Chairman and Members of the STB Board
Partners and friends from the tourism industry
Colleagues from STB
Ladies and gentlemen
1. I am pleased to join you at this year’s Tourism Industry Conference, an annual forum where the industry comes together with stakeholders to take stock of our progress we’ve made and also to think ahead for some of the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
2. Let me begin by taking the opportunity to pay a tribute to our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had an unwavering belief in Singapore’s potential to flourish as a distinctive city-state; and he was ceaseless in his efforts to realise that promise. He and his pioneering team of Cabinet colleagues and others in the civil service conceived important initiatives to build a better life for Singaporeans; many of these also helped to lay strong foundations for Singapore’s tourism industry.
3. One example was Mr Lee’s vision for Singapore to become a “Garden City”. It was an effort to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable – the bustle of a thriving metropolis with the soothing calm of a verdant natural environment. It was a vivid and powerful vision that galvanised a national effort that endures to this day. The growth of our nature attractions stands as testament to this - from the Singapore Zoological Gardens and Botanic Gardens, to the world-renowned Night Safari, River Safari, and Gardens by the Bay. The nature-themed attraction planned for Mandai will be another milestone in that endeavour.
4. Many may also not know that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a key supporter of our efforts to bring the Formula One race to Singapore. When we embarked on this project in 2006/2007, I was well aware of Mr Lee’s reservations about motorsports and the reasons for the discontinuation in 1974 of the Grand Prix race at Upper Thomson Road. To his credit, Mr Lee was prepared to be persuaded and change his views because he recognised the changes in F1 and the impact F1 could have on Singapore’s standing as a vibrant city. In fact, he went even further by taking a keen and active interest – from meeting Bernie Ecclestone and others involved in the race, to taking a tour of our street circuit, and visiting some of the events that were held in parallel – all in an effort to promote Singapore and to better understand why people were attracted by noisy cars that were going around in circles.
5. We owe Mr Lee Kuan Yew, his colleagues in government, and the pioneer generation of Singaporeans a deep debt of gratitude for much of what we have today. Their foresight, gumption, indomitable spirit and perseverance made it all possible. We can best honour them by building on their legacy and upholding their cherished values.
Enhancing the Tourism Sector
6. 2014 was a challenging year for tourism; 15.1 million tourists visited Singapore last year. This was a dip of 3% from 2013. Meanwhile, tourism spending was flat at $23.6 billion.
7. With an uncertain global economic environment, intensifying regional competition, and a relatively strong Singapore dollar, challenges will persist in the near term. Our visitor arrivals for the first two months of 2015 registered a decline of around 5%, compared to the same period in 2014. For 2015 as a whole, STB expects tourism numbers to grow modestly; between 0 and 3%1 for visitor arrivals, and between 0 and 2%2 for tourism receipts.
8. It is a challenging task but, there I think are reasons to be optimistic about the near to mid-term prospects for the tourism industry. Partly because outbound travel to the Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to grow; and also because intra-Asia travel is also rising as Asian economies and disposable incomes rise. We must be ready to seize our fair share of this growth and, this morning, I would like to highlight three areas that we need to focus on in order to so - deepening innovation, boosting promotion and marketing efforts in order to reach our target markets better, and enhancing capabilities.
Differentiating Singapore through Innovation
9. First, deepening innovation. To differentiate Singapore as an attractive tourist destination, we must deepen our collective efforts to create novel and interesting tourism products. In that vein, we have a few more additions to our tourism scene this year. The National Gallery will open later this year, positioning Singapore as a regional leader in the visual arts. The Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, a fine art museum known for its contemporary and classical collections, will be another exciting addition to our arts scene. In quite a different vein, families can also look forward to Kidzania, a mega family edutainment centre in Sentosa, which will provide children with interactive learning experiences about different careers.
10. There is also significant potential to expand our calendar of sports and leisure events. The first edition of the BNP Paribas Women’s Tennis Association Finals last October surpassed expectations by attracting more than 129,000 attendees. We also saw spill-over benefits for other lifestyle events. For example, Wine Fiesta saw a 17% increase in visitors. Looking ahead, Singapore will be one of the 10 global cities, and the only South-East Asian city, to host the Sevens World Series Rugby for 4 years, starting from the 2015/2016 season. This will further boost our sports tourism, and strengthen our position as a lifestyle destination.
