Coronavirus: Tourism sector faces headwinds but can reinvent itself to overcome challenges, says Chan Chun Sing

A view of the Merlion Park on July 15, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With mass market tourism taking a hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore's tourism sector must reinvent itself to overcome the challenges ahead, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday (July 22).

The Government will help the industry to find its footing again, said Mr Chan at a virtual dialogue on tourism recovery. He also sketched out plans for the short, medium and long term in his speech addressed to the tourism industry.

In the immediate future, there will be opportunities for Singapore to connect with and serve travellers from higher-end markets, said Mr Chan.

With Singapore already establishing green lane arrangements with China and Malaysia, and working on more, the country will be able to progressively resume essential business travel for executives.

With this in mind, tourism will be a "quality game and not a quantity game". The industry needs to rethink some of its offerings to provide more high-quality products and services to cater to the niche market, he said.

Additionally, Singapore's tourism sector will also need to develop a full suite of services for travellers, including services before and after their journey, instead of merely providing services when a traveller has arrived in the country. This is because travellers will need to be engaged even before the start of their itinerary in order to resume travel safely, said Mr Chan. This includes services such as health checks, as well as ensuring that the required standards and precautions are in place.

He also assured industry players that the Government's immediate priority is saving as many jobs as possible by helping businesses through measures like the Jobs Support Scheme and property tax rebates. More than 7,000 tourism businesses have been helped by the Jobs Support Scheme, and wage support has been given to more than 1,600 self-employed tour guides.

"I fully understand that for every one that we are able to help, there might still be one or two who have not been able to able to access our full suite of help," he said.

As far as possible, "we will reach out to everyone in that industry through the businesses or directly if they are self-employed to see how we can help them", Mr Chan added.

In the medium term, the Government also wants to work with the industry to redesign tourism products, including offerings for the domestic market. One area of focus would be "safe Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events". New models will be piloted - for instance, large-scale events can be broken down into smaller groups and settings, with these settings connected through technology to provide a different experience for participants.

"Our opportunity is this - if we can do this well in Singapore, we will then show the way for the rest of the industry in other parts of the world to come together to work with us," said Mr Chan.

The new $45 million SingapoRediscovers campaign, which was launched on Wednesday, will also help to give boost to the local tourism sector, he added.

Singapore also remains committed to its long-term development plans for the sector, said Mr Chan, which will provide even more unique experiences for travellers. For instance, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will aim to launch the request for proposal for an integrated tourism development in Jurong Lake District by the end of this year, which will create new large-scale attractions that will complement adjacent attractions such as the new Science Centre and Jurong Lake Gardens.

The STB and Tote Board are also exploring redevelopment concepts for the Singapore Racecourse at Kranji, which will become a leisure destination.

These new developments can draw both local and foreign visitors, he said, and are "signs of our confidence in the tourism industry and our determination to keep investing to create good business opportunities and good jobs for our workers".

Mr Chan said the Government remains confident of the tourism sector's long-term future, though it is prepared to face headwinds in the short term.

He thanked the industry for its efforts in sustaining the sector over the past few months. "We will work with all the businesses present and all the workers in the industry to make sure that we work through this difficult point in time together, and to emerge stronger from this."

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