The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is expected to announce a new CEO shortly as the current chief, Lionel Yeo, is reaching the end of a second three-year term in June – possibly the only STB CEO to have served for six years.
The STB is a statutory board under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. Yeo has been an officer with the Singapore Administrative Service since 1996 and was formerly dean and CEO of Singapore’s Civil Service College and deputy secretary (development) in the Public Service Division of the Prime Minister’s Office.
He is leaving the STB position on a high note, with both visitor arrivals and tourism receipts reaching historical highs – 17.4 million and S$26.8 billion (US$20 billion) respectively in 2017 over 2016, contributing about four per cent to Singapore’s GDP. But beyond the headline numbers, Yeo is widely credited for taking Singapore tourism through the industry’s changing landscape in the past six years.
Among his clarion calls are the need to focus on yield-driven quality growth, and for STB and tourism industry players to collaborate, innovate and create value together for increasingly discerning travellers. Under Yeo, STB launched a slew of initiatives and funds to help sectors that are hard hit by disruption to transform themselves, particularly the travel agency business, while encouraging new innovative players to enter the industry.
As a public service officer, Yeo advanced tourism’s role in reinforcing Singapore’s image as not just an attractive destination but a magnet for capital, businesses and talent. The latest branding Passion Made Possible, for example, is a unified brand between STB and the Economic Development Board, marketing Singapore not just for tourism, but business purposes. At the same time, he used tourism as a tool to enhance the quality and leisure options for local residents themselves.
In one of his earlier interviews with TTG Asia, Yeo said: “I didn’t expect the tourism sector to have such a wide impact on the country. It impacts the Singapore national brand – how the rest of the world perceives Singapore – and it impacts how Singaporeans feel about their own country. Tourism contributes a lot to the narrative about how we (Singapore) attract capital and are a hub for knowledge and talent. By making the place more attractive, we’re also an attractive place for talent, which fuels other parts of the economy.”
“I think Lionel has done good work with STB,” said Loh Lik Peng, director, Unlisted Collection, which runs a string of luxury boutique hotels and curated F&B concepts in Singapore and abroad, and is vice president of the Singapore Hotels Association (SHA) executive committee. “We were well north of 17 million tourism arrivals last year and are set to hit 18 million this year, so undoubtedly the headline numbers are strong.
“I feel within the hotel industry he is well liked and regarded. At the SHA and SHATEC (Singapore Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre) level, we had many close interactions with him and he supported quite a few initiatives for industry transformation such as manpower and technology. I really hope to see that continuing because that sense of partnership with industry is important. STB in this environment must be more than a regulator and promoter but an organisation that can be more entrepreneurial and business like.”
Added Mike Barclay, group CEO of Mandai Holdings, whose Wildlife Reserves Singapore clinched the Best Attraction Experience at Singapore Tourism Awards last Tuesday: “Lionel has shown exceptional leadership at STB over the last six years. He has done a brilliant job of promoting Singapore by not only highlighting our exciting locations, attractions and events, but also raising the profile of how Singaporeans celebrate life through our rich culture, traditions, architecture, wildlife and, of course, food!
“Lionel has also been great at reminding all attraction operators to keep a strong focus on appealing to locals as much as to overseas visitors. This serves both to enrich the lives of Singaporeans and to attract tourists who like to visit places well frequented by locals. We will miss him very much.”
Whoever comes after Yeo will have to think up growth from a high base, for a small city whose resources like skilled manpower are stretched to the max, and ways to help tourism sectors transform and survive the new economy.
As Yeo warned at the recent Singapore Tourism Industry Conference: “The prospect for quality tourism growth in Singapore is bright, but it is also dynamic and subject to further disruption and transformation.”