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No mass market travel for now, Chan tells tourism firms

Government launches S$45m marketing blitz to boost domestic spending on local tourism and lifestyle activities

The Singapore government has launched a S$45 million marketing blitz to woo domestic tourists.


THE gradual reopening of global tourism will be "a quality game and not a quantity game", Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said at an industry dialogue on Wednesday. (see amendment note)

He urged businesses to redesign their products in the medium term, "to leverage this demand for quality, niche-market services" and appeal to new segments - including locals.

This is on top of wooing what he dubbed "higher-quality travellers", with innovative offerings such as large-scale business events that mix face-to-face and virtual interaction.

To help lift the fortunes of the pandemic-hit sector, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Sentosa Development Corp have jointly launched "SingapoRediscovers" - a S$45 million marketing campaign for domestic tourism.

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"It is no longer sufficient just to have a product that is here and now, while the customer or tourist is here with us," Mr Chan added. "In fact, chances are that we will have to develop an end-to-end system."

He cast industry reinvention as critical, since "we have to be realistic that the headwinds, the challenges, in the coming months will be severe".

STB chief executive Keith Tan already expects the industry to clock "a huge, huge drop from past years" in 2020, although "it's impossible to tell" what full-year numbers will be. Tourism typically makes up some 4 per cent of gross domestic product.

Still, he indicated that the aim was to divert some of the more than S$34 billion that Singaporeans spent on overseas travel in 2018 into local tourism and lifestyle businesses.

"There is no baseline on the sort of spending we can get from domestic tourism," he noted. "We hope, obviously, to stimulate some expenditure in F&B and retail and consumption and hotels, but we have not set for ourselves firm targets."

Over the next nine months, SingapoRediscovers will invest in direct marketing for attractions, grants for schemes such as the Marketing Partnership Programme, and tie-ups with industry partners, such as airlines and online tourism platforms.

Meanwhile, the STB on Wednesday launched a risk-management framework for meetings, conventions, exhibitions and trade shows which have been put on hold since March.

This blueprint will be tested out with two "hybrid" events in August and September, where about 1,000 attendees join in virtually, alongside no more than 50 on-site participants.

The STB and ESG are also working with the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers on an industry road map for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions firms. Organisers and venues can later use this guide to plan for the safe resumption of events in Singapore.

Still, domestic spend is not expected to single-handedly rescue the ailing tourism industry from its plight. Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, told The Business Times that domestic tourism "cannot make up for the contributions made by international travellers", with any rebound likely to come only in 2021 - at the earliest.

The road to recovery could even take as long as five years, added Jesper Palmqvist, who covers the Asia-Pacific at hotel research outfit STR. "Singapore will be at the mercy of specific travel lanes that are as safe and high-yielding as possible, especially once the need by the authorities to acquire hotel rooms as quarantine facilities starts to dry up," he said. "Staycations won't cover much of that, especially when spread out across all permitted hotels."

The STB's Mr Tan also conceded that "many Singaporeans will become more prudent because of wage cuts and job losses", while safe-management rules cap businesses' capacity.

Yet Singapore Retailers Association council member Joshua Koh believes that locals "generally still want to spend, they still want to shop". "In terms of margins being tight, definitely the retailers will have to give some promotions out there to attract consumers," said Mr Koh, the CEO of furniture retailer Commune Lifestyle.

But he is hopeful that Singapore brands and companies will gain exposure from events scheduled for the eGSS Campaign - this year's virtual version of the Great Singapore Sale.

Mr Tan added: "We do not expect domestic consumption to fill the hole left by the diminution of international travel, but what we hope to do is to create cushions, to buy as much time as we can for our businesses."

He noted that the budget set aside for SingapoRediscovers is comparable to what the STB would usually spend to woo overseas travellers. A conventional international marketing drive now would be wasting money, he said, but added that the STB will still invest on a market-by-market basis, "in ways that will keep the brand image and brand equity of Singapore high in the minds of our international segments".

Amendment note: An earlier version of this story quoted Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing as discussing a "quality gain" and "quantity gain". It should have been "game". The story has been corrected to reflect this.

With additional reporting by Vivienne Tay



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