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The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the tourism industry and recovery will take time, as mass international travel will not return in any significant way any time soon. The pandemic has also irrevocably changed consumer behaviour and spending patterns.

This means it is crucial that countries like Singapore work closely with its partner agencies and the industry to chart a new path forward for tourism, by transforming its businesses and building new capabilities, Lynette Pang, the chief marketing officer at Singapore Tourism Board tells The Drum.

“To prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 infection cases, we are taking a phased and calibrated approach in the reopening of our tourism businesses. We are also reopening our borders in a progressive and calibrated manner,” she explains.

“For now, we will focus on strengthening Singapore’s brand image in the minds of our audiences around the world. Throughout this challenging period, STB and many tourism businesses have stepped up efforts to enable people from around the world to experience Singapore, even when they are not here.”

These efforts include helping dance club Zouk Singapore engage its fans by introducing its digital initiative Zouk Digital featuring daily live-streamed and pre-recorded content including personality interviews, cocktail classes, DJ sets, fitness sessions and gaming streams.

Another STB partner agency, the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, launched a ‘Hello from the Wild Side’ initiative that enables the public to engage with the animals virtually through video meetings with the 'animal ambassadors' and interactive tours of the unique enclosures where participants can observe feeding and enrichment activities in real-time.

In July, STB together with Enterprise Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation launched a domestic campaign, ‘SingapoRediscovers’, which aims to rally local support for Singapore’s tourism and lifestyle businesses. 

Pang claims businesses have responded well to the ‘SingapoRediscovers’ campaign, by introducing safe and attractive experiences and promotions to encourage locals to do more in Singapore. To date, over 200 attractive deals and bundled packages have been launched to encourage locals to explore different precincts and aspects of life in Singapore.

“Together with partner agencies, STB is committed to helping our tourism industry adjust to, and hopefully thrive, in the new Covid-19 world. This includes supporting the industry in identifying new opportunities, exploring new business models, as well as retraining and upskilling workers,” she explains.

“For example, we are working with our Tourism Recovery Action Taskforce (TRAC) to map out recovery strategies and plans for tourism in Singapore. TRAC comprises tourism industry leaders as well as representatives from various government agencies to leverage the strengths of both private and public sectors to coordinate recovery efforts. The task force looks into a wide range of issues ranging from industry support and capability development to demand simulation and recovery measures. We will continue to work closely with our tourism businesses and step up our support where needed.”

She adds: “Even as Singapore tackles the challenges that Covid-19 brings, we remain committed to our long-term plans, and will forge ahead with major infrastructure projects. We will continue to work closely with the tourism industry to develop new and rejuvenated business and lifestyle offerings that appeal to various interests. This ensures that Singapore remains an attractive business and leisure destination in the long-run.”

The lack of travel and closed borders has seen many retrenchment exercises in the tourism sector. In Singapore, national airline Singapore Airlines said it will cut around 4,300 positions across its three airlines, while Resorts World Sentosa has cut its casino headcount and let go of close to 400 employees.

Pang acknowledges the pandemic has brought much hardship to the tourism industry. She says the industry must be prepared for more jobs and businesses to be impacted as mass leisure travel is unlikely to return anytime soon.

“Beyond economy-wide measures that the government has announced to protect jobs and help local businesses stay viable and emerge stronger, STB also supports tourism businesses through schemes such as the Training Industry Professionals in Tourism (TIP-iT) fund to support employee upgrading, and talent and leadership development. This will expand their skill sets and boost their employability,” she says.

“The grant covers up to 90% of training course fees and training fees and also provides funding for absentee payroll. Our stakeholders can also tap the Business Improvement Fund (BIF) to facilitate efforts to transform business models and processes to the new normal.”

Apart from providing financial and training support during this period, STB has developed various tools and platforms under a three-step framework to help tourism businesses accelerate their digital transformation. 

It hopes this will encourage tourism businesses to make use of these resources to transform their businesses so that they will be well-positioned for recovery when the time comes.

“The Tourism Transformation Index (TXI), a self-diagnostic tool for companies to assess their strengths, identify areas of opportunity and provide recommendations on next steps to take in their digital transformation journey,” explains Pang.

“We are also continuing our support for the second cohort of the Singapore Tourism Accelerator, with 10 companies participating virtually to develop quality solutions and piloting them with our tourism industry players over the next few months.

She continues: “In addition, we created a suite of smart services that allow businesses to tap data and shared content to drive innovation and guide their business decisions. This includes the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network, or Stan, where industry stakeholders can access data such as updated tourism statistics to help them plan for recovery, and the Tourism Information and Services Hub, an integrated, open platform which businesses can also use to contribute and access travel-related content and services for use on their own digital platforms.”