ES. Having expertise in the tourism industry, please tell us about your professional journey and major milestones achieved so far in your exciting career.
Raymond. I have the privilege of being exposed to different aspects of tourism work in my 24 years with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). About half that time was spent in various portfolios in tourism infrastructure, leisure industry development, precinct development and leisure marketing, and the other half in 4 overseas posting stints in Russia (2012-2015), Indonesia (2003-2006 and 2015-2019) and India (2019-present). I like to believe that I have an important role in the business of creating and promoting memorable experiences of Singapore. This mindset gives me the drive to remain energized, knowing also that it is an honour to promote my country especially in my overseas posting capacity. I am very glad that my organization has placed confidence in me to head offices in Indonesia and India which are among the top source markets of visitor arrivals and tourism receipts for Singapore.
ES. The tourism sector is one of Singapore’s key service sectors and economic pillars. How does Singapore Tourism Board undertake the marketing and promotion of Singapore as a top tourism destination?
Raymond. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector contributed 4% to Singapore’s gross domestic product. Tourism plays an essential role in reinforcing Singapore’s status as a vibrant global city that is a magnet for capital, businesses and talent. STB strives to ensure that tourism remains an important pillar through long-term strategic planning, driving innovations and ensuring excellence in the tourism sector. We bring the Passion Made Possible brand to life by differentiating Singapore as a vibrant destination that inspires people to share and deepen their passions. STB has an extensive network of 21 regional offices spanning the globe. Our physical presence in the key markets enables us to better understand our customers and build deeper connections with trade partners. This helps us to develop and execute marketing initiatives effectively and communicate more intimately with our target audience.
On 26 November 2020, STB announced a new initiative, SingapoReimagine, for the global and local tourism communities to share ideas on how to reset and revive tourism. As travel gradually resumes, the story of new experiences – for both leisure and MICE – will be told through SingapoReimagine. STB will work with international and in-market media, key influencers as well as content and trade partners to engage our audiences in key markets to drive the anticipation for travel in Singapore.
India is the third largest source of international visitors to Singapore. It is also one of the top source markets for cruise and MICE. STB has had its operational footprint in India since 1993. Through our 2 regional offices in Mumbai and Delhi and 2 marketing representative offices in Chennai and Bangalore, STB maintains its position as one of the most active National Tourism Organisations in India and is always looking at innovative ways to execute marketing initiatives and trade outreach programs.
Some of the more recent initiatives that have broken new grounds include our partnership with BookMyShow in a 4-part episode of “My Singapore Connect: Where Passions Meet”, country partner of the multi-city food and entertainment carnival Zomaland across 10 cities, 4-leg pan-India virtual b2b roadshow, and a partnership with St+art India Foundation in a cross border collaboration between an Indian Gond artist and Singapore’s urban artist to create one of the tallest murals in Singapore.
ES. What does Quality Tourism mean for your work in India?
Raymond. STB’s pursuit for Quality Tourism hinges on (a) adopting a yield-driven marketing approach, (b) enhancing destination attractiveness, (c) supporting industry competitiveness and (d) building local engagement. At the STB India regional offices, we develop a deep understanding of the profile of our key customer segments in India. This enables us to better prioritise our efforts and resources in rolling out marketing programs and collaborating with key trade partners to target quality visitors from India who have higher propensity to spend.
On the leisure front, we have been relatively successful in attracting the Indian Family with Kids segment. Some of Singapore’s key destination attributes that have played to our strength in maintaining Singapore as a top of mind destination among our Indian target in this segment include:
- Our overall appeal as a family friendly destination
- We are known for our safety, convenience, high level of hygiene and the availability of a wide range of tourism experiences including good edutainment
- The popularity of cruising from Singapore among the Indian leisure visitors has further helped us to maintain our edge in going after Quality Tourism.
On the MICE front, our slew of support schemes has been instrumental in helping us attract quality and high-profile M&I groups from India over the years, making India one of Singapore’s top source MICE markets. These schemes are developed to help the corporates and MICE travel intermediaries develop a higher value M&I itinerary in Singapore and facilitate a quicker decision in destination selection. They are periodically reviewed to ensure Singapore remains competitive and maintains its edge as a MICE destination of choice.
ES. What are some necessary steps undertaken by STB to ensure the relevance of tourism in the current business environment?
Raymond. We remain confident in the mid- to long-term prospects of Singapore’s tourism sector, as the fundamentals that make Singapore an attractive place for leisure, MICE experiences, and a key business hub remain unchanged.
Singapore’s tourism sector has sought to reimagine its offerings and experiences, while supporting nationwide efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Our tourism businesses have displayed immense resilience and adaptability, reinventing their business models and leveraging technology to find solutions in a Covid-19 world.
