Hungary, and some of the smaller towns had great accommodations and stunning sights. You'd be the only people there even in summer. (OK, as we left a Japanese tour bus pulled up, but still.)

Of course, tourism is a very personal experience, and this is therefore a very personal view, but if I want to visit South East Asia I'm not interested in hyper-modernity! I want to experience the food, the smells, the variety of life - everything that goes towards the idea of "culture". If Singapore loses that, and let's face it, it has been losing it for a couple of decades now, then count me out.

It is becoming more boring and generic, but also more comfortable and efficient, and that wins every time as a priority. For example, everybody loves to praise street markets and hawker centres and all of that, but the allure of aircon is very very strong in Singapore, so the malls will continue to spread.

What about the regional hub phenomenon?

When I travel to Europe, the best flight is nearly always to London, so even for a trip mainly focused on Germany or southestern Europe I will tack on a day or 2 in England. Panama is trying the same thing with Copa Airlines.

I haven't been to East Asia at all, but is Singapore using a similar strategy?

Yes. And Singapore Airlines is the world's best airline to boot.

Why are Amsterdam and Venice more crowded now than twenty years ago? (I suppose that is the time frame in question.)

more tourists?

From a tourist's perspective, in what world does Mumbai become "easier to deal with" in the future? In terms of "easy to deal with" I think of transportation infrastructure to desirable places. Very few knowledgeable forecasters would predict that India's transportation infrastructure will see net improvements in the near term - in desirable places or any places.

I don't know about Mumbai but Delhi went from having zero metro system of any sort about 12 years ago to having quite an extensive, modern system today. Other major Indian cities seem to be moving in a similar direction along with having nicer airports, frequent domestic flights going to places that are of interest to tourists, multi-lane expressways, nicer long-distances buses, etc.

I'm sympathetic to Tyler's view that you should keep probable future development patterns in mind when picking travel destinations. For example, I visited Eastern Europe before Western Europe, on the logic that Eastern Europe was likely to lose its unique post-Communist flavor relatively quickly, while the classic sights of Paris and Rome were likely to be more or less the same for my lifetime.

However, the other variable is the development of the traveler! I do not care how good something will be in 20 years - by then I might not be in good enough shape to travel!

That's an important point. A 25 year old and a 50 year old should have different priorities and interests, and a country's development path won't necessarily match yours. Sure, Amsterdam will always be there and probably won't change that much, but there are good reasons to go there while you are still in your early 20s. The same is true of London, New York and Tokyo.

Where is this charming retro in Singapore?

Start with Haw Par Villa...

Iraq 1996 vs Iraq 2016?
Egypt 1996 vs Egypt 2016?
Ukraine ...
Even USA 1996 vs 2016 for the "average" international tourist may indicate worsening experience.
I think the stated position might be very biased/selective/wrong. I don't know how you'd measure it, anyway. A tourist "satisfaction" index?

Not sure Iraq 1996 was any great shakes.

Java was an amazing place to visit 30 years ago - cheap, delicious food, friendly peoplle, very safe and very easy to get around. You all missed the window on that one, it won't get better from a tourist standpoint.

I have no idea why Tyler is optimistic about Nigeria.

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