Relaxed rules set to boost sales, but border reopening is key

But game changer for all sectors will be the reopening of borders, and so much still hinges on vaccine roll-out, say experts

The move to relax restrictions and enter phase three of the economy's reopening on Dec 28 was welcomed by businesses, with those in retail, restaurants and the tourism sector hopeful of a boost to sales and footfall by 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

But a real game changer for the economy could be when enough people take up the Covid-19 vaccine, so more restrictions can be relaxed, including border controls, said businesses and analysts.

Dr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said the move to allow approved tourist attractions to increase their operating capacity from 50 per cent to 65 per cent is significant.

"This will allow attractions to accommodate more visitors during weekends and public holidays - we can make hay while the sun shines," he said, adding that footfall at tourist attractions is expected to grow by 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

Allowing people to gather in groups of eight, up from five, is also a welcome move, said Mr Andrew Tjioe, chief executive of TungLok Group.

"The majority of TungLok's restaurants are Chinese restaurants, and diners usually come in bigger family groups... It is also timely as we prepare for Chinese New Year reunions over the next two months," he said.

The retail sector will also benefit from larger group sizes, though retailers would have liked to see the changes kick in before the festive season to take advantage of the holiday sales boost, said Singapore Retailers Association executive director Rose Tong. "But we appreciate that the decision was made with safety in mind," she added.

However, it will be some time before things return to normal, said Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

Much hinges on the roll-out and take-up rate of a vaccine, which will eventually pave the way for borders to be reopened once confidence in governments' ability to manage the virus returns, he said.

Dr Cheong and Ms Tong agreed, saying the return of tourism will help bring footfall and sales figures back to pre-Covid levels.

Sectors such as manufacturing and construction are affected by labour shortage and supply crunch issues as borders are still largely closed, and this continues to affect growth, said Maybank Kim Eng analyst Chua Hak Bin.

As demand increases with the relaxation of rules, having enough trained manpower will be a challenge, said Pan Pacific Hotels Group's chief sales and marketing officer Cinn Tan.

More staff and resources will be needed so that restaurants can serve food safely, and for thorough cleaning and disinfecting to be carried out, she said.