Augmented reality push among tech initiatives to help tourism businesses transform

This will help local businesses provide a better end-to-end experience for visitors. PHOTO: SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

SINGAPORE - Prospective tourists will soon be able to view 3D models of Singapore icons like the Merlion from their living room, as part of an augmented reality (AR) push by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The tourism board is building a database of such content that businesses in the industry can use to promote Singapore as a destination and enhance their on-site experience, Mr Poh Chi Chuan, STB's acting chief technology officer told The Straits Times in an interview on Wednesday (Oct 21).

This will help local businesses provide a better end-to-end experience for visitors, which will be key in the future of travel as consumers become more selective in their destination choices, Mr Poh said.

Business can, for example, use the technology to give potential visitors a preview of their offerings, down to the layout of a hotel room. Augmented reality can also be used to overlay information or add interactive elements at an attraction.

While the technology is not new, it is a useful and accessible tool to engage consumers as global travel restrictions remain in place, Mr Poh said.

For attractions, it can also add new experiences and content at a lower cost than building a new exhibit, he added.

"I think companies that are able to use AR effectively will have an edge when travel resumes."

The STB is working with the National Heritage Board to create 1,000 3D models of cultural and heritage items, among other things, that can be viewed through a user's phone camera.

These will be made available to operators through the Tourism Information and Services Hub from next year, and can be integrated with their websites or mobile apps.

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STB's team of in-house developers is also working on a series of AR prototypes to showcase the possibilities of the technology, Mr Poh said, citing an animation of hawker stalls as one example.

The AR initiative is part of a larger digitalisation plan for the tourism industry, announced by Mr Poh during the virtual ITB Asia trade show on Wednesday.

He said in a speech that the sector is in for a long winter, as international travel is expected to take three years to recover.

"When recovery happens, we believe that our tourism landscape and customer profiles will have changed," he said, adding that it is crucial for tourism businesses to start preparing for this new reality now.

To do so, they can utilise the Tourism Transformation Index, a self-diagnostic tool to help businesses assess their strengths and identify areas of opportunity, to be launched later this year.

Updates will also be made to the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan) information portal that will allow companies to benchmark their performance against their peers and better understand their target audience, Mr Poh said.

Data sets such as anonymised geolocation information will also be added to the portal to provide insight on what tourists do while in Singapore, he told ST.

This will allow tourism operators to better plan for their business needs, he said, adding that the upcoming travel bubble with Hong Kong will provide useful learning points.

"Using Stan, we hope to be able to push the industry to be able to forecast what is coming ahead, and take the guesswork out of the business as much as we can."

Businesses can also get help to analyse their data on the local market, as better catering to this group will be key in the short-term.

"This is a good time for our attraction partners and our tourism partners to up the ante. If you can please the Singapore crowd, I'm sure you can do much better in terms of the international one," Mr Poh said.

Association of Singapore Attractions chairman Kevin Cheong said the use of AR can add new elements to attractions without the need for heavy investments or additional space, though good content remains key.

The technology can also value-add in practical ways, such as displaying signboards and exhibit information in a tourist's first language, he added. "AR coupled with data analytics to provide information on guest engagement and preferences would be ideal."

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