1. Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.
2. My pleasure to join you at this year’s Tourism Industry Conference (TIC). This is the first time the conference has gone hybrid, and I am glad we can still connect with everyone.
3. When I met many of you at the Tourism Recovery Dialogue last July, the tourism sector was facing its gravest challenge since SARS. We are still in the thick of it, and recovery remains uncertain.
4. I want to first commend the businesses and our guests here today, who have shown great tenacity amidst adversity. I would also like to acknowledge the important work of our industry partners on the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC), and the Alliance for Action (AfA) on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences. Thank you for all your hard work behind the scenes.
5. Tourism is integral to Singapore’s position as a vibrant and connected hub, that enables not just the exchange of goods and services, but also the exchange of ideas, experiences, and talent.
6. The sector has faced immense disruption, not just in Singapore. But in Singapore, we are ready to do things differently and progressively. We will position ourselves at the forefront of change, and be bold in offering new products and experiences, to reinvent global travel.
7. Let me share three key trends that have disrupted the sector, and how Singapore intends to lead the way, in turning these challenges into opportunities for all.
Reopening Safely, Progressively, and Sustainably
8. First, our immediate challenge is that even with the global rollout of vaccines, international travel will not likely return to pre-COVID levels any time soon.
9. Singapore takes a practical and progressive approach towards reopening. Compared to where we were a year ago, we now have clearer knowledge of the virus and its transmission mechanism, a wider variety of stronger testing options, and more robust tracing capabilities.
10. This gives us greater confidence to gradually resume travel, while ensuring that the health and safety of our travellers remains our top priority. We are working with other countries and regions to establish safe travel protocols, and mutual recognition of health certificates, including testing and vaccination records. The pace and extent of the reopening of borders will depend on the course of the global pandemic situation, and when we are able to achieve domestic herd immunity.
11. More importantly, we understand that we cannot afford a broad risk elimination strategy by shutting ourselves off. Instead, we actively manage the risks, based on objective evidence and sound judgement. We hope to work with more like-minded countries, to strengthen our connection to the region, and the world.
12. When travellers eventually return to Singapore, we also want to ensure that they can do so safely. Singapore aims to build on our position as a safe and trusted hub, to pioneer leading standards in health, safety, and service. For example, STB developed the Safe Business Events Framework last year. Since then, we have been testing our safe management and health protocols, to provide reassurance to attendees, and to the public.
13. Come August this year, Singapore will also be hosting the World Economic Forum (WEF) Special Annual Meeting. The hosting of WEF is a strong affirmation of Singapore’s position as a trusted business hub, and a safe harbour for capital, talent, and intellectual property. In the lead-up to WEF, Singapore will host multiple larger-scale events, such as the Architecture and Building Services (ABS), a hybrid tradeshow. Through the progressive scaling-up of our MICE events, we will trial our health protocols, build public confidence, and increase our operational readiness.
14. With our safe travel and safe event protocols, Singapore is determined to strengthen our position as a key business hub in the region. We welcome local and global guests to meet and connect in Singapore, while enjoying a seamless and safe end-to-end experience.
Reinventing Global Travel to Capture New Opportunities
15. Although COVID-19 might be at the top of our minds the tourism sector was already facing disruption, even before the pandemic.
16. There are two key shifts which will present opportunities for us in the longer term.
17. The first is Sustainability.
18. We recently unveiled the Singapore Green Plan 2030, and identified tourism as a sector where we can capture opportunities in sustainability. Tourists today are more environmentally conscious, and are looking for sustainable travel options.
19. Our vision is to position Singapore as a top sustainable and innovative urban destination. In terms of the abundance of land and natural landscapes, Singapore might not be able to compete directly with other eco-destinations. But Singapore’s value proposition comes from the intangibles, such as (i) A progressive and transparent regulatory environment; (ii) Strong protection of intellectual property; and (iii) A vibrant public and private ecosystem, that facilitates effective partnerships for businesses and workers to grow their capabilities.
20. We want to be the best place to test-bed sustainable solutions, new tourism products and experiences, enabling businesses from around the world to launch first-to-market solutions and innovations, right here in Singapore.
21. Our industry partners have also taken active steps to move towards a more sustainable future. For example, the Singapore Hotels Association (SHA) set up a Hotel Sustainability Committee (HSC) last year, comprising both private and public sector representatives. The HSC will conceptualise solutions and strategies that bring together sustainability and commercial value, to promote Singapore as a green accommodation destination.
