Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the webcast of the Tourism Recovery Dialogue

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the webcast of the Tourism Recovery Dialogue

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. We are indeed meeting in extraordinary times. I must first say that I know it has been a very tough few months for all of you in the industry. It will be an understatement to say that we have never, as an industry, faced such great challenges in recent memories. Having said that, we must still look forward positively and come up with a positive action plan on how we can help one another, help the industry to recover our footing. Today I’m just going to make a couple of points on how we see the industry going forward and some of our plans going forward.

2. Let me start with an assessment of where we see the market going forward. I think we have to be realistic that the demand for mass market tourism products is unlikely to recover in the near-term unless there is a vaccine or there are rapid and affordable test kits being developed. From the recent surveys that we have done and seen, the global confidence in safe travel especially air travel has dropped significantly. From the Singapore Tourism Board (STB)’s Brand Health Survey in April, it showed that only 24 per cent of travellers across  14 key markets felt confident to travel internationally and only 33 per cent of them felt confident to visit Singapore. Having said that, it is not just about Singapore. It is about the decline globally of confidence to travel. While that confidence to travel has fallen in Singapore, relative to the rest, we are still in a position where there are some strengths that we can build upon and I will elaborate on those in a short while. 

3. Likewise, the UN World Tourism Organisation in May estimated that the number of international tourists will decline by up to 78 per cent in 2020 as compared to 2019. If this is the current situation, our common challenge is how do we position ourselves in this market that is not only uncertain but there are chances that it will be volatile because various countries will be hit by recurring waves of infections. We must be psychologically prepared to deal with this kind of volatile and uncertain environment. 

4. Let me share some of the things that are going to happen and how we see the industry evolving going forward. First, I think there will still be opportunities for us to connect to travellers from the higher-end markets. You have seen the recent efforts both by Singapore and other countries to progressively resume safe business travel especially for the essential executives. Different countries are coming together to have what we call “travel bubbles” or “reciprocal green lane arrangements”. For Singapore, we have announced such arrangements with China and Malaysia. We are continuing to work with other countries to develop more of such arrangements where there is a reciprocal recognition of each other’s health checks and standards and there is a reciprocal recognition of each other’s quarantine processes and health declarations. If we can get more partners onto this, we will be able to progressively resume  essential business travel first. 

5. Beyond that, I foresee that the market will progressively resume with the higher quality travellers first. It will be a quality game and not a quantity game. It will be a niche market game and not a mass market game. So, we need to rethink some of our products and services to leverage this demand for quality niche market services beyond the traditional mass market products and services that we are able to offer. 

6. The third thing that is likely to happen is that it is no longer sufficient just to have a product that is here and now while the customer or the tourist is here with us. In fact, chances are that we will have to develop an end-to-end system or end-to-end suite of services - what we call “before, during and after sales service” because for people to resume travel safely, they will need to be engaged prior to their travel itinerary. The health checks, standards and  precautions required; the systems that we need to put in place while they are in Singapore; how do they move around and how do we ensure that they are safe and healthy. Even after they leave Singapore, how do we provide that after sales service. Our model of providing a tourism product will have to be end-to-end, starting from before, during and after the so-called consumption of the product in Singapore. These are some of the broad strokes but let me lay out the next set of issues that we want to deal with for our immediate, medium and long-term plans. 

7. All of you will understand that our immediate priority is to make sure that we save as many jobs as possible by helping the businesses to tide through this difficult period. Over the last couple of months, the Government has supported the economy with almost  $100 billion worth of support through a suite of measures including property tax rebates, temporary bridging loans and wage support. Through the Jobs Support Scheme, we have helped more than 7,000 tourism businesses to save jobs and we have provided wage support for more than 1,600 self-employed tour guides. 

8. I fully understand that for every one that we are able to help, there might still be one or two who have not been able to able to access our full suite of help. What we are committed to do is to make sure that, as much as possible and as many as possible, we will reach out to everyone in that industry through the businesses or directly if they are self-employed to see how we can help them. Some of it will be to stay on in their current job, others may require us to help them to transit to new and adjacent jobs. That we are committed to do. 

9. Through the SG United Jobs Initiative, we will also help workers who have lost their jobs in this industry to find relevant jobs or to provide relevant retraining opportunities for them to move on to other industries. Through the Government grants and industry transformation efforts, we will also want to work with our tourism businesses to reinvent themselves to address the challenges going forward. 

10. That is the immediate plan, but we need a medium-term plan to reinvent our businesses as well. One of the things that we want to work with you on is to redesign our tourism products. As I’ve mentioned, how do we come up with newer, more innovative and attractive product propositions for the niche market business travellers. Businesses can tap on grants under the Tourism Development Fund to develop new tourism products and events to attract such niche market business travellers. 

11. We will also want to rethink and reinvent the MICE events model – what we call the safe MICE events. STB’s Safe Business Event Risk Management Framework will allow the event organisers to conduct events for up to 50 onsite attendees. We will kickstart Singapore’s MICE tourism through two hybrid events utilising STB’s framework – the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Computational Electromagnetics in August and the Asia Pacific MedTech Virtual Forum in September, for 50 onsite and 1,000 virtual attendees each. 

