Singapore's retailers launched their annual six-week mega-sales yesterday and urged local shoppers to go on a huge spend-ing spree in a bid to turnaround the tiny nation's ailing SARS-hit economy.
Prices will be cut by up to 70 percent in more than 22,000 shops throughout the city-state when the sale starts today, organizers said at a press conference in a quiet mall on Singa-pore's famous Orchard Road shopping strip.
But discounts are not the only lure for this year's sale, with retailers invoking the national interest when urging shoppers to return to the malls.
"It would be an understatement to say this year has been hard," the senior manager of Singapore's Retail Promotion Center, Chng Hoon-hoon, told reporters.
"Given the dramatic drop in tourist arrivals, Singapore needs Singaporeans to step up and help."
Chng warned Singapore was in danger of falling into a "vicious cycle" of falling business confidence, which could eventually lead to big job losses.
"It has to stop somewhere and hopefully it will stop with the `Great Singapore Sale,'" he said.
Singapore Retailers Association vice president Tang Wee-sung said that retail sales had slumped by up to 70 percent during the depths of the SARS crisis, which began here in March.
SARS has claimed 31 lives in Singapore -- the world's fourth highest death toll -- out of 206 cases.
However Singapore has now gone 18 days without a new infection and retailers are pinning their hopes of a surge in consumer confidence on the World Health Organization taking the city-state off its list of SARS-affected nations.
Singapore will be taken off the list if it reaches 20 days without a new infection, meaning the first few days of the sale could coincide with a psychologically vital time for shoppers and businesses.
"We have planned many promotions and celebrations [if Singapore is taken off the WHO list]," Singapore Tourism Board assistant director Josie Lau told reporters.
Lau gave no fuirther details.
Lau said foreign tourist numbers had fallen by 73 percent in the first 19 days of this month compared with the same period last year.
However, tourism officials said the fall appeared to have hit rock bottom, with tourists from Malaysia and Indonesia starting to rise again.
Among the other incentives at this year's sale is a S$10,000 (US$5,762) reward for the biggest spender over the six weeks, as well as draw prizes of holidays to Spain, Portugal and Australia.