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Monday, 13 July, 2020, 17 : 15 PM [IST]

'Singapore has set aside SGD90 mn for tourism recovery, and a task force is developing recovery plans’

With outbound travel coming to a complete halt, tourism marketing organisations are revising their strategic plans for domestic as well as outbound markets. Taking steps in this direction, Singapore has set aside a dedicated fund for recovery and formulated a ‘Tourism Recovery Action Task Force’ (TRAC). GB Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East and South Asia – Singapore Tourism Board, talks to Disha Shah Ghosh about their action plan.

Q. How is STB looking at bridging the revenue gap for tourism due to extended border restrictions and its small geographical size? How hopeful are you of staycations to revive the sector?
A. As our economy re-opens, we will continue to engage and guide our industry in implementing safe management measures to ensure that their businesses can re-open safely. Singapore has set aside S$90 million for tourism recovery and a task force is developing domestic and international recovery plans to be shared soon.

According to Google trends, the popularity of staycations peaked after the pandemic began due to the restrictions and risks involved in long-distance travel. As outbound travel for leisure is unlikely to resume in large numbers soon, we hope that locals will take time off in their own city and rediscover all that Singapore has to offer. 

We recently announced that hotels in Singapore may now apply to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to provide accommodation to guests for the purpose of leisure. However, hotels must adhere to the various safe management measures such as limiting occupancy to no more than one person per 10 sqm of guest-accessible public space or person at any point in time, implement more stringent safe management measures in areas where guests and staff spend more time, stagger timings for guests to be at the hotel lobby and guest facilities and implement ways to disperse crowds and prevent bunching. 

The hotel must also screen every individual by taking the temperature and a visual to see if the individual has respiratory symptoms such as fever, coughing, sneezing, breathlessness, a runny nose or if the individual reports of a loss of the sense of smell, before allowing anyone to enter the hotel or each guest facility. It must also have in place rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regimes, and implement the digital check-in system “Safe Entry” for every individual entering or leaving the hotel and encourage use of Trace Together.

Q. Over the years, tourism has become a crucial business for Singapore, and dedicated plans have been formulated for future. What is the current update on that amid the growing uncertainty?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest challenge globally and in Singapore, and the tourism industry will take some time to recover. 

We are not rushing to open our borders for international travel, and do not expect a quick rebound in visitor arrivals to Singapore. It will take a while for global travel sentiment to return and for borders to re-open and we are prepared for recovery to be a slow process.  

Nevertheless, we are confident that we will recover from this, as we did during the 2008 financial crisis and SARS. Both times, the industry was massively impacted, but we emerged stronger and more resilient.

We will focus our efforts on the following areas.

1.    Domestic recovery, to drive domestic spend to sustain tourism businesses and build confidence among Singaporeans so they can act as advocates for our overseas visitors. We are working with industry partners through the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC) to develop domestic campaigns.

2.    Developing a targeted approach for international markets, because some sectors and markets will recover faster than others. 

3.    Supporting our tourism stakeholders to innovate and adapt to a new COVID-safe normal, such as innovations to make large-scale business and leisure events both safe and sustainable. 

We will also review our longer-term tourism strategies and plans to ensure that they are resilient and relevant to the evolving situation. At the same time, we will continue with our long-term plans for Orchard Road, the Mandai nature precinct, Jurong Lake District and development of the Greater Southern Waterfront. 

Q. Besides leisure travel, Singapore is known for its MICE offerings and cruise infrastructure. Enlighten us on some of the guidelines and SOPs being formulated to reopen the sectors gradually?
A. The resumption of MICE events will be done in a careful and calibrated manner, with limits on the size and capacity of events to prevent new large clusters from arising. Details on these safe management measures will be announced at a later date. 

Port calls have been ceased for all cruise vessels for now.

STB is working closely with the relevant government agencies and industry stakeholders on the required safe management measures for both the MICE and Cruise industries. 

Q. India has been a key focus market for STB. What kinds of amendments are being made in the marketing plan and how are you revising your projections for the market?  
A. India continues to be the third-largest source market for Singapore, having crossed the one-millionth mark for Visitor Arrivals into Singapore for the fifth consecutive year in 2019. We have engaged the travel trade regularly since the onset of the pandemic and have recently commenced virtual consumer engagement events, being among the first National Tourism Organisations to do so.

To show solidarity with the travel fraternity in these trying times, and staying connected with them in a meaningful manner, STB India has undertaken the #UnitedWeStand trade engagement initiative. We have shared emailers, a ‘Letter of Unity’ and video messages to keep the travel trade updated on Singapore tourism matters. Trade outreach efforts have been ramped up through a series of update sessions on Destination Singapore with our partners to raise their product knowledge of Singapore’s offerings for both leisure and business travellers. This is, in fact, an opportune time for the tourism industry to invest in their people. We have offered the online version of STB’s Marketing College to our trade partners to help build their marketing capabilities and enable them to be ‘Agile, Bold and Creative’ in their marketing of Singapore.

We also organised a webinar titled “Singapore Tourism Connects – Panel Discussion and Product Update” on 29 May 2020 to share the various initiatives and engagement efforts in Singapore. The webinar also featured panelists from STB India, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation. 

Although travel restrictions are still in place, this is an important time for travel authorities to drive higher consumer engagement than ever before. At present, the global grounding of airlines has put us in a position of uncertainty, but once international travel restrictions are lifted, we hope to resume our activations and promotions in our primary markets including India.

During this time, STB will continue to strengthen Singapore’s brand image in the minds of our audiences around the world, and help them experience Singapore from home. We recently partnered with Zomato for Zomaland@Home, leveraging digital and social media platforms to embark on a consumer-engagement weekend festival with renowned artistes from both India and Singapore showcasing their talents and passions across food, music, stand–up comedy and more. 

We also teamed up with one of Asia’s best known nightclubs Zouk Singapore to organise Zouk Phuturescapes — a series of virtual parties for audiences around the world. In addition, we launched an edutainment series “Try this at home, Tips from Singapore” featuring Singaporean personalities. The six-part series released on STB’s YouTube, Facebook and Instagram have these personalities completing various tasks assigned to them in a fun and insightful way. Through these videos, we hope to inspire viewers to explore and develop their passions. 

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