Speaking exclusively to The Financial Express Online, GB Srithar shares the following comprehensive roadmap for taking forward Singapore's tourism recovery.
India was the 3rd largest source market for Singapore, having crossed the one-millionth mark for visitor arrivals into Singapore for the fifth consecutive year in 2019.
From a travel and tourism perspective, India has grown in importance for Singapore over the last decade. Two areas that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has focused on include strong travel trade engagement and innovative engaging consumer outreach projects. Notably, the Singapore Tourism Board was among the first National Tourism Organizations to stage an elaborate consumer engagement event in India, digitally in partnership with Zomato, during the on-going COVID-19 situation. In this exclusive interaction with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, GB Srithar, Regional Director – India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board (STB), shares the vision for strengthening the country’s tourism potential with a distinct India connection.
Singapore is also poised to establish itself as an international wedding destination for Indian weddings and marriages and set to re-establish its attractiveness for Overseas School Trips and MICE events.
In GB Srithar’s view, “Singapore is fortunate that we have the capacity and resources to manage Covid-19 pandemic in a robust manner and we have made good progress. Majority of the economy has re-opened since Singapore entered the second phase of “A Safe Singapore” in June 2020. Singapore is ranked by independent think tank Deep Knowledge Centre as the 4th safest country in the world for Covid-19. This is a mark of assurance Singapore is doing things right. We are committed to enriching visitor experience to encourage them to spend more time in Singapore.”
Speaking exclusively to The Financial Express Online, GB Srithar shares the following comprehensive roadmap for taking forward Singapore’s tourism recovery.
1. Worldwide, COVID-19 impacted travel and tourism prospects. In April 2020, the Singapore Tourism Board’s Brand Health Survey indicated only 24 per cent travellers spanning 14 key markets showed confidence to travel internationally.
Notably, only 33 per cent expressed confidence to travel to Singapore.
Therefore, in your opinion, how do you analyse the impact of COVID-19 on tourism in Singapore?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on our tourism industry, it is the biggest challenge that Singapore tourism has faced in its 56-year history. International Visitor Arrivals (IVA) for January to June 2020 stood at 2.7 million, a 66 per cent decline compared to the same period last year. This decline was expected, following global travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19.
As our economy re-opens, we will continue to engage and guide our industry in implementing safe management measures to ensure that businesses can re-open safely. We have been working closely with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and other government agencies on the “SG Clean” campaign, our national mark of excellence for safety and hygiene.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the STB, NEA, Singapore Food Agency and Enterprise Singapore have certified more than 25,000 individual premises across Singapore.
In July 2020, Singapore Tourism Board, alongwith Enterprise Singapore as well as Sentosa Development Corporation launched SingapoRediscovers. The campaign encourages Singaporeans and residents to explore different sides of Singapore and spur local consumption of lifestyle and tourism offerings.
The domestic campaign includes a wide range of partnerships with lifestyle and tourism businesses, business associations, community groups, and e-commerce platforms. SingapoRediscovers will offer unique and value for-money experiences, packages and promotions for Singaporeans and residents.
2. For reviving Singapore tourism, which segment is most critical right now – enabling safe business travel and MICE initiatives or boosting family vacations and getting more tourists to visit the country?
India was the 3rd largest source market for Singapore, having crossed the one-millionth mark for visitor arrivals into Singapore for the fifth consecutive year in 2019. We remain confident in the long term prospects of Singapore’s tourism sectors – both for leisure and for MICE and business travel – as the fundamentals that make Singapore an attractive place for a unique, high quality travel and MIC experience and a key business hub remains unchanged.
Over the last couple of years, we have promoted the destination brand ‘Passion Made Possible’ to audiences across India – families, early and established careers, meetings and incentive groups and travellers from key metro and secondary cities.
We will also be looking at two new focus areas for the India market – re-establishing the destination’s attractiveness for Overseas School Trips (OST) and positioning Singapore as an international wedding destination.
In October 2020, STB India will embark on a webinar to reach out to wedding planners across India and also share Singapore’s offerings for Indian weddings and celebrations.
3. There has been considerable buzz on Singapore’s integrated tourism development gearing up to create new large scale attractions such as the Jurong Lake Gardens and the new Science centre. Also, the redevelopment of Singapore Racecourse @Kranji as a major tourist attraction.
The Jurong Lake District (JLD) is set to be launched by 2026, in line with our strategy to spread out tourism offerings across different parts of Singapore.
