Tourism sector looking at survival strategies

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International travel may take 3 to 5 years to return to pre-pandemic levels

The tourism industry must be prepared for a long winter, as international travel could take three to five years to return to pre-pandemic levels even if a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed soon.

But businesses cannot go into hibernation mode if Singapore is to come roaring back as a top destination for high-value tourists when the situation begins to normalise.

This was the message from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief executive Keith Tan to industry members at a virtual roundtable yesterday.

Echoing the bleak outlook, Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA) chairman Kevin Cheong urged operators that are barely hanging on to cut their losses.

"If you think the light at the end of the tunnel is around the corner, this is not a corner. It is a huge turnpike," said Dr Cheong.

Mr Tan said the Government will do its best to help the industry, for instance by stimulating local demand. He also urged companies to develop offerings that can help differentiate Singapore as a travel destination, saying support will be available to sustain these capabilities.

"We need to be prepared for travellers who are looking for more exclusive, smaller scale or special experiences that are hard to find elsewhere, because we believe in the years after Covid-19, people will not be travelling so frequently," he said.

Businesses will have to be creative in coming up with new revenue streams in the interim, and some may have to reposition or pivot their business to survive.

During the two-hour session, industry leaders across sectors such as hotels, retail and attractions spoke about the challenges they face amid the tourist drought and safe distancing restrictions, as well as the need to collaborate and to improve service levels.


Sustained border closures have put the hotel industry here in a "critical financial crisis" as international tourism contributes to about 90 per cent of revenue, said Ms Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association.

While the pandemic has hastened the adoption of contactless guest touchpoints and online shopping, the personal touch will remain key for the hospitality and retail industries, panellists said.

Better service in stores is also needed if retailers are to give shoppers incentive to visit brick-and-mortar outlets, said Singapore Retailers Association executive director Rose Tong. Staff should thus be trained in conversational and soft skills to better engage customers.

And when it comes to visiting leisure attractions at home, locals tend to be lethargic, but they are generally willing to pay more overseas, said Dr Cheong.

Operators must better study and cater to the local market to convince Singaporeans to spend on ticketed activities here, he said. "We need to develop our own unique content, own local stories and really pull at the heartstrings of our guests."