Hospitality industry should make use of downtime to upskill and retrain: SkillsFuture CEO

Tourism and hospitality businesses should make use of the downtime to retrain and reskill its workers to embrace technology, said SkillsFuture CEO Ong Tze-Ch'in. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Technology has become all the more essential for the hospitality sector as it navigates a Covid-19 environment, and workers should make use of the current downtime in travel to reskill themselves in this.

Making this point at a virtual global hospitality conference on Thursday (June 3), SkillsFuture Singapore chief executive Ong Tze-Ch'in said the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated several known mega-trends, such as digitalisation.

New requirements on the sector, such as the emphasis on safety, has led to contactless experiences, with hotels automating their check-in processes or using robots to deliver food or provide cleaning services.

"Workers need to embrace the use of technology much more, as they learn how to continue operating in a Covid-19 environment. Hence, investment in skills upgrading and training during this downtime is critical, as we seek to enable the industry to emerge stronger and transformed in the new normal," said Mr Ong, who was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Council for Hotels, Restaurants and Institutional Educators conference, hosted by hospitality school Shatec.

Before the pandemic, hospitality companies said heavy work demands made it difficult for staff to attend training, he later told The Straits Times.

With the current lull in the travel industry brought on by the pandemic, workers in tourism and hospitality businesses should aim to pick up new capabilities.

Visitor arrivals to Singapore are at their lowest in four decades at just 2.7 million last year - an 85 per cent drop from the 19.1 million arrivals in 2019.

Speaking at the same conference, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief technology officer Wong Ming Fai noted that tourism businesses have also tapped technology to reinvent tourism experiences.

For instance, an augmented reality art tour at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore last year allowed visitors to interact with the exhibition. By scanning a QR code with their mobile phone, they could view art pieces by well-known artists like Frank Stella enhanced with computer graphics.

Consumers are likely to have a greater preference for digital solutions after the pandemic, Mr Wong added.

Apart from building digital capabilities, the sector should also grab this opportunity to test and scale up its new tourism offerings, he said.

He cited examples such as the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2020, which managed to continue after it pivoted to a hybrid format with augmented reality running routes. Of the 13,000 runners in the marathon's grand finale, 37 per cent were from overseas.

Technologies such as 5G, robotics, artificial intelligence, and extended reality like virtual and augmented reality, will all change the way people travel, Mr Wong said.

He also said that while local tourism businesses are keen to collaborate and experiment with new ideas, they also need to look into in areas such as identifying trends through data analytics, which will help them to better understand their target audience.

Responding to a question from the audience about the potential cost of investing in such technology, Mr Wong said some tour companies have used off-the-shelf consumer products, such as mobile phones, selfie sticks or basic cameras, to enhance their offerings.

He added: "Some of these are more low-cost investments, some might require a bit more, but it brings about new revenue in a time where revenue might be low."

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