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How COVID-19 Changed Singapore's Tourism Industry

Few have been as hard-hit by the pandemic as the tourism industry. When crossing borders is seen as a hazard, tourism necessarily becomes a difficult proposition.

For countries like Singapore, that’s a serious issue. The Singapore tourism industry accounts for a full 4% of Singapore’s gross domestic product or GDP.

Tourism is also tied closely to industries like accommodation, food & beverage, and retail. Hence, we’ve also seen lowered ancillary spending in several of these, all of which spells out trouble for the economy.

Fortunately, the Singapore tourism industry has been taking steps to adapt to the current situation. While its future is by no means secure yet, there have been significant developments in the bid to keep the industry from collapsing.

Let's discuss some of these developments and the changes they’ve made possible in the industry. After that, we’ll go over what we may probably expect in the coming months.

Governmental Encouragement to Digitalise

Given the importance of the Singapore tourism industry, it was to be expected that the state would try to alleviate its distress. Most of its initiatives have come through the Singapore Tourism Board or STB.

For example, the Board launched the Tourism Transformation Index in the second quarter of 2020. This was a tool that could help tourism companies transform themselves digitally.

They paired this with an initiative called ThreeHouse, which offered businesses a space to collaborate and try new tourism solutions.

What’s more, they offered businesses access to key industry metrics through the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network, or STAN. The idea was to help stakeholders improve their planning by giving them the ability to see critical data.

The board even partnered with names like Facebook and Google in order to provide online training for marketers in the tourism industry.

The message in all this was clear: Singapore’s tourism businesses needed to digitally transform themselves and make better use of today’s tech to survive the pandemic.

Monster Day Tours’ virtual tours offer an example of the possibilities open to tourism companies here. However, it’s a given that not everyone can reposition to offer digital products that easily.

For instance, theme parks like KidZania Singapore couldn’t have digitalised enough services to stay profitable, making closing inevitable.

A Pivot to Domestic Tourism

Another option encouraged by the government was a shift to domestic tourism. As Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing stated in a conversation with Singapore tourism industry players in July, the goal was to domestically capture a slice of what Singaporeans used to spend overseas.

To that end, the government ran programmes like the $45M initiative to encourage locals to take a “Singapoliday” by exploring local sights. These came with a distribution of $100 of SingapoRediscover vouchers for those aged 18 and above.

The STB has also been inking contracts with various players to further encourage interest in local tourism. For example, it signed a $2M deal with online booking platform Klook to promote domestic offerings.

This adaptation of the tourism industry has helped a lot of businesses from full-on collapsing during the pandemic. That said, it hasn’t been enough to offset all the losses for many.

An even bigger concern, some think, is that it will be difficult to keep up interest in domestic tourism as experiences get old. Singaporeans are hungry for travel and experience, but they may not be likely to redo a tour after having done it once.

Cruises to Nowhere

Cruise ship operators have been among the hardest-hit of all by the pandemic. With the virus famously ravaging ships like the Diamond Princess, cruise ships were quickly held suspect as potential petri dishes.

However, Singapore’s Tourism Board had a solution for this too. Last year, it started allowing “cruises to nowhere”, i.e. cruises that had no port of call and basically amounted to floating resorts.

The cruises were available only to Singaporeans, took on a maximum 50% of each vessel’s capacity, and observed safe travelling rules that included pre-booking for ship amenities in order to reduce contact among passengers.

All out of the ordinary for a cruise, certainly - but no matter, as the first cruises sold out in a matter of days.

If nothing else, the speed at which the cruises sold out indicated how starved Singaporeans were for a chance to travel again, even if they were travelling to nowhere. The cruises also seemed to be a success, although a false positive did cause one to end prematurely last year.

Today, the cruises to nowhere continue, with some operators even scheduled to continue cruises until October of this year. The logistics do make this difficult to latch on to as a lifeline for the cruise ship sector of the Singapore tourism industry, though.

In fact, only two operators are allowed to carry out these cruises at the time of writing. These are Royal Caribbean and Genting Cruise Lines, although there are reports that other operators are eager to join the programme.

Where Is This Headed?

It’s hard to say with any certainty how the Singapore tourism industry will look by the end of this year. That said, one can see some indications of what lies ahead of us.

With international travel still being predicted to return to pre-pandemic levels only after 3 or 4 years from now, domestic and virtual tourism should remain the cornerstones of the industry’s survival strategy.

Stakeholders will need to think of new ways to attract consumers to what they have to offer. That means refreshing their services regularly or adding new elements to them.

That’s to ensure tourists always have a new experience to look forward to. Even if the locations are the same, the experiences need not be!

This will be particularly important for those who offer tours and certain types of attractions. They may even have to look into new compensation schemes like the memberships offered by Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

At any rate, all of this is going to be part of a long process of adaptation for the tourism industry… and it’s just my two cents on the matter. What about you? What do you think is in store for the industry?

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