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STB slogan Passion Made Possible taps new travel trend

Travellers these days want experiences over novelty attractions. The tourism board recognises this in its new tagline - which appeals to many audiences, including those at home.

Your Singapore, the slogan the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has used since 2010 to promote the island to tourists, has been given the boot. In its place is the new tagline, Passion Made Possible.

Nostalgic or cheesy, suggestive or groan-worthy, destination slogans have one objective: to lure tourists to the places they are promoting.

Some are wildly successful, such as the omnipresent pop culture icon "I Heart NY" launched in 1977 to help lift New York's floundering economy. The cheeky catchphrase "What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas", which materialised in 2003 during a brainstorming session at an advertising agency, captures the idea of uninhibited freedom. Others like California's "Find Yourself Here" fits in perfectly with the state's laid-back image.

In that vein, Passion Made Possible does not quite hit the mark. For one thing, it can be interpreted in myriad ways, causing confusion.

Dr Sharon Ng, associate professor of marketing at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Nanyang Business School and a fellow of the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight, called the slogan "fairly vague".

"It is unclear to people what exactly it means. Passion on a specific context or are Singaporeans generally passionate people? Why does that matter?" she asked.

But that might be the point.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

Launched last Thursday by the STB and the Economic Development Board, apart from pulling in tourists, the brand will also be used by statutory boards and agencies under the Ministry of Trade and Industry to reach out to international audiences.

The new campaign, through storytelling, showcases the fundamentals of the nation - its cultural diversity, rich food heritage and the mindset of its people shaped by unique circumstances. In other words, qualities that Singapore already has.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam said: "This slogan can be used universally to showcase any aspect of Singapore, for business, tourism, everything under the sun. It is good because it is adaptable. But at the same time, it may be a challenge to tailor the narrative behind it to the different audiences."

The truth is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to capture the essence of an entire country in so few words. Travellers are also unlikely to visit a place on the merits of an awesome slogan alone.

What is more crucial is the story driving the tagline. This is where the STB has got it right.

ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

The tagline is backed by a campaign that puts the focus squarely on Singaporeans to, as STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said, "tell a fuller Singapore story beyond just tourism".

It features close to a hundred local personalities sharing their different passions in various promotional videos, to be rolled out in at least 15 countries to start.

What do they all share? A never-settling spirit of determination.

In one, wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai explores Pulau Ubin and speaks of the nation's tug of war between modernisation and conservation. In others, third-generation hawker Douglas Ng talks about his drive to keep his grandmother's fishball business alive and designer Mark Ong describes his struggle against the conventional.

Different films will be shown to different target audiences. Those aimed at foodies, for instance, will be shared on food websites and food channels.

The videos are personal, hyper-local and reveal a different facet of Singapore, one that builds on its current reputation for quality infrastructure, safety, cleanliness and accessibility.

Mr Chris Lee, founder and creative director of branding and design agency Asylum, said the new campaign "sells an attitude".

"We are not selling char kway teow or chicken rice. We are selling the spirit and the destination," he said. "When you look at every other city, they are selling the attractions. This is a refreshing take."

Dr Lynda Wee, adjunct associate professor at NTU's business school, who runs her own business consultancy, thinks that portraying passion through the everyday stories of locals is "contagious".

She said: "It creates conversation. People will be inspired to come and see how we live, what we do."

Unlike its predecessors, like Your Singapore and Uniquely Singapore, the new slogan omits "Singapore". The campaign, in fact, hardly seems to be one aimed at drawing in tourists. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes sense to capture the attention of viewers before they intend to travel. This is so that when they do start making travel plans, there is a higher chance that they will think of Singapore.

This seems to be the case for most brands. A study by global advertising media-planning agency MEC of 240,000 respondents in 34 countries, for example, found that 47 per cent of people have a strong impression of which brand they will buy before the need to purchase is triggered.

TIMELY MOVE

The new campaign is timely as the most significant global trend in tourism today is the demand for a travel experience that is immersive, local, authentic and active.

