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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at TravelRevive

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at TravelRevive

Mr Chaly Mah, Chairman, Singapore Tourism Board,

Ms Katrina Leung, Managing Director, Messe Berlin Singapore,

Overseas and local industry partners, friends from the media,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

The future of travel and need for reinvention

1. A very good morning to all of you, very glad to see all of you back here. We are back in business. COVID-19 has brought the global travel and tourism sector close to a standstill. It has been especially hard-hitting for countries without a large domestic market, such as Singapore.

2. However, as the saying goes – necessity breeds invention, or as the Chinese saying goes, 穷则变 变则通. Therein also lies the greatest impetus for countries like Singapore to reinvent ourselves and rebuild the industry. And that is what we are starting to do today. We are not waiting for a vaccine to arrive, nor are we waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to blow over. Instead, we are establishing the foundations now and getting started on the journey  to reinvent and rebuild the industry. 

3. In thinking of how best to reinvent ourselves, we are clear that even prior to COVID-19, the world and the global travel and tourism sector has already started changing. During COVID and after COVID, the sector will not be the same again. The future has changed. While the pandemic has permanently changed the way people travel and how events will be conducted, some of these changes were already on the horizon pre-COVID.

4. For example, prior to COVID-19, forces of digitalisation and sustainability were already driving changes in the travel industry, including in the MICE industry. The prevalence of digitalisation and access to technology have caused many businesses to re-evaluate the need for travel to conduct routine meetings and maintenance of their networks. Many businesses were already questioning if they could optimise resources by focusing on functions that they could not  achieve without travel. For example, establishing new friendships and new business ties. Similarly, many travellers, pre-COVID, were starting to consider if there were more environmentally sustainable ways to fulfil their desire for new experiences

5. The outbreak of COVID-19 has not only accelerated the two driving forces of digitalisation and sustainability, it has also added a third – the need for health security, over and above physical security and comfort. Therein lies the opportunity for all of us. Whoever can ensure visitors’ health security in a faster and better way will gain a competitive advantage. Singapore recognises this and has every intention to be amongst the leading lights in this area. If we are able to build and operationalise these capabilities, it will set us apart from the competition.

6. And if any country in the world has the incentive and drive to get the formula for reinvention right, Singapore must be one of the front-runners.

The Singapore Approach

7. Let me explain how we will do it in a Singapore way. For Singapore, our reliance on external connections and visitors necessitates us to adopt a “risk management” instead of a “risk elimination” approach. Unlike many other countries, shutting ourselves off from the world is not an option, as Singapore is unable to tap on a large local population or domestic travel to sustain our tourism sector. We also cannot expect to eliminate risks entirely all the time. Learning how to manage the risks will thus be a far more productive approach, and place us in good stead as we never know what would be the next crisis that might hit us, or what might be the next virus that would disrupt air travel. Therefore “risk management’ rather than “risk elimination”. 

8. For Singapore, remaining an open economy does not just refer to the trade in goods and services. It is also about the regular exchange and flow of ideas, talents and people. This has been the cornerstone of Singapore’s success, and will remain so for the years to come.

9. In the early days of COVID-19, we made the difficult decision to close our borders and impose travel restrictions as the safety and health of our people was our number one priority. While that remains our priority, there have since been several developments that have given us the confidence to progressively resume travel and connect with the rest of the world:

a. First, we now know much more about how the disease and its transmission mechanism;
b. Second, we now have stronger and wider variety of testing options;
c. Third, we now have tighter track and trace capabilities to quickly isolate cases and identify clusters.

10. However, beyond merely resuming travel in a safe and sustainable manner, Singapore is going to pioneer several things to lead the reinvention of global travel, especially in the MICE industry.

11. First, we have put in place safe travel protocols. This protocol involves combining pre-departure Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, with on-arrival tests, periodic antigen tests and a TraceTogether system for mutual assurance. We hope that such protocols will be adopted and accepted by more countries. This will allow more of us to have a shared protocol to reduce the need for long-term quarantine periods that is very disruptive to business travel. 

12. Second, we have also put in place safe event protocols. For example, the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) partnered STB and ESG to formulate the Event Industry Resilience Roadmap, which was launched last month to guide the safe resumption of business events. This has guided the organisation of smaller and larger hybrid events, such as the Singapore International Energy Week.

13. TravelRevive, the first pilot MICE tradeshow supported by the public-private efforts of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce’s (EST) Singapore Together Alliance for Action (AfA) on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences, is another great example on safe event protocols. I would like to thank Aloysius Arlando (President of SACEOS and Chief Executive Officer of SingEx Holdings), Lee Seow Hiang (CEO, Changi Airport Group and Co-Chair of AfA on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences) and Kwee Wei Lin (Head of Hotels (Singapore), Pontiac Land Group, President of Singapore Hotel Association, and Co-Chair of AfA on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences) for leading all of these efforts. It is the first tradeshow in Singapore to trial the newly developed ‘hybrid event’ tradeshow prototype for safe business events. TravelRevive is also the first major international travel tradeshow to take place in Asia-Pacific during Covid-19.