11. We also continue to sustain its position as a leading business city. And I must give tribute to the industry and STB on the various efforts that have been made in this regard. For 2013, we were ranked Asia’s top convention city for the 12th consecutive year and the top international meetings city for the 7th consecutive year.
12. For this year, STB has secured five new large-scale events3 for large incentive groups that will be held in Singapore, and bring in more than 24,000 business delegates. STB is also on-track to secure more best-in-class exhibitions and conferences, and has made good progress towards the annual target of securing 10 new association world congresses. In addition, STB is actively working to develop the size and content of home-grown events, such as TravelRave, which has grown from 4,400 delegates in 2010 to 11,400 delegates last year.
13. The other dimension is, of course, retail. A quintessential experience for any visitor to Singapore is a trip to Orchard Road, and we want to strengthen Orchard Road’s, indeed Singapore’s, positioning as a top Asian and global shopping destination. There are headwinds in the industry but I think we can work together to realise that goal and achieve significant outcomes. One way is to better showcase locally-designed products. Research has shown that travellers tend to seek out and purchase local products. The experience last year of KEEPERS: Singapore Designer Collective validates this finding. KEEPERS is a five-month pop-up that has been popular with tourists and Singaporeans alike. It has also successfully fostered long-term business opportunities for local designers.4 Hence, KEEPERS has been extended for another 11 months to January 2016, to raise awareness of local designers and broaden the range of shopping options available to locals and tourists.
14. Another pilot initiative was the Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road, organised by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA). On the first Saturday evening of each month from October last year to March 2015, a section of Orchard Road was transformed into a pedestrian street with lively activities that significantly raised visitor footfall to the precinct.5 I am pleased to share that STB will continue to support ORBA for an extension of Pedestrian Night for another six months, from July to December this year, to further augment street vibrancy to Orchard Road. The challenge is not just to attract higher footfall, but also to convert it into business opportunities. Hence, this will also be part of a new eight-month long campaign to offer visitors a differentiated shopping experience, coupled with dining, entertainment and lifestyle privileges, which is augmented by in-mall and in-store activities at our iconic shopping belt. So it’s an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and really, creating a compelling proposition for locals and tourists alike.
Boosting Marketing Efforts
15. These and other innovative offerings must be complemented and supported by a boost to our promotion and marketing efforts, which brings me to my second theme this morning. Over the past month, STB has partnered four airlines to conduct targeted marketing campaigns in China, India, and South East Asian countries, our key source markets. Changi Airport Group and STB recently announced a two-year, $35 million partnership to build stronger affinity for destination Singapore within these key visitor markets. STB will also deepen its partnership with TripAdvisor to build a first ever Global hub that will house Singaporean content, and increase efforts to help tourism companies build up marketing capabilities in domains such as the digital space and branding.
16. The year-long celebration of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee has led, in part, to Lonely Planet naming Singapore as the top destination to visit in 2015. We have received similar accolades from the New York Times and CNN Traveller.
17. This is a prime opportunity to ride the wave of international interest, and to profile Singapore as an exciting and authentic destination. For example, over the last few years, STB has brought local chefs to Copenhagen to share Singapore’s food heritage with a Danish audience. We must build on these efforts to profile our Singaporean talent overseas. In that regard, this year, as part of the SG50 celebrations, “Singapore: Inside Out” will showcase our contemporary creative talents in three major cities: first in Beijing later this month, followed by London and New York later in the year. It will return to Singapore for a homecoming run in November this year.
18. STB will also launch a S$20m global marketing campaign in conjunction with our Golden Jubilee. This campaign aims to attract visitors with flight and hotel deals, unique retail offerings as well as F&B and entertainment options. Industry partners – such airlines, hotels, retailers, travel agents, and precinct business and tourist guide associations – are key to this effort. I am happy to note that more than 20 hotels have already expressed interest to come on board. My STB colleagues will share more details about these initiatives. But the key is to have the industry working with STB in this important marketing effort to reach out to key markets.
