The Straits Times says

A quality strategy for tourism

The $700 million boost that the tourism sector will receive over the next five years is a substantial investment in its potential for innovation and growth. Those goals are not new. The early phase of tourism history included the use of major attractions, such as Sentosa Island and the Singapore Zoo, to raise awareness of the Republic as a destination. That strategy broadened into moves to promote Singapore as a regional tourism hub. Higher aspirations were met with the setting up of the two integrated resorts and the hosting of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix.

However, as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) noted in a 2013 discussion paper, the industry had to contend with challenges such as increasingly discerning travellers who seek iconic experiences, and intensifying regional competition. The latter took the form of Asian cities planning to offer the same upper-end attractions, and going after the same source markets and target segments as Singapore. These challenges were accompanied by fluctuations in the tourism market, whether caused by downturns in the home economies of visitors or by setbacks such as the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003.

The answer was then - and is now - the promotion of Singapore as a brand. The narrative which articulates the brand draws from history, in particular the country's pre-colonial and colonial past as these lead up to its independence and extend to the present. It is a mix of nostalgia and modernism. Tourists come to countries not to imagine what has been erased but to experience what has been retained. At the same time, they desire the amenities of the present, which Singapore's physical infrastructure is well-placed to provide.

The STB must help the industry to cater to the needs of visitors forming different segments: leisure, business, meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions, and healthcare. However, the thread running through them is a desire to visit a country which can offer multiple expressions of its culture and lifestyles in authentic ways.

For the STB's Quality Tourism strategy to bear fruit, industry players must embrace the broad vision to enhance that experience. Sharing big data will help them to map and capture different audience preferences. For example, Singapore could tap into the purchasing power of retirees and the elderly in developed countries, who are expected to fuel almost a fifth of global urban consumption growth between 2015 and 2030. Singapore's polish, safety, compact size and ease of travel would appeal to greying tourists. For others, the Republic - helped by the regional networks of Singapore-based airlines - can offer different ways of pairing the sleek experience of a global city with the laid-back tempo of a nearby Asian destination.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'A quality strategy for tourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe