As the world is slowly but steadily marching forward to normalcy after a long pandemic crisis, the tourism industry worldwide is bracing up for all new innovative solutions to cope up with the changing environment. The need of the hour is a scientific and balanced approach to the idea of sustainable tourism. TW spoke to Mr. GB Srithar, Regional Director (India, Middle East and South Asia), Singapore Tourism Board about the current scenario , innovations and the road ahead.
Pandemic has been a major setback for the industry worldwide. How optimistic are you for the industry to revive in the near future?
With the recent announcement of Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangements between Singapore and India, travel resumption between the two countries is underway. It will take some time for tourism to come back to pre-pandemic levels.Singapore is well-positioned to emerge from this pandemic and we remain confident in the long-term prospects of Singapore’s tourism sectors – both for leisure and MICE & business travel – as the fundamentals that make Singapore an attractive place for unique, high quality travel and MICE experiences, remain unchanged.
A recent COVID-19 impact analysis report commissioned by STB to understand the impact of the pandemic on travel planning behavior and destination perceptions shows that India’s confidence level to travel is the highest among 15 key source markets which were surveyed and was significantly higher than the global average. Similarly, India’s intent to travel over the next six to 12 months is the highest among all markets for both Leisure & BTMICE.
· How important is the Indian market for you?
The decade pre-Covid 19 saw India growing as an increasingly important source market. It had moved up from being the fifth largest source market to being the third largest in 2019. It was also the top cruise source market and a key market for MICE travel. We had innovatively partnered with brands such as Zomato, BookMyShow, Foodhall India, NH7 Weekender, St+art India Foundation, National Geographic, Tripoto, etc. In all of these collaborations, Indian artistes and influencers had worked with Singaporean artistes to showcase their passions and talents and connect with the Indian audiences virtually, through story-telling and showcasing of Singapore as an attractive tourism destination.
We have seen the Singapore Tourism board taking various digital initiatives interacting with the trade partners and virtual tours etc. How different do you think the future of travel would look like and what could be the probable challenges?
Tourism has changed and will continue to evolve in the Covid-endemic world. The ability of a destination and its tourism establishments to provide good health and sanitation practices will be vital in inspiring confidence and influencing consumers’ choice to travel. The SG Clean campaign, introduced early last year, was a government effort to rally businesses and the public to uphold good sanitation standards and hygiene practices in Singapore.
In addition, consumers will likely be more adept at using digital tools and may choose to consume services and experiences in different ways. According to a research conducted by Booking.com, 96% of Indian travellers identified sustainable travel as important to them, while 76% said they were more determined to make sustainable choices when looking to travel again in the future. Hence, we expect to see a more sustainable approach to travel in the near future. The one thing that the pandemic has taught people is to slow down and appreciate an unhurried life, which is why there will be a rise of slow, immersive travel options.
· If you could share with us a little about your personal journey so far and memorable experiences being with the Singapore Tourism Board?
In my previous avatar as an HR professional in STB, I had the opportunity to perform HR management development, change development, and organisation development roles. I was posted to India as Area Director in April 2010. I had enjoyed my close to 4 years’ stint, doing various leisure, enrichment and PR projects and established good networks in the travel trade. After a couple of years in STB HQ’s International Marketing and Brand Campaign’s team, I returned as Regional Director to India in mid-2016. The work in India has certainly made me grow as a leader. Drawing from my HR experience and strong belief in people-before-results, I have the pleasure of leading a strong and creative team here to deliver very interesting, innovative and meaningful projects.
· Singapore is taking a Trace, Test and Vaccinate national strategy to live with Covid-19, what other initiatives are taken by STB to ensure the safe resumption of MICE in Singapore?
STB is committed to supporting the industry through this challenging journey. Several initiatives have been undertaken such as, partnering with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) to conduct simulation studies by measuring air flow, fomite, and air transmission. This ensured our approach to running safe business events is academically sound and scientifically proven, and to give delegates with a peace of mind. This enabled us to custom-design Safe Meeting Pods and exhibition booths to enable delegates to interact for a prolonged period.
Recognising that digitalisation is key, STB has launched TCube (Tourism Technology Transformation Cube), which provides a holistic suite of tools to guide tourism businesses in Singapore to build capabilities to succeed in the digital age. The Singapore Association for Conventions & Exhibitions Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) became the first MICE industry association worldwide to launch a set of technical references for the exhibition industry and partnered with local institutions to develop formal avenues to training and upskilling. To provide further guidance for MICE businesses, STB and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) have collaborated with the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) to formulate an Industry Resilience Roadmap (IRR) – a public-private partnership focused on three strategic objectives: Establishing best-in-class standards for new event safety measures, creating agile business models with a focus on digital capabilities, and developing pathways for professional development in the post-COVID-19 world.
· Can you tell us the significance of successfully holding the Joint Leadership Summit in Singapore?
The Joint Leadership Summit, held from 5 to 7 October, convened regional government representatives, major global organisers and trade association leaders on an action plan for the safe reopening of the business events industry in the region.
The Summit witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Association of Event Organisers (AEO), Singapore Association for Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS), Society for Independent Show Organizers (SISO), Global Association of The Exhibition Industry (UFI) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). The MOU showcases the commitment to revitalise the regional exhibitions industry and strengthens Singapore’s long-standing position as a safe and trusted Global Asia hub for business events. To support the industry’s evolution through a Covid-endemic operating environment, the Summit also saw the launch of the Asia CEO Summit, an annual dialogue for the exhibition industry to review the regional business environment and chart the next course of action and collaboration for the betterment of the industry. This event will take place in Singapore annually from 2022 onwards.
While the pandemic has changed the way we work and travel, Singapore remains committed to strengthening existing partnerships while forging new ones.
(Intervew took place in Dec 2021)