Getting locals to rediscover Singapore charms

Free weekend tours of Haw Par Villa will be offered to Singaporeans on the 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd of this month, when the theme park's history will be explained to visitors. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Free weekend tours of Haw Par Villa will be offered to Singaporeans on the 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd of this month, when the theme park's history will be explained to visitors. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

STB hopes free tours of sights will help them to be tourism ambassadors

From Haw Par Villa's gruesome mythological statues to the historic Singapore River, locals will be offered free guided tours of famous sights to help them rediscover their own backyard.

The Singapore Tourism Board is launching a series of tours from this month as part of its Tourism50 celebrations. The STB was set up in 1964 as the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and is marking 50 years of tourism development and promotion here.

It wants local residents to relive their memories of famous Singapore attractions and create new ones with friends and family.

It also hopes that they will become "tourism ambassadors" who pass on their experiences to visitors and to a new audience through social media.

"They might think they are already familiar with (the attractions) but there is still much to discover," said STB chief executive Lionel Yeo yesterday, adding that the tours will also highlight the work of the tourism sector.

The drive will begin with weekend tours of Haw Par Villa, on the 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd of this month. The theme park's history will be explained to visitors, who can also attend a vintage flea market and food bazaar. On March 29 and 30 there will be free 75-minute tours for up to 40 people around the heritage district which includes the Singapore River, the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road and the Jamae Mosque on South Bridge Road.

Also in the pipeline are free guided tours of attractions to promote cruises and sporting events such as the Formula One race.

Further Tourism50 events will be announced later, culminating in year-end celebrations to set the mood for Singapore's 50th anniversary celebrations next year.

Tourism50 follows last year's "Singapore Shiok" campaign, which also encouraged locals to enjoy attractions here.

Mr Yeo said he wants to tap the positive energy of residents who can act as tourism ambassadors when they show friends and families around the island or post photos and messages online.

"Every tweet or photo that we share on platforms like Instagram or Facebook has an international audience."

Authenticity, he added, oftentimes comes from locals. "If they give a thumbs up... that really has resonance with visitors."

The move comes amid an effort by attractions here to rejuvenate themselves to pull in visitors - such as the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom, which has set aside $6 million to embark on a revamp.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last week that more must be done to come up with new ideas and offerings to attract travellers as they become increasingly spoilt for choice.

The STB predicts that tourist spending growth will be at a sluggish 4 to 6 per cent over the next decade, following a record 10 per cent growth posted between 2002 and 2012.

But Mr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said there is renewed interest in local attractions, with the proportion of local visitors rising by 10 per cent to 40 per cent last year.

"It's not about chasing numbers," he said. "It's about advocacy - getting locals to tell their friends how great Singapore and its attractions are."

For updates on Tourism50, see www.xinmsn.com/rediscoversg

jermync@sph.com.sg