12. We have made the announcement this morning and we are going to pilot this. We hope to work with the operators to come up with new models whereby even if we cannot have one large scale event, we can have a large scale event broken up into different cells and combining them through technology to enable a different experience, both online and offline combining to provide a different experience for the MICE participants. Our opportunity is this - if we can do this well in Singapore, we will then show the way for the rest of the industry in other parts of the world to come together to work with us as well. While it is challenging, I’m also excited by the fact that STB and the industry players are constantly looking for new ways to reinvent our business model particularly in the MICE industry which forms a significant part of our inbound tourist market. 

13. The second thing that we need to do in the medium term is to reimagine our offerings to the locals. Prior to this conference, I was told that today, some of you may have to drop out from this seminar because of the school holiday period, some of you are having quite good business with staycations. I’m happy to hear that but I’m sure that we can do much more than this. 

14. Singapore has a significant domestic market that is searching for new experiences. Just as a point of reference, in 2018, Singaporeans spent more than S$34 billion on overseas travel. In contrast, the tourism receipts for Singapore in the same year was only S$27 billion. Of course, we will not be able to translate all the overseas spending to the domestic market but even then, if we are able to capture a slice of what we used to spend overseas for the domestic market, then I think that it will be a significant boost to our local tourism industry and we will encourage Singaporeans to rediscover Singapore as we have never seen or experienced before. 

15. So, we are going to launch this SingapoRediscover plan where we will spend $45 million to campaign and create value-for-money experiences and promotions for locals to discover our own hidden gems. STB will work with you to see how we can best use this money and resources to catalyse the local tourism industry. 

16. Having said that, it is also an opportunity for us to set new health standards, new service standards to provide the assurance we would like to give to all our local and foreign consumers of our services. We have a head start in this. We can build on our reputation as a safe and trusted hub. Throughout all our surveys over the years, one of the reasons that people come to Singapore is because they see us as a safe place to live and play. They see us as having good health standards, good information-sharing and it allows them to have the peace of mind to bring their families here, to come and enjoy what we have to offer. We will need to build on this and to find new ways to assure both local and overseas guests of our high health standards, the kind of precautions and safe distancing measures that we put in place, to allow them to enjoy a new kind of experience over and beyond what they have been used to in the past. STB will continue to work with you to see how we can utilise STB’s Training Industry Professionals in Tourism grant to help build new capabilities in customer services. 

17. Having shared what we have just done for the immediate and medium term, we still have plans for the long-term, and that is  to reinvent our industry for the long-term. We remain committed to execute our long-term development plans for the tourism sector as we believe that global tourism will progressively recover. When it recovers, it will go for higher quality niche market products that will provide even more unique experiences to  customers. 

18. STB will be aiming to launch the Request For Proposal (RFP) for the integrated tourism development in Jurong Lake District by the end of 2020. The integrated tourism development will create new large scale attractions that will complement adjacent attractions such as the new Science Centre and Jurong Lake Gardens. This project will help increase the presence of attractions in different areas in Singapore and encourage tourists and locals to visit Jurong Lake District. 

19. Second, STB and Tote Board are exploring concepts for the redevelopment of Singapore Racecourse @ Kranji as a leisure destination. This redevelopment will build on Singapore Racecourse’s heritage for green lush spaces and complement the nature-based attractions that are based in the Mandai area. Personally, I’m very excited about this project because this is something that I think is missing in our offerings now. If you look at the map of Singapore - the north-western corner of Singapore - on one end, we have the Sungei Buloh nature park and some of the rustic Neo Tiew area. Further inland, we have the Mandai nature reserve which we are developing with new attractions coming online in the next few years. Our vision is how to connect from Sungei Buloh in the northwest corner of Singapore, known for its rustic nature, all the way to Mandai nature reserve and in between is this piece called the Singapore Racecourse @ Kranji. If we can develop that as a seamless integrated land, then we will have an entirely new tourist proposition for both locals and foreigners to see another part of Singapore away from the current tourist attraction. That will make us a more well-rounded tourist destination for young people, families and even for the older people. 

20. These developments are all signs of our confidence in the tourism industry and our determination to keep investing to create good business opportunities and good jobs for our workers so that we can continue to be able to compete in this segment of the business globally. 

21. Overall, we remain committed and confident of our long-term future for the tourism industry. We are realistic that in the short-term there will be headwinds and we will need to use this opportunity to reinvent some of our business models to reskill some of our workers so that we can provide higher quality niche offerings as a start before we progressively resume mass market tourism offerings. 

22. Our commitment is to make sure that we will work with all the businesses present and all the workers in the industry to make sure that we work through this difficult point in time together; and to emerge stronger from this. 

23. Thank you very much for your efforts over the last few months to keep the industry going. Thank you for all the ideas that you have shared with us to make us stronger, to make us more impactful in the way we deliver our products and services to Singaporeans and foreigners alike. We know it will not be easy for the next few months going forward but we will be committed to walk this journey with you as always. Thank you very much. 

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