Stories are the heart of Singapore's tourism strategy and the backbone of its new tagline "Passion Made Possible", Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief executive Lionel Yeo said in Tokyo yesterday.
Japan is the first overseas market where the agency is unveiling the new brand, and came as the Singapore: Inside Out (SGIO) showcase marks its return after two years with a three-day event in Tokyo.
"Storytelling is a way to build deeper and more personal connections with our target audience," Mr Yeo said. "To make that emotional connection, it boils down to the personal stories of Singapore and its people."
It is against this backdrop that the SGIO has been revived.
The difference is that while the roving showcase in Beijing, London, New York and Singapore in 2015 featured works by Singapore artists, the exhibition in Tokyo involves fresh collaborations by Japanese as well as Singaporean talents, with 13 of them in all working together to create multi-sensory productions based on the theme "hypercity".
Likewise, when the SGIO showcase goes to Sydney from Nov 3 to 5, there will be an exhibition featuring works jointly created by 20 Singaporean and Australian artists.
"In every market we are active in, we need to find an entry point into the hearts and minds of consumers," Mr Yeo said, with these joint projects acting as a bridge between diverse cultures.
Nearly 800,000 Japanese visited Singapore last year, forming the sixth-largest group by nationality and fifth-largest by tourist receipts.
"Winning the hearts and attention of Japanese consumers in a sophisticated market like Japan is not an easy task," said Mr Markus Tan, STB's regional director for North Asia. "Consumers here have a very strong cultural identity and very unique consumer needs."
That was why the STB engaged Japanese heart-throb Takumi Saitoh, 36, as its tourism ambassador for Singapore to Japan. He has a starring role in Singaporean director Eric Khoo's new movie Ramen Teh, which is slated for release next year.
Saitoh's ties with Singapore began nearly 20 years ago, when, as an in-demand model, he met Tokyo-based Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee. They became bosom friends, and yesterday, both took the stage to share stories of their friendship.
The SGIO Tokyo event, at the Bank Gallery in the hip Omotesando district, drew an audience of about 2,000 yesterday. The event ends tomorrow.
There are also partner events, including food tie-ups such as a chilli crab-inspired dessert by head chef Malcolm Lee, of one-Michelin star Peranakan restaurant Candlenut, with pastry chef Dominique Ansel of the eponymous bakery.
It is being sold at the bakery's Omotesando store until Sept 10, for 2,400 yen (S$30) each. Twenty- five pieces will be available daily.
Separately, a showcase of Singaporean brands is also ongoing at Parco in Aoyama until Sept 3, featuring 13 local labels.
Mr Yeo said: "In line with quality tourism, people want to do more than just take a photograph with the Merlion. They want to go deep, and we need to push these stories to the surface.
"Singapore is a place with so much to discover."
Correction note: The STB has clarified that Japan accounts for the sixth largest group by nationality in terms of visitor arrivals, and fifth largest by tourist receipts.