While mass international travel has not resumed, the SingapoRediscovers campaign was rolled out in July 2020 to rally locals to support Singapore tourism business and encourage Singaporeans and residents to explore different sides of Singapore. STB has piloted cruises with enhanced safety protocols and no ports of call for 2 of Singapore’s homeported cruise lines – Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. To rebuild consumer confidence and demand for cruise, STB established the world’s first CruiseSafe Certification – a mandatory audit and certification program for cruise lines to obtain before they can commence sailing. Attractions and hotels have already started to welcome local visitors while complying with Safe Management Measures. Under the Safe Business Events Framework, larger business-to-business events in the MICE industry have been allowed in line with the safe and progressive resumption of economic activities in Singapore. The operating conditions of the tourism establishments will undergo robust review in line with the nationwide management of the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Singapore.
ES. How does STB lead in driving sustainable tourism development and how is the support of the industry players crucial for the success and sustainable growth of the sector?
Raymond. We expect global tourism to spring back into a more vibrant sector ten years from now . Tourists will have a greater interest in sustainable travel options, for example, eco-friendly hotels and attractions, and environmental sustainability will become a top-of-mind concern. This is why we are studying possible impacts of these changes in consumer behaviour on our long-term sustainability development plans, so we can emerge stronger from the pandemic. The Singapore Hotel Association has also set up a Hotels Sustainability Committee to drive industry-wide adoption of sustainability practices. At STB, we will broaden the scope of the Singapore Tourism Accelerator to develop solutions for sustainability.
Through these efforts, we will strengthen Singapore as an exemplary sustainable tourism destination and location for companies to testbed their sustainable tourism solutions. STB is developing its destination sustainability strategy and roadmap for the tourism sector in line with the Singapore Green Plan 2030 (SGP30*), with a focus on environmental sustainability and sustainable management. We will be reaching out to stakeholders shortly for ideas and feedback to develop this.
*SGP30 includes concrete targets across various economic sectors over the next 10 years, building on five central pillars: City in Nature, Energy Reset, Sustainable Living, Green Economy and Resilient Future. For further information on Singapore’s Green Plan, please refer to www.greenplan.gov.sg.
ES. How do you see India as the top source market for cruise visitors? What is the present scenario of cruise tourism in Singapore?
Raymond. Cruise holidays have gained popularity among Indian travellers and this has spurred the growth of domestic cruises in recent years, which has further fuelled awareness and interest in cruising. This trend mirrors the growth of Indian visitors cruising from Singapore. In 2018 and 2019, India was the top cruise travel source market for Singapore. We have also seen a steady increase in the number of M&I groups to Singapore choosing to combine their land itinerary with cruising.
Since the start of the safe resumption of cruises last November with the CruiseSafe Certification, there have been more than 90 sailings and more than 120,000 Singapore residents have enjoyed the seacation experience with no reported cases of COVID-19 spreading on board. Currently, our cruise sailings account for about one third of the global cruise volume. We see this as a critical step to building confidence of trade and consumers for the next phase of cruising when international travel returns.
In a recent virtual cruise forum at CruiseWorld India organised by the NorthStar Travel Group /Travel Weekly Asia with STB, experts from the cruise lines and Indian travel trade had expressed optimism on customers opting for cruising as a mode of holiday and vacation when travel restarts. Agents shared that customers will prioritize factors such as health, hygiene, and safety of the cruising experience and are expected to have a longer length of stay combining land and cruise vacations. Singapore is well-poised to receive them.
ES. How do you see the way ahead for the MICE industry in Singapore?
Raymond. MICE plays a key role in our tourism industry. MICE events bring about significant spill over benefits to our economy, including bringing in business for our lifestyle and hospitality sectors. Business travellers are also important to our long-term yield-driven tourism growth strategy, as they spend almost double that of leisure travellers to Singapore. Industries will need to reinvent themselves and pivot to new markets and products to remain relevant in the new COVID-19 world. The MICE industry is one such industry, and it is therefore critical that we take steps to chart a new direction and capture future demand.
We must unlock new value, as well as businesses and opportunities for our MICE players. In line with the gradual reopening of the Singapore economy, we have been resuming business events in a careful and controlled manner under the Safe Business Events Framework, with limits on size and capacity to reduce transmission risk and avoid creating clusters of infection. Since October 2020, more than 60 events hosting over 9,000 attendees have been held in Singapore. Through our pilots, STB will continue to further refine the framework with industry feedback and learnings from the pilot events, as well as build confidence to scale up when these have been successfully implemented.
ES. What would be your message to the industry?
Raymond. It is important that we use this time to recalibrate our businesses and take concrete steps to ready ourselves for a new operating environment when international travel resumes. There is a call for a more collaborative approach among the different players in the tourism industry and each to play their part to ensure that we collectively join the dots so that the entire eco-system can support a customer experience that is more seamless, safer and of higher value to visitors.
The team at STB India has been actively engaging and connecting with our industry partners. We are heartened to know that the confidence among the Indian travel trade in the Singapore destination remains high. We extend our hands to you to join us in charting our pathway to tourism recovery and we look forward to receiving visitors from India when the time is right.