Tourism leaders called to break down silos in the industry

VivoCity on mainland Singapore (left) with the bridge to Sentosa and Pulau Brani in the foreground.
VivoCity on mainland Singapore (left) with the bridge to Sentosa and Pulau Brani in the foreground.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is time to break down the silos in the tourism industry.

In the face of rising business costs, labour scarcity, digital disruption and increasing competition for tourist dollars, individual sectors can no longer afford to go it alone.

That was the message at the inaugural SG Tourism Leaders Forum on Wednesday (March 6), which brought together industry members as well as eight leaders of associations that represent areas such as hospitality, retail and food and beverage.

Mr Wong Soon-Hwa, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association's (Pata) Singapore Chapter, which organised the forum, noted that associations exist to serve their members and as a result, "sometimes we tend to work in silos".

"The tourism industry is a huge ecosystem and it requires the alignment of all players to make it vibrant and sustainable," he said in a speech at the NTUC Centre.

The forum, which featured panel discussions with the association representatives and industry leaders, was the first meeting for some.

"This means that we have not done enough in the past to come together... If we don't get together, how do you know what others are doing?" asked Mr Wong, who is also the chief executive of Asia Tourism Consulting.


Pata's members include government and tourism bodies, airlines and airports, hospitality and travel firms, educational institutions and travel professionals.

Among the topics discussed at the forum were industry challenges, revolving largely around manpower and automation, as well as opportunities for different sectors to leverage one another for growth.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, assistant director-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and supervising lead of its Hospitality and Consumer Business Cluster, said that "the hard reality is that costs will keep going up", and cost wastage is one area that must be looked at.

"In Singapore, we have too many heads, too many organisations and too many schemes from the Government. So I think the key here, we have to ask ourselves, is how are we going to organise it to be able to give us the power of one," he said.

This year's Great Singapore Sale, which will be revamped and made shorter, was cited as one example of industry collaboration.

The Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), which organises the event, has partnered the Restaurant Association of Singapore and One Kampong Gelam, among others, to cross-promote the event and include more local talent and experiences when it kicks off in June.

SRA executive director Rose Tong acknowledged criticism that the event has become drawn out and little more than sales and discounts.

But instead of letting the 25-year-old event die, the SRA decided to refresh it with the support of other associations, she said.

The Orchard Road Business Association's executive director Steven Goh said the transformation of Singapore's premier shopping belt into a lifestyle destination will also require collaboration between private stakeholders and government agencies.

"The big challenge with Orchard Road is that it's dated and old, and connectivity remains a huge issue," he said, adding that more attractions, museums and convention centres would enliven the precinct.

While between 30 and 40 per cent of sales on Orchard Road come from tourists, the street is under pressure to compete with the likes of the integrated resorts and the upcoming Jewel at Changi Airport, he added.

Ms Wong Jiali, Asia regional manager for Cruise Lines International Associations, said the small but growing cruise segment presents opportunities for travel agencies, which sell more than 80 per cent of cruise products.

With the foreign worker quota for the services sector set to be reduced, the need for a pipeline of local labour in the tourism industry was highlighted as a key concern.

But Mr Kevin Cheong, managing partner of tourism and destination consulting practice Syntegrate, had strong words for educators.

Saying that he had been involved in the curriculum of some polytechnics and universities, he said: "You're teaching a lot of the kids what should have been taught 15 to 20 years ago when it's no longer relevant (now) in the industry."

Mr Cheong, who is the former chair of the Association of Singapore Attractions, added: "We also don't even know some of the training needs of the future and the skills involved."

National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) president Steven Ler said turning talk of collaboration into action requires two factors: the alignment of motivation between different parties and a catalyst.

"Associations should play the role to create that catalyst, to bring things together, identify common motivations and get that going," he said.