Keith Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Tourism Board, discusses the biggest challenge ever to face the state’s tourism sector.
Just 18 months into your role and the STB is having to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Do you feel that the organisation was well-prepared having learned from the SARS outbreak?
Much of the learning, protocols and procedures from SARS helped to guide our actions but we also had to think out of the box because every crisis is different.
The SARS crisis taught us the importance of frequent and transparent communications with partners and visitors. Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, we have regularly shared the health and travel advisories, explained policy decisions and offered reassurance that we remain committed to our long-term partnership.
Our government also provided immediate and targeted support for the tourism industry. Within a week of the travel restrictions on China, we rolled out fee waivers for hotels, travel agents and tourist guides, and subsidised cleaning costs for hotels with confirmed or suspected cases.
However, we have gone much further than we did for SARS. We have provided more comprehensive job support, with coverage of up to 75% of employees’ wages under the Jobs Support Scheme and training for the tourism sector. We have encouraged businesses to retain and retrain their employees, so that they are positioned to capture growth when the situation improves.
How have you managed your liaison with private sector tourism partners through this crisis? What support have you provided?
We are working closely with our partners in the private sector to plan recovery efforts, and design and implement support packages. One such example is the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force (TRAC), which comprises government agencies, industry associations, and tourism business owners. TRAC’s work is action-oriented, and we will feed good ideas from TRAC into STB-led campaigns and strategies to aid recovery.
The government has also committed S$60bn (US$42.1bn) to support the economy since the start of the crisis. We encourage tourism businesses to take full advantage to stabilise their operations and transform their businesses.
We have also offered funding for the tourism industry to engage customers and maintain mindshare, through a $20m Marketing Partnership Programme and a $2m SG Stories Content Fund. We encourage the industry to upskill through our Marketing College series, where we work with tech players such as Facebook and Google to offer online training in digital skills.
Even as we help our businesses get through this period, we must continue to pursue our Quality Tourism strategy of enhancing destination attractiveness and supporting industry competitiveness.
This is why we are forging ahead with our long-term plans such as Mandai nature precinct and the rejuvenation of the Integrated Resorts.
How do you see the challenges and opportunities shaping up for the STB over the next 12–18 months?
This is the biggest challenge that Singapore tourism has faced. We don’t know how long the crisis will last, how deep it will be, or how it will develop. We can only continue to engage and support our partners, and help them prepare for the recovery.
But there are always opportunities in a crisis?
For example, it seems clear that live business and entertainment events cannot go back to ‘business as usual’ for some time to come. But the need for engaging entertainment, or for the exchange of ideas and knowledge across different sectors and businesses, remains relevant.
Similarly, the way that travellers think about cleanliness, hygiene, access to healthcare, and ‘contactless’ travel will become more exacting and demanding. STB will work with Singapore’s tourism industry to examine these opportunities, so as to strengthen our mindshare now, and to position ourselves to take advantage of these shifts and opportunities when the demand for international travel returns.
This is an abridged and edited version of an original interview published by City Nation Place. Full interview available at: www.citynationplace.com/stakeholderscitizens-covid-19-crisissingapore