SINGAPORE: From the transformation of an annual food festival into a virtual affair with live classes to the gamification of a walking tour where participants solve puzzles while exploring Chinatown, these are some examples of how tourism players have been reinventing their businesses with technology amid COVID-19.
Digitalisation and new technologies were already “disrupting” the tourism sector before COVID-19, and the pandemic has accelerated the shift in how people and businesses connect with one another, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (Apr 7).
“In a world where visitors are not constrained by physical boundaries, travel is no longer just about meetings or sightseeing but the unique suite of experiences that it offers to visitors, from pre-arrival to post-departure,” he said at the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) annual industry conference.
“The next bound of growth for the tourism sector will come from creating quality end-to-end experiences, curated to the needs of travellers.”
Singapore will have to continue leveraging technology to reinvent the experiences it offers to travellers, said the minister, as he announced the launch of a new platform called the Tourism Technology Transformation Cube (Tcube) that will serve as the “go-to resource” for tourism businesses during their digital transformation journeys.
“The initiatives under Tcube will enable tourism businesses to meet like-minded tourism stakeholders to facilitate knowledge exchange, test innovative ideas through proofs-of-concept and pilots and equip themselves with the tools to build and scale sustainable business models,” he said.
STB’s chief executive Keith Tan said the board will extend its Tourism Accelerator programme for another two years until September 2023.
The programme was first rolled out in 2019 to help tourism businesses source innovative solutions to address challenges. To date, it has supported 25 start-ups to develop 35 industry solutions.
Mr Tan said the tourism board will continue to work with partner agencies to attract companies with technology and digital solutions that are relevant for Singapore’s tourism sector.
“We need you to provide the demand to test these solutions, to run pilots and see if they can be scaled up quickly,” he said at the conference.
“If we don’t do this, we will run the risk of becoming outdated, unable to keep up with the demands and expectations of discerning quality visitors."
A new Tourism Sector Capability Development Roadmap will also be developed by STB and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to ensure the tourism workforce is equipped with the skills needed in a post-pandemic world.
With support from the industry-led alliance under the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, the roadmap is expected to be finalised and shared later this year, said Mr Tan.
BECOMING A SUSTAINABLE DESTINATION
The tourism sector will also have to capture opportunities in the shift towards sustainability, said Mr Chan.
The minister pointed to the recently announced Singapore Green Plan 2030, which aims to develop Singapore into a sustainable and innovative urban destination.
While Singapore might not be able to compete with other “eco-destinations” given its land scarcity and lack of natural landscapes, the country’s value proposition comes from “the intangibles”, he said.
These include a progressive and transparent regulatory environment, strong protection of intellectual property, as well as a vibrant public and private ecosystem.
“We want to be the best place to test bed sustainable solutions, new products and new experiences, enabling businesses from around the world to launch first-to-market solutions and innovations, right here in Singapore,” said Mr Chan.
Mr Tan said that while many industry players recognise the need to focus on environmental sustainability, the issue must be tackled “collectively as a destination, rather than enterprise by enterprise”.
As such, STB will approach industry players over the coming months to share its thoughts on developing strategies and a roadmap for destination sustainability.
It will also broaden the scope of the Singapore Tourism Accelerator to include developing solutions for sustainability.
“Ultimately, we don’t just want to be known as a sustainable destination, but as a great location for companies to test bed sustainable tourism solutions,” said Mr Tan, citing examples such as a net zero-carbon hotel or entertainment event.
BUSINESS TRAVEL WILL SEE DEMAND
Other trends that the industry must wrestle with in the post-pandemic future include what Mr Tan described as “remote nearly everything”, which is the acceleration of remote working and virtual events.
STB believes there will still be demand for business travel, even with the emergence of convenient tools for virtual meetings, he said.
“It’s one thing to travel around the world to listen to presentations that you could have listened to from home via Zoom, but it’s another thing to travel to an event to exchange ideas and knowledge that can in turn produce new ideas, products, and knowledge. Or, to experience, touch, and taste new products and innovations that can disrupt or revolutionise your business,” he added.
“So, the challenge for us is to ensure that Singapore continues to offer these sorts of value-adding, world-leading, knowledge-building events and activities here.”
He suggested holding conferences and trade shows that focus on major problems that require urgent attention from corporates and governments, such as food security.
A “strong” meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry will also be needed, Mr Tan added.
Apart from partnering the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), STB will do its part to support and profile the industry.
READ: Safety guidelines, tips on hybrid model part of new resilience roadmap for MICE and events sector
One of its plans is to set up two offices in Brussels and San Francisco this year, announced Mr Tan, adding that it will also allow them to “engage a larger base of international organisations and companies, and key decision makers so that we can secure more high quality business events for Singapore”.
Other announcements made at the annual tourism industry conference include three upcoming tourist attractions in Singapore, as the country looks to rejuvenate its battered tourism sector following a “long winter” brought about by the pandemic.
These new projects will help to support the tourism sector and increase its attractiveness, said Mr Tan.
“Since the pandemic hit, we have focused on weathering this long winter but now, it is time for us to start thinking about the future – what do we need to do today, so that we can thrive and succeed tomorrow?” he added.