Contrived, packaged tourism, on the other hand, is losing its appeal, according to Skift. The travel research platform polled 1,350 upscale travellers in February and found that 54.3 per cent of them ranked the importance of transformative travel experiences as seven out of 10 or higher.

A recent American Express survey also found that 72 per cent of respondents would rather spend money on experiences than things.

Dr Wee noted: "Nowadays, when travellers are in Japan, they do not want to shop or see Ginza anymore. They rent cars, drive out of town to the farmland, stop at eateries in small towns and see what the locals wear and how they live.

"They want deeper connections to the locals and their traditions and customs."

The new campaign, through storytelling, showcases the fundamentals of the nation - its cultural diversity, rich food heritage and the mindset of its people shaped by unique circumstances. In other words, qualities that Singapore already has.

This is crucial as relying on the novelty factor of new attractions to bring in tourists - a tactic that has worked for Singapore - is not sustainable in the long run.

Since the time the country started hosting the world's only Formula One night race in 2008, the focus has been on strengthening its slate of attractions.

The big boost came in 2010, when Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands opened their doors. Tourism indicators were pushed to a new level, with tourist arrivals hitting 13.2 million in 2011, up from 11.6 million in 2010 and 9.7 million in 2009. Tourism receipts rose to $22.3 billion in 2011, up from $18.9 billion in 2010 and $12.8 billion in 2009.

There has been no looking back. In 2011, the ArtScience Museum opened, followed by Gardens by the Bay in 2012 and the River Safari in 2013. Other attractions, including Kidzania, Como Dempsey and the National Gallery, also launched in recent years, with new events like the BNP Paribas WTA Finals and Neon Lights festival added to the calendar.

All this helped to keep tourism indicators high amid challenges such as weaker economic performance in some of Singapore's top source markets.

From 2011 till last year, tourist arrivals and receipts have not dipped below the 13.2 million and $21.8 billion marks respectively, with a new record last year of 16.4 million visitor arrivals and $24.6 billion in spending.

What is good about the new approach is that it also targets a different kind of tourist, widening Singapore's appeal.

"We already have offerings for the mass market tourist and we have built up a good base," said Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, a marketing expert at National University of Singapore's Business School.

The new campaign, she said, is targeted at more discerning tourists who, hopefully, will be intrigued and prompted to research to see if Singapore is worth a visit.

"Such tourists are typically harder to attract," she said. "They are not interested in new attractions. They want to forge deeper connections with destinations and are looking for travel experiences to help them understand their world in a new way.

"These are also the types of tourists more likely to stay longer, spend more and return for part two."

A SIGNAL

The campaign also serves as a signal to local travel businesses to curate the island's best experiences and think out of the box when packaging and selling local content.

The STB, which is calling for partnership, has already worked with several tour operators to curate or refresh more than 20 tours, including a next-generation hawker tour and a heritage tour in a vintage Vespa sidecar.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Mr Chiam said that the flip side of the tourism boom is that the industry has rested on its laurels for too long.

"Back then, in the earlier days, the integrated resorts had opened and were pulling in all the tourists. There was no need for travel businesses to really innovate," he said. "So tours that allow visitors to experience the local lifestyle and a different dimension of Singapore are sorely lacking."

Ironically, the biggest win for the Passion Made Possible campaign may be if it manages to inspire and motivate Singaporeans themselves. After all, it is a portrayal of everyday Singaporeans in the best possible light - as a people who do not give up no matter what, who constantly strive for progress amid challenges, and who have persevered and achieved their dreams.

As the Pygmalion effect goes, a portrayal can become reality due to the simple fact that it was made. People tend to live up to expectations of them. From taxi drivers plying the roads to hawkers whipping up delicious fare, everyone has his own challenges and stories to tell. Such stories are worth sharing and repeating, if only as a reminder of how anything is possible.

As for tourism indicator figures? Well, those will come.

After all, there is just something very attractive about passion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'STB slogan taps new travel trend'. Print Edition | Subscribe