The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) last Friday announced new and updated initiatives at the STB-NATAS Travel Agent Industry Forum, aimed at helping travel agents stay relevant in the competitive landscape.
These include the Travel Talent Transformation & Management Programme, which aims to improve HR practices and attract and retain workers, the one-stop NATAS Resource Centre supporting business transformation projects, and an updated Business Transformation Through-Train Programme to guide the implementation of new business models.
These initiatives are part of the Travel Agent Roadmap launched by STB and NATAS two years ago.
Since the launch of the Roadmap in August 2016, more than 90 projects, ranging from technology adoption to business remodelling, have received support from STB’s Business Improvement Fund. These projects have helped travel agents improve productivity and save over 800 man-hours – which translates to 100 workers – per day.
Transforming business through Through-Train Programme v2.0
STB will be launching version 2.0 of the Business Transformation Through-Train programme in 2Q2019. Aimed at progressive travel agents ready to relook their business models, the programme helps travel agents envision new business models, identify gaps and opportunities and implement business shifts to remain competitive.
Following this year’s pilot run with seven agents, version 2.0 of the programme takes into consideration feedback from the first run.
Ong Ling Lee, STB’s director travel agents & tourist guides, policy & planning group, added: “From next year it’ll be held twice a year, up from once a year. We’ll be adding more sessions, where participants will have more time to consult with the experts, as well as time to do more research.”
An open call to the industry for the second run will be made in 1Q2019.
Boosting travel agents’ tech savviness
To educate travel agents on the technology solutions available and guide their technology adoption, STB will organise regular talks that cover emerging technologies, conduct a solution call-out to identify relevant technology vendors for travel agents and develop a do-it-yourself guide to assist travel agents in selecting suitable technology solutions that will meet their business needs.
In the coming year, NATAS will also be launching a Travel Technology Challenge that builds on the Tourism Innovation Challenge to further proliferate new technology solutions among the industry.
NATAS is also looking at the potential of developing an offline-to-online (O2O) portal to support travel agents in moving into the online domain. The portal will feature themed travel fairs throughout the year, and will serve as a plug-and-play solution for travel agents who currently do not have an online presence.
Bridging manpower gaps, managing travel talent
STB and NATAS also announced the Travel Talent Transformation & Management Programme, which is aimed at identifying and bridging gaps in HR practices. Travel agents will be able to diagnose their HR gaps through one-on-one sessions with consultants, learn how to resolve these gaps through masterclasses and site visits to firms with successful HR practices, and be guided through the solution implementation.
For jobseekers, NATAS will work with Workforce Singapore (WSG) to list available jobs in the travel agent industry on the MyCareersFuture job portal.
STB and NATAS will embark on a series of marketing activities next year, focusing on changing the perception of the industry as a viable career option for jobseekers. More details will be announced at a later date.
In addition, Wee Hee Ling, CEO, Euro-Asia Holidays, and also deputy chairman of the NATAS manpower committee shared that the committee is reviving its youth chapter – headed by Albert Tan of Pegasus Travel Management. Wee expressed hopes that this would help pull in the younger generation tour agents, which would in turn help to solve manpower issues.
Birth of Tour Operators Alliance
A group of tour operators have also come together to form a Tour Operators Alliance, STB announced at the forum. The founding team includes Monster Day Tours, Let’s Go Tour Singapore, Singapore Sidecars, Ruby Dot Trails, and Tribe.
Ty Suen, founder of Monster Day Tours, and the alliance’s spokesperson, shared: “We are still in the early stages but the top agenda is getting to know each other’s strengths and what we can bring to the table. What we do have is a direction of how we want tours to be, and we want to push the agenda that Singapore is more than just a stopover destination. And this can only be done with the help of more interesting content and experience.”
Suen added that each tour operator currently runs day tours individually, but rather than competing with each other, they want to pool their resources together, in order to reach out to more channels and work with larger DMCs.
For instance, Singapore Sidecars and Monster Day Tours are able to work together together where Singapore Sidecars’ specially trained riders operate the vespa sidecars, with guiding by Monster’s guides, should tourists tourists want a more in-depth view of Singapore. And instead of a three-hour tour originally, by combining their resources, both companies would be able to sell a longer six-hour tour, which would be a combination of a Vespa and walking tour.
NATAS Resource Centre in development
Lastly, NATAS is looking at developing an online Resource Centre in 2019, a one-stop shop where travel agents can access toolkits and resources and obtain advice on how to embark on business transformation projects.
Ong concluded: “The core of the travel business is about connecting people and the destination. Technology can play a big part (in helping). But to make technology work, the business, the way of connecting people together, has to evolve. It doesn’t have to be a big step, small steps are fine. Travel agents must be willing and able to put effort (in order for change to happen).