Continuous Investment in Capability Enhancement
19. Finally, it is important that we continue to enhance and deepen the capabilities of our tourism sector. In that regard, STB will increase its support for the industry to adopt innovative practices and products that can take the sector to new heights. This includes a recent enhancement to the Kickstart Fund, which supports the test-bedding of innovative lifestyle events and concepts with strong tourism appeal and scalability.
20. In addition, to further enhance our destination attractiveness, STB has earmarked a further $30 million from the Tourism Development Fund to provide more funding support for events that can raise our tourism appeal to visitors.
21. We will also support our businesses in their efforts to implement productivity improvement initiatives. An example was Hotel Jen at Orchard Gateway which received funding support to implement an RFID barcode-based inventory management and tracking system. It will reduce man-hours involved in physical stock-taking by 45%, and human error will be minimised. Our government agencies are prepared to similarly work with other companies to co-fund their efforts to raise productivity and improve competitiveness.
22. We will support such initiatives through an enhanced Business Improvement Fund (which will replace the current Business Improvement Fund and the Tourism Technology Fund with immediate effect). The Fund will support a broader range of initiatives than the two existing funds, and it will also provide up to a higher 70% funding support for small and medium enterprises. STB will furnish more details.
23. Last year, we launched a $15 million Association Development Fund to strengthen tourism-related associations’ capabilities to better drive the growth of their industries and precincts. So far, STB has supported six associations through the Fund, which helps them to benchmark against best practices overseas, conduct industry insights studies, and to showcase Singaporean talent through international competitions6.
24. Finally, we need to continue to invest in manpower development for the tourism sector. I think we are well aware of the pressures, not just on the tourism sector, but in general on manpower, so investing and developing our limited manpower is key. A joint taskforce led by STB, WDA and e2i has reviewed the tourist guide training and competency framework, and recently concluded their industry consultations. Some preliminary recommendations include introducing a national curriculum to ensure standardised training and assessment, and providing enhanced course content and learning formats. They will share the final recommendations with the industry after the review has been completed. This will take our tour guide sector to a new level.
25. The hotel industry can also look forward to a SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme in 2016, in line with the national effort to boost skills training and lifelong learning. This programme is particularly aimed at ITE and Polytechnic students, and because of the way that it is constructed, if the industry comes on with a full effort, will help to attract and retain talent in the hotel workforce. It is an important part of the government’s larger effort to work with employers to develop our industry talent pool.
26. Even as we contemplate the challenges faced by our tourism industry, let us also draw inspiration and encouragement from the opportunities that lie ahead, and the significant strides we have made so far, to grow our tourism sector and provide good jobs for Singaporeans. For example, over the last 10 years, from 2005 to 2014, our visitor arrivals and tourism revenue grew by 70% (8.9 mil to 15.1 mil visitor arrivals) and 117% (S$10.9 billion to S$23.6 billion tourism receipts) respectively, despite the challenge posed by the global financial crisis in the middle of that ten-year period. It is an indication of what can be achieved through the collective effort and commitment – of the tourism industry, workforce, and government coming together to create new products, render better service, and reach out to a wider global market. I trust that this forum, and the engagement it engenders between industry and government, will stimulate more ideas and initiatives to sustain the growth of Singapore’s tourism sector. On this note, let me wish everyone a fruitful and productive Tourism Industry Conference 2015, and a successful year ahead. Thank you.
1 Visitor arrivals are forecasted to be in the range of 15.1 to 15.5 million.
2 Tourism receipts are forecasted to be in the range of $23.5 billion and $24.0 billion.
3 These include: Oriflame Diamond Conference 2015, BestWorld Convention 2015, USANA Asia & Pacific Convention 2015, Forever Living Global Rally 2015, and Jeunesse Global Expo Unite Annual World Conference.
4 For example, local brand Aijek, by fashion designer Danelle Woo, was picked up by TANGS after being spotted at KEEPERS.
5 Average more than 50,000 persons each Pedestrian Night, at least two times that of non-event nights (25,000 persons).
6 For example, the Singapore Chef Association defrayed the costs of Singaporean chefs’ participation in international competitions, to hone their culinary skills. The Society of Tourist Guides (Singapore) participated in the World Federation of Tourist Guides Associations Congress, allowing them to benchmark against other associations and share industry knowledge.