22. We welcome both local and international partners to join us, in developing sustainability as a key competitive advantage.
Leveraging Technology to Create Innovative End-to-End Experiences
23. The second area is in leveraging technology, to reinvent the experiences that we offer to travellers.
24. Digitalisation and new technologies were already disrupting the sector before COVID-19. Mobile applications now serve as tour guides, provide maps, and provide services that used to be provided by travel agents. The virtual and augmented reality capabilities that we have are already reshaping the experiences that people can have prior to travel and during travel. These enable people to immerse in experiences from the comfort of their home. This brings us new challenges and opportunities in the travel industry.
25. But the pandemic has accelerated the shift in how people and businesses connect with one another, by pushing the boundaries of remote working, remote learning, and remote experiences. In a world where visitors are not constrained by physical boundaries, travel is no longer just about meetings or sightseeing, but the unique suite of experiences that it offers to visitors, from pre-arrival to post-departure.
26. The next bound of growth for the tourism sector will come from creating quality end-to-end experiences, curated to the needs of travellers.
27. Singapore is prepared to ride on the wave of technological disruption, to reimagine how we engage travellers. In fact, many of our industry partners are already doing so. One example is the Singapore Food Festival (SFF) 2020. Organiser Mojito Ventures partnered STB to transform SFF to a virtual festival, reaching over 500,000 viewers both locally and overseas. The festival also provided a platform for businesses to form new partnerships and test-bed ideas, such as live masterclasses, new food products, and virtual food tours. Some of these products have become permanent fixtures in their offerings.
28. Amidst the crisis, our tour operators have also taken the lead to develop innovative and curated experiences. For example, Tribe launched Niu Che Shui (牛车水) Murders, a gamified hybrid tour where participants solve a series of puzzles around Chinatown. With the added support from the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers (SRV), Tribe continues to experience a healthy flow of participants on their tours. The experience gained by our businesses will be invaluable, as they redesign their offerings to address the needs of future travellers and locals alike.
29. To ensure our industry partners build on such capabilities for the next lap, STB will be launching the Tourism Technology Transformation Cube, or Tcube, this afternoon. Tcube aims to be the go-to resource for tourism businesses when they embark on digital transformation. The initiatives under Tcube will enable tourism businesses to (i) Meet like-minded tourism stakeholders to facilitate knowledge exchange; (ii) Test innovative ideas through proofs-of-concept and pilots; and (iii) Equip themselves with the tools to build and scale sustainable business models. I invite you to make use of Tcube, to kick-start or make further strides in your transformation journey.
30. In the near-term, there will still be headwinds. But we remain committed to supporting our tourism sector, to help our businesses and workers build new capabilities, and break new ground.
31. We will continue to offer targeted support, to build quality tourism enterprises. We will top-up the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) by $68.5 million, and extend enhanced support levels until the end of March 2022. This will include the Business Improvement Fund (BIF) and the Training Industry Professionals in Tourism (TIP-iT) grant, which have enabled businesses to upskill their workers, innovate and adapt.
32. Following the success of Season 1 of the SG Stories Content Fund – where we received more than 500 applications – I am also happy to share that STB is launching SG Stories Content Fund Season 2 next week. Season 2 aims to attract authentic Singapore stories, amongst tourism enterprises, content creators and individuals, to inspire travel to Singapore.
33. As we push forward in 2021, the challenge that lies ahead is not recovery within this year, or even next year, but how Singapore will prepare for long-term success, and reinvent global travel.
34. We are not waiting for a full reopening. Singapore is prepared to disrupt the status quo, transform our products and services, and harness our capabilities to capture the next lap of growth ahead.
35. We hope that both local and international partners will join us on this journey, to equip ourselves for success in the future tourism economy.
36. Thank you for your partnership. We look forward to working closely with you to not only overcome the current challenges of reopening our borders safely for travellers, but to reimagine and reinvent the tourism industry post-pandemic where we will take on the themes of sustainability and the digital revolution more intensely than before. While there will be challenges, there are also many opportunities that we can seize. If we are quick, we will be one of the firsts, if not the first, to reinvent the industry and capture these opportunities. Thank you once again.