SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will continue to support the tourism sector’s efforts to recover, innovate and “come back stronger than before”, said Minister of State Low Yen Ling on Friday (Mar 4).
Speaking at MTI’s Committee of Supply debate, Ms Low announced a slew of measures targeted at the tourism, F&B and retail sectors, as well as heartland businesses.
For the tourism industry, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will accelerate the SingapoReimagine campaign as international travel resumes, she said.
STB is now working with a “wide range” of partners around the world like airlines, travel agents and media outlets, to attract more travellers to Singapore.
“COVID-19 has hit the tourism sector very hard, but despite the challenges, we have continued to quickly adapt and pivot to new propositions to come back even stronger,” she said in her speech.
The Government will help tourism companies in developing attractive new products and experiences, said Ms Low.
The SingapoRediscovers campaign is still ongoing, she added, noting that the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers scheme last year generated nearly S$300 million in bookings and transactions and up to S$100 million in ancillary spending.
Singapore will also “defend” its position as a leading destination for business and leisure events, said Ms Low.
“We hit a pause button on these because of COVID-19, but STB is now gearing up to resume large-scale, and also high-quality business and leisure events from this year.”
For example, the Singapore Air Show in February saw about 13,000 trade attendees and almost 600 exhibitors from more than 39 countries, said Ms Low.
Singapore will host more industry-leading events later this year, like the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix and the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, she added.
“These events will not only directly benefit the tourism sector but will also ensure that Singapore remains a top-of-mind destination.”
MTI will also continue to create innovative tech and digital solutions with the tourism sector, said the Minister of State.
STB’s Singapore Tourism Accelerator Programme supported 34 promising tech start-ups over the past three years in developing solutions to “future-proof” the tourism industry.
The ministry will also "double down" on efforts to up-skill the tourism sector workforce to ensure that workers are ready to meet changing job demands, said Ms Low.
In the past two years, STB and Workforce Singapore (WSG) supported more than 140 tourism companies through career conversion programmes, helping more than 1,300 workers take on “redesigned and enhanced” roles, she added.
SUPPORT FOR HEARTLAND ENTERPRISES
Ms Low also announced plans to support heartland businesses, including support for them to go digital.
Enterprise Singapore will launch a S$50 million initiative called Our Heartlands 2025. The four-year programme aims to help heartland businesses increase revenue, improve operational efficiency and expand their customer base.
“The shops in our heartlands form a central thread of Singapore’s social fabric and everyday lives. Many Singaporeans grew up with these mom-and-pop shops. They play an important role in our neighbourhood, providing convenience and affordable goods and services at our doorsteps, as well as jobs for Singaporeans near their homes,” Ms Low said.
“Our heartland spaces are also fertile ground for the birth and growth of many well-loved local enterprises.”
But these businesses are facing challenges with changing consumer behaviour and rising competition, she noted.
With the Heartlands Go Digital programme launched in October 2020, about 85 per cent or 14,500 heartland enterprises have adopted e-payment solutions as of February this year, said Ms Low. More than half are on digital channels and e-commerce platforms, and have set up business pages on Google.
“This progress is a great step forward for many of our mom-and-pop shops that were using only cash, and operating strictly as a brick-and-mortar shop just two years ago.”
The ministry aims to expand digitalisation efforts with the new initiative so that nine in 10 shops will adopt at least one digital solution.
The Heartland Visual Merchandising Programme will also be widened to increase heartland enterprises’ offline capabilities, as well as attract more customers and improve sales, she added.
As part of the programme, MTI will “strengthen and develop capabilities” of the trade associations and chambers that are active in the heartlands. These include the Federation of Merchants’ Associations Singapore, the Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore and local merchants’ associations.
“This will involve training their secretariat in aspects such as project management, precinct rejuvenation and financial management,” she added.
Ms Low also provided an update on the S$130 million of Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers that were given out in December.
More than 90.6 per cent of Singaporean households have claimed their vouchers, and S$62 million of vouchers have been spent, said Ms Low, adding that she was "heartened" that heartland merchants and hawkers "recognise the benefit" of the vouchers.
To support the food services and retail sectors that have faced disruptions from COVID-19, a S$70 million Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package will be introduced.
“In the last two years, the food services and retail sectors have battled waves of disruptions time and time again, from restrictions to closures, to changing consumer preference and also pressures to digitalise, as well as manpower shortages,” said Ms Low.
“With the accelerated pace of change and the fast-emerging consumer trends, the food and retail sectors have to continue to transform themselves.”
The package will extend “crucial support” for businesses to improve their productivity and help them pivot to stay competitive and relevant, as well as “beef up their manpower” in hiring and training local employees, she added.
The 80 per cent support level of the Enterprise Development Grant and relevant solutions under the Productivity Solutions Grant will be extended to the food services and retail sectors until Mar 31, 2023.
“This extension under the Food Services and Retail Business Revitalisation Package will give our F&B and also our retail businesses more scope and more businesses, more opportunities to adapt and transform, and better position themselves for the future,” Ms Low said.
Manpower challenges are also at the top of the sectors’ concerns, she noted.
With industry associations, MTI will “double up” on efforts to support the hiring and training of local workers. This includes promoting local talent development programmes like the SGUnited Career Pathways scheme and the career conversion programmes.
Responding to questions about the rental situation most of these businesses face, Ms Low said that government landlords and all major private-sector landlords have adopted the Code of Conduct for the Leasing of Retail Premises since Jun 1 last year.
The Fair Tenancy Industry Committee will provide updates to the Code in coming weeks, she added.
“These updates will then provide us with additional clarity and details on the implementation of the Code as its legal enactment gets under way.”