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  Straits Times 20 Oct 06
Economic loss 'may exceed $14 billion'
Keith Lin

Business Times 19 Oct 06
Haze begins to take its toll on business
Environmental economist puts cost at about US$50m;
restaurants, tour operators suffer most
By Jean Chua and Oh Boon Ping

(SINGAPORE) Businesses in Singapore have already started counting the costs of the dreaded haze, with at least one company saying takings have plunged 50 per cent since the irritating smoke started to dull the skies last month.

The sectors most seriously affected include food and beverage (F&B) and tourism - as locals eat indoors and visitors, turned off by news reports, give the region a miss.

An environmental economist puts the cost to business at about US$50 million - and thinks the situation needs to be tracked more closely.

'I hope that apart from measuring the PSI, we should try to have a monitoring of losses,' said the head of Nanyang Technological University's division of economics, Associate Professor Euston Quah.

'Every year we ought to estimate the economic losses caused by the haze so we can keep better track of which sectors are hardest hit and which sectors suffer the greatest impact.

'It also gives an idea to the government as to the compensation that should be given out, if any.' Prof Quah said the effect on tourism and other businesses, as well as the threat to health, amount to a loss of productivity that has real economic costs for Singapore.

Other negatives include the loss of visibility and loss of views. 'Views obviously have value to people,' Prof Quah said. 'People get happiness and enjoyment from views. And if you look at property, people will pay a premium for view. So when views are affected, the losses have to be accounted for. There is also loss of recreation activities.'

Prof Quah's studies on the effects of the 1997 haze show that Singapore suffered a loss of about US$300 million, including US$210 million in tourism and US$5 million in health costs.

With the haze back once more, the F&B sector appears to have been affected worst.

A spokesman for IndoChine Group said: 'Business is definitely affected, but we cope with it by moving diners indoors. Our customers don't complain but they do stay shorter hours.' IndoChine said its waterfront restaurant is still doing well, mainly with the expat and office crowd. The restaurant can accommodate 120 people indoors and 250 outside for al fresco dining. IndoChine runs 16 bars and restaurants in Singapore.

Andrew Tan, managing director of Colours F&B, which manages Colours by the Bay at the Esplanade, also reported a drop in business. There is 'less walk-in at the restaurants in the evening as most people avoid outdoor dining and rush home after work'.

Tour operators have registered slower sales as well. Ace Tours & Travel yesterday received cancellations of inbound tours from four groups and said more may back out. But managing director Edward Tay said: 'I think people are overreacting. We travel operators are used to it because every September or October, we get the haze. It just depends on how serious it is.'

At Singapore DUCKtours, which operates amphibious tours and city sight-seeing bus rides, business has plunged about 50 per cent since the latest haze descended. 'But we are expecting more tourists during the festive months of November and December, and hopefully the situation will improve by then,' a company representative said.

In the construction industry, much of the work is outdoors. But a director of a local firm said: 'We haven't stopped our work, and the haze has not affected my company so far. Across the industry, the impact is likely to be minimal as of now.'

At Raffles Medical, 20 per cent more people are seeking treatment for haze-related ailments, a spokesman told BT. 'There has also been a stomach flu virus going around, but the symptoms of haze-related illnesses include sensitive skin, eye and throat irritation, respiratory difficulties.'

But the retail sector has proved resilient as people go to air-conditioned shopping centres to escape the haze. CapitaLand said traffic at its malls has gone up a little over the past two weekends. 'Taking a general poll of five of our suburban and city malls, we actually saw a 110,000 increase in shoppers in the first two weekends of October, compared to the final two weekends of September,' said CapitaLand Retail's head of marketing communications, Therese Chew. 'At Clarke Quay, during the day, more people are going indoors for dinner and, in the evening, the pubs are not affected.'

Likewise, Raffles City Shopping Centre said there has been no cancellation of event space at its convention centre. 'Luckily for us, we are not an outdoor venue so we don't see any drop in numbers. Our event space is also indoors,' said corporate communications director Lee Mun Leng.

Straits Times 20 Oct 06
Economic loss 'may exceed $14 billion'
Keith Lin

THE haze over South-east Asia may cost the affected economies more than the US$9 billion (S$14 billion) that they were estimated to have lost in 1997-98, when a prolonged period of haze wreaked havoc on the region.

This was the assessment of members of regional think-tanks and non-governmental organisations who gathered in Singapore yesterday for a dialogue on the issue.

'We believe that the financial implications may be greater than (previously) estimated,' said Professor Simon Tay of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Prof Tay called the previous estimates a 'hurried but genuine' attempt to attach some financial significance to the damage caused.

He said a new estimate must take into consideration long-term implications such as medical ailments resulting from the intermittent haze in the past decade.

Participants at the dialogue have pledged to commission a study on the financial implications, in the hope of spurring their respective governments into taking measures to resolve the problem.

Prof Tay said that the problem called for political will. 'When we say that this is damaging people, it's not just about the lack of blue skies. This is really, at the end of it, a health and economic issue,' he said.

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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