The new Science Centre is targeted for completion by 2025 and will have more outdoor programmes for visitors to explore nature and science within the green space. The Science Centre’s design will also blend with the natural landscape and Jurong Lake and it will house purpose-built gallery spaces for thematic exhibits as well as enhanced educational facilities, like specialised labs for students.
STB is working with Singapore Tote Board, a statutory board of the Ministry of Finance, to shape the redevelopment of Singapore Racecourse into an appealing leisure destination for both local communities and international visitors.
The project is expected to feature a range of experiential attractions and active recreational offerings, along with lush green community spaces and parks that are meaningful, enjoyable and memorable for all visitors.
We will continue to enhance our range of events, as well as the rich cultural and heritage precincts and festivals that remain a draw for visitors. We have an exciting pipeline of tourism offerings in the mid to long term, such as the upcoming Mandai Nature Precinct as well as the rejuvenation of existing tourism precincts and products like Orchard Road, the Integrated Resorts, and the Wildlife Reserves Singapore parks.
4. What are the emerging tourism trends that you look at as areas of opportunity for Singapore tourism?
Going forward, people will be more cautious while making travel plans and prioritize hygiene and safety. There may be a shift to vacation rentals over hotels, driving rather than flying, and an increase in the use of travel insurance and personal travel advisors. New standards like digital and contactless travel will be preferred.
Travelers may also be more willing to pay a premium for hotels, airlines or attractions that implement robust measures to ensure their safety. We are observing a rising trend of domestic travellers as Singaporeans are now eager to rediscover Singapore and its hidden local gems.
5. Different countries are coming out with reciprocal and travel bubble arrangements. Can you elaborate on details of recent efforts of Singapore to align with other countries for enabling this?
Recovery for tourism will take time and Singapore is adopting a measured and cautious approach towards re-opening of its borders for international travel based on data and evidence.
We announced an air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore. These travel bubbles are on top of the reciprocal green lane arrangements such as those with China, Japan, Malaysia,and South Korea to facilitate official and essential business travel.
6. With social distancing and contactless check-ins becoming a way of life and the safety protocols for health, how is Singapore reassuring travellers and visitors – right from the time they land at the airport, complete their immigration processes at the airport and then when they check out from the airport?
Changi Airport Group has displayed tremendous resilience during the battle against covid-19. Changi Airport has enabled flights. This helps to enable the global supply chain flow, especially of vital commodities like food and medical supplies.
Changi Airport is focused on developing digital and contactless travel methods, from kiosks that have proximity sensors instead of touchscreens, immigration lanes use biometric face and iris recognition, and robots in the terminals spray disinfecting mist.
Some of the attractions have gone completely contactless too, wherein they have designed apps, which allows customers to pre-book, appoint time slots when they visit the attractions.
7. Singapore is a very popular destination for Indians. What are your key insights on the cultural ties that align the two countries?
As mentioned earlier, India has grown in importance for Singapore over the last decade and we were the first to stage a consumer engagement event in India during COVID-19 situation.
STB has recently partnered with Tripoto and launched a one-stop guide to encourage Indian travellers to “Rediscover Now, Travel Later”. The guide invites the Indian audience to virtually experience some of the best attractions and offerings in Singapore.
We recently participated in Windmill Festival 2020. This is a virtual event targeted at the family segment, wherein we created a Singapore Experience Zone allowing children and parents alike to enjoy the joys of Singapore from the comfort of their homes.
We also ramped up engagement efforts through a series of webinar sessions on Destination Singapore. We have also undertaken the #UnitedWeStand trade initiative, under which we launched a WhatsApp channel to establish regular communication with the trade fraternity and show solidarity and unity to our partners.
We have conducted many joint product update webinars with key travel intermediaries, took part in the ReConnect virtual exhibition, conducted a Wedding Webinar with key wedding planners and most recently participated in a virtual wedding show “The World of Weddings” to reach out to both industry partners and consumers.
On the MICE front, we invited MICE industry experts from India and Singapore to share and exchange ideas at a Singapore MICE Think Tank Webinar targeting at Corporates. STB also took part in the MICE Showcase 2.0 Virtual Summit and the India Association Congress.
While we eagerly wait to welcome back Indian travellers, we nonetheless celebrate the spirit of India’s rich culture. As a tribute to one of the biggest festivals of India which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil Singapore’s Little India has lit up for Deepavali festivities as every year.