SINGAPORE: Mr Mohamad Azan, a limousine driver who typically transports tourists, had no bookings in January after the novel coronavirus hit the headlines.
Instead of picking up tourists from the airport and taking them around for sight-seeing, Mr Azan has been sitting, idle, with many other drivers, he said.
He has had several booking cancellations, he added. While the Government said the number of Chinese tourists has dropped by more than 80 per cent since China imposed outbound restrictions on Jan 23, bookings from visitors from other countries like India and Indonesia have dropped, Mr Azan said.
He is worried as he has to pay S$3,000 in monthly installments to the bank for his car. He is also leasing out two mini-buses to his friends.
“I need a plan B in case my friends want to return their mini-buses. I don’t know how long this will go on, but things might get worse,” he told reporters.
FINDING WAYS TO COPE
In order to cope with the lack of business, Mr Azan has been working as a private-hire car driver. He also has something to look forward to.
The Singapore Airshow this year which will be held between Feb 11 and Feb 16 is expected to be a bright spot for him as he was booked in advance by the show’s organisers. However, he used to get walk-in bookings for the airshow. He has not received even one such booking so far, he lamented.
Mr Azan, who has been a limousine driver for 25 years, lived through the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) period. At the time, he was leasing five cars. He surrendered four of the cars, and passed the remaining one which he drove, to a friend who helped him settle the instalments. Meanwhile, he took on a job as a personal driver for one and a half years.
Mr Justin Lim, a private-hire driver, has also been affected. His earnings have dipped by 15 to 20 per cent, and he is taking home the least he has done in the four and a half years he has been a private hire driver, he said. The number of calls has dropped, he said.
Mr Azan and Mr Lim were speaking to reporters on Saturday (Feb 1) at Shangri-la Rasa Sentosa, where they met Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat along with other drivers to give feedback on how things are going for them.
TRANSPORT AND TOURISM SECTORS HARDEST HIT
The transport and tourism sectors here have been hit the hardest by the novel coronavirus the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Saturday, pointing to a decline in air traffic through Changi Airport and room cancellations.
In the hotel industry, booking cancellations for rooms and events have increased and occupancy has reduced, said Ms Julie Cheong, president of the Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union, that represents people working in industries such as hotels and supermarkets.
“This is supposed to be a good month because of the upcoming airshow. Occupancy is usually up to 80 per cent, but it’s at about 60 per cent now,” she said.
For people who want to cancel their events, hotels have to be flexible and allow them to postpone, so that they can retain their customers, she said.
“They have to be flexible to offer such solutions so they won’t lose business in the long term,” she said.
Mr Patrick Fiat, General Manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts said that different aspects have been affected- hotel rooms, events and food and beverage.
“The first wave was the cancellations from Chinese travellers, which consists of over 1,000 room nights. The second wave that is coming in are the travellers from other countries who would like to avoid travelling to Singapore and the region,” he said.
Many corporate travellers are also on a travel ban implemented by the companies to avoid non-essential travel, he added. So far, the hotel is expecting to lose S$700,000 in revenue.
“We look forward to the support from the Government to help businesses tide over this period as the businesses have overheads to cover during the downturn,” he said.
RESTAURANT FEELS THE IMPACT
Other businesses are also feeling the heat. Mr Bu Liang's restaurant business has been so badly affected that he decided to shut it down indefinitely from Sunday.
His restaurant, Royal Dragon, which is located in a mall on Havelock Road, typically has more than 1,000 customers a day, with tour groups coming from China, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia.
However, business has dropped more than 50 per cent for the eatery serving Chinese cuisine since the virus was first reported in Singapore, he said.
When reporters went to the restaurant, it was completely dark, and an administrative employee was the only one present.
“If we opened, the amount that we would earn wouldn’t even be enough for the salary of one employee,” he said.
It is not just the mainland Chinese who have not been patronising his restaurant, he said.
“Many people from other countries are also worried, so they are not coming."
Mr Bu is making plans to revive his business.
"We will focus on developing the business centred on Singaporean guests and local weddings," he said.