STB to focus on business tourism as part of strategy to recapture tourism demand

SINGAPORE will strengthen its position as a global hub for business tourism as part of its strategy to win back international visitors, as S$500 million has been set aside to support the sector in the coming years.

To do so, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) seeks to make the Republic home to "best-in-class" Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) events which bring businesses from Asia, Europe and the US together, said chief executive Keith Tan on Wednesday (Apr 6) during the annual Tourism Industry Conference.

"The rumours about the decline or demise of business travel have proven to be greatly exaggerated," said Tan. "In the US and Europe, our MICE stakeholders tell us that there is tremendous demand for face-to-face business meetings and many of them have resumed."

In Singapore, most tradeshows and association conventions, too, want to fully resume physical events in the coming months, he added.

While MICE operators and business leaders have gotten used to conducting meetings over online video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Tan noted that there is still a desire for face-to-face interactions to rebuild connections.

"They need to pursue sales, need to deepen existing partnerships with business partners... so I think the higher tier of business travel will remain and continue to grow because people have recognised after 2 years that there are limitations to what Zoom can do," he said while speaking to reporters on the side.

STB will therefore work to grow business events in emerging areas that are relevant to future needs, such as sustainability, urban solutions, food security and energy security, among others.

To start off, the Republic will be hosting 3 major MICE events in the coming weeks with more than 25,000 attendees expected: Singapore International Water Week; CleanEnviro Summit Singapore; and Asia Tech x Singapore.

Other events, such as the 60th International Young Lawyers Congress, the Global Health Security Conference and the Singapore FinTech Festival, are also slated for later this year.

"In this way, our MICE sector can support the growth of Singapore-based companies in these areas, giving them a competitive advantage and strengthen Singapore's relevance at a time when globalisation is under severe pressure," said Tan.

Singapore is in a good position to recapture tourism demand thanks to the support measures rolled out by the government over the last 2 years, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan during his welcome address.

These measures - such as rental and licence fee waivers, and job and capabilities development support - have allowed tourism enterprises to retain their core capabilities during the pandemic and remain ready to seize growth opportunities as international travel resumes, said the minister.

The additional half a billion will continue these efforts by helping generate demand for Singapore's tourism products and offset business costs, as well as aid businesses with capability development.

Positioning Singapore as an "urban wellness haven" is another focus of STB's recovery plan.

"We want Singapore to be seen as a destination with a wide range of accessible experiences that support the holistic well-being of our leisure and business visitors," said STB's Tan.

To kick things off, STB will launch the inaugural Wellness Festival Singapore in June this year, together with other government agencies and industry partners.

Both international visitors and residents here can look forward to activities such as a multi-sensory pop-up at Gardens by the Bay, a Livewell Festival at Sentosa and a series of art and wellness programmes at the National Gallery. STB will provide more details soon.

As part of its efforts to refresh and enhance existing experiences here, Tan also gave an update on the tender for the vacant plot next to the Somerset Skate Park on Orchard Road.

The tender has been awarded to travel and sporting goods company The Ride Side, which will transform the space into an integrated sports facility offering skating, surfing, skiing and snowboarding activities to visitors.

Finally, STB will continue to ramp up its efforts to make Singapore a sustainable urban destination.

"Sustainability is becoming a much more salient consideration for travellers... We cannot lag in these efforts. Singapore already has the Singapore Green Plan 2030. It is natural for the tourism industry then to come behind the Singapore green plan to say this is our tourism sustainability strategy," said Tan in response to questions from reporters.

This year, the Republic will participate in the Global Destination Sustainability Index - for the first time - to benchmark Singapore's sustainability performance against other MICE destinations.

The index benchmarks and assesses the social and environmental performance of destinations annually to drive improved performance in these areas.

Singapore will also begin its journey to become certified as a sustainable destination under the Global Sustainable Tourism Council's Destination Criteria.

Tan encouraged businesses to "weave sustainability into all your touchpoints with your guests", by nudging them to make better choices and educate them on the sustainable choices being made.

"We must work hard differentiating Singapore from our competitors… so that we can defend and grow our position as one of the world's most innovative and most well known destinations," said Tan.

While Tan said it is still too early for STB to provide a forecast on how the new initiatives will boost tourism arrivals and receipts in 2022, Jesper Palmqvist, area director for the Asia-Pacific at market research firm STR believes the sector will only see growth pick up to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

This is because visitor arrivals from important source markets for Singapore, such as Asean and China, still pale in comparison to the levels seen before the pandemic.

"We can't just rely on the North Americans and European countries... and I think it's very hard to find anyone who believes that the mainland Chinese will travel in massive droves to Singapore this year," he said, pointing to the Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai.

And so while the plans unveiled by STB on Wednesday are a promising step forward, it may take a bit longer for the sector to recover to what it was before Covid-19, he said.

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