Budget debate: Hotels, travel agents and tour guides licence fee waivers extended to end-2021

Mr Alvin Tan noted that some 7,000 tourism businesses had benefited from the Jobs Support Scheme in 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Licence fee waivers for hotels, travel agents and tour guides will be extended to the end of 2021 as part of efforts to aid the recovery of the tourism sector.

Responding to questions from MPs on how the sector would be supported given ongoing travel restrictions on Tuesday (March 2), Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan noted that some 7,000 tourism businesses had benefited from the Jobs Support Scheme in 2020, and firms in the sector will receive further wage support until September 2021.

The SingapoRediscovers campaign and vouchers scheme, intended to boost local tourism through $100 of credit vouchers to all Singapore citizens aged 18 and above, will continue to be vital as international arrivals are expected to remain weak this year. The Government is exploring ways to improve the voucher scheme, Mr Tan added.

A platform for tourism stakeholders to create and test new solutions, with the aim of increasing the adoption of technology and best practices, will be opened this year as well.

Hotel, travel agent and tourist guide licence fees had earlier been waived until end-2020.

Hotel operators typically pay between $300 and $500 to renew their licences yearly, depending on the number of rooms.

Tour guides and travel agents due to renew their licences for 2021 will not need to pay to do so. Tour guide licences cost $72 and are valid for three years, while the renewal of a travel agent's licence costs $400.

Mr Tan also outlined efforts to help the industry transform and build resilience against future disruptions.

Tech adoption has become an imperative rather than an option during the Covid-19 crisis. The tourism sector, for one, has tapped new technologies to transform, Mr Tan noted, citing how organisers of the Singapore Fintech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology last year pivoted to a hybrid event with a 24-hour online platform.

High-growth industries, such as agri-food tech, have also emerged thanks to tech adoption, he said.

Financing schemes and funding such as the Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund are in place to help small and medium-sized enterprises venture into the agri-food sector, Mr Tan added, in reply to a question from Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Developing talent

While tech is key for transformation, talent development is also crucial, said Mr Tan.

"Talent that can help us nurture a vibrant and competitive tech ecosystem that can hold our own against the world, and help Singapore remain relevant," he said, emphasising the need to work with companies to attract the talent they need locally and globally.

Responding to questions from Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) on growing the local tech talent pipeline, Mr Tan pointed to the efforts across the government, institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and the private sector.

The TechSkills Accelerator programme equips individuals with skills in emerging tech and helps companies to upskill existing workers and hire professionals, he said, adding that the Ministry of Communications and Information would elaborate on the programme during its ministry's debate.

Local intake into infocomms technology has grown to 7,600 students in the 2020 academic year, which accounts for 14 per cent of the intake cohort compared with 11 per cent five years ago, Mr Tan noted.

The IHLs will generate around 20,000 tech talent over the next three years, and Workforce Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority's place-and-train programmes will also provide another 6,250 workers in functions such as software engineering and cyber-security.

The Tech.Pass scheme is also another way to ensure top talent comes to Singapore, Mr Tan said, adding that there has been keen interest in the scheme since applications opened in mid-January.

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