14. Aside from virtual attendees, TravelRevive will also welcome close to a thousand attendees on-site over the two days, including around 65 foreign delegates who flew in from 14 countries specially to join us at this event. Welcome back to Singapore and thank you for your confidence in us. It has incorporated safe management measures such as pre-event antigen testing, crowd density control, cohorting of attendees and the launch of an online diary mobile app to safely arrange meetings between exhibitors and buyers.

15. Finally, beyond the safe travel and safe event protocol, we have and we are going to re-imagine the entire traveller and MICE experience end-to-end, from pre-arrival to post-departure. For example, STB has been working with inbound travel agents, such as Pacific Arena and Tradewinds Tours & Travel, on the development of safe itineraries to cater authentic and personalised experiences to visitors, while offering the assurance of safety. 

16. Experiences taking place along TravelRevive include virtual tours with hands-on activities that delegates can partake from their hotel rooms; private museum site visits; and even a guided site visit to a traditional Kelong fish farm. I understand one of the groups will be going to the Night Safari later this evening, where they will be enjoying a private dinner in a teepee tent. I hope you have a great time there enjoying nature and excellent cuisine at the same time.

17. We will also continue to invest in technology as digital enablers to facilitate a seamless and convenient experience for visitors. Changi Airport Group has developed the Safe Travel Concierge prototype, which is an online tool that provides travellers with a customised travel checklist for pre-entry requirements that they need to fulfil before entering Singapore. The Safe Travel Concierge will also help guests to remain in their cohorts at all times, including when attending activities as part of their safe itineraries after TravelRevive.

18. These are just some examples of the many initiatives that Singapore is working on with our industry partners to reinvent ourselves, remain competitive, and secure our leadership in the tourism sector of tomorrow.

Conclusion

19. Amidst the disruptions inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore government is committed to working with our industry partners to reinforce the resilience of the MICE sector and doing more to catalyse the revival of our tourism industry in a safe manner. We will support the industry in reimagining the entire visitor experience to emerge stronger and solidify our position as a global and regional business hub. We are doing all this not just to return to the previous status quo. We are going to re-imagine the entire experience; the entire chain of events, bring new players together, set new standards for the industry and to develop a whole new experience for people to come to Singapore for leisure, for MICE and for business. This is not the defensive play of trying to return to the old status quo. This is about bringing together people, creating partnerships, using the latest technology to mass customise the level of experience that we can provide to our visitors inbound to Singapore. This will be an entirely different MICE industry in time to come. 

20. We are confident that we have the ideas, the determination and the partnerships necessary to redefine global travel sector, and lead to a real Travel Revive. We are encouraged by the signing of MICE MOUs with Informa Tech, Fiera Milano, and Messe Munich. They demonstrate that global MICE companies still maintain confidence in Singapore as the Global Asia node, and are expanding their presence in the region through partnerships with our local players. 

21. Our pipeline of projects also gives us the confidence that we are moving in the right direction. In the coming months, as we keep our infection numbers down and manage the risks associated with the imported cases, we can look forward to more exciting MICE events that we will continue to pilot with the Alliance for Action on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences. 

22. We are grateful for the private sector leadership in this endeavour, including that by SACEOS, Changi Airport Group, Singapore Hotel Association, National Association of Travel Agents Singapore and other private sector representatives in the committee. As a key travel and transit hub in the region, there is also scope to establish ourselves as a safe and secure meeting place for businesses that may not otherwise be able to meet due to travel restrictions between their countries. In short, if people from country A cannot go to country B to meet; and people from country B cannot go to country A to meet, we will develop a set of protocols that will allow us to welcome people from country A and B to meet in Singapore. 

23. Beyond the hallmarks of efficiency, value for money and innovation, we will add a feather to our cap by ensuring the health and safety of our visitors while still providing them with a delightful experience in Singapore. 

24. Ladies and gentlemen, Singapore is determined to strengthen our position as a key business hub in the region. We are determined to revive the MICE industry that is so essential for our business hub status. We are determined to re-imagine the experience that we can provide our visitors in a safe and sustainable way. We are not going to play defensive to get back to where we were. Beyond getting back to where we were, we want to break new ground and establish a new level of experience that we can provide for our customers and with our visitors. If we can do that, I have every confidence that the MICE industry will not only regain its previous standards, but it will break new ground and set us apart, distinguishing us from the rest of the competition. On that note, I thank everyone of you for your confidence in us. I thank all the private sector leaders who have played a part for us to get to where we are today. Today is just a milestone of where we want to go. We will go forth and do even more things to re-imagine and reinvent the industry. Thank you very much. 

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