Expert Opinions How tourism players can navigate the new norm By Industry Expert / Posted on 20 October, 2021 11:22 Thien Kwee Eng, chief executive, Sentosa Development Corporation recounts key lessons gleaned from the pandemic To many of us in the travel industry, it sometimes feels like it was a lifetime ago when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic in 2020. For almost two years now, the tourism industry has had to make stark choices: adapt or become irrelevant. Even though we now see countries and cities reopening their borders cautiously, the realm of travel has changed significantly. Here in Singapore, the evolution of safe management measures also illustrates that the leisure sector and businesses in general will have to continue to stay agile. While challenging, we need to look beyond today’s situation and push forward. As we journey towards a new future of travel and live with Covid-19 as an endemic disease, it is timely for organisations to reassess and take stock before looking ahead to tap on new areas of opportunities. I offer some examples from Sentosa. The need for sustainability A critical area to be addressed by our industry is sustainability. In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for more action to build a sustainable future, and is set to catalyse a shift in travel desires and leisure preferences. For instance, Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report has highlighted the increasing emphasis that travellers are placing on sustainable travel, with 83 per cent of respondents indicating that sustainable travel is vital, and 61 per cent sharing that the pandemic has influenced them to want to travel more sustainably. This means we can expect sustainable leisure offerings to become increasingly important to our guests, and that sustainability is essential – from both an environmental and business perspective. Already, at Sentosa, we have seen a stronger spotlight on health and wellness, as well as an increasing demand for sustainable and responsible leisure options. For instance, we see our guests increasingly being drawn to our island’s heritage and nature offerings, from where they can better understand the importance of conservation. Elsewhere, Google has also begun to offer information on eco-certified hotels and carbon emissions of flights. This higher consciousness of sustainability is a welcome shift. With the multiple guest touchpoints in the leisure industry, we are in a great position to tap on this consciousness, to lead and inspire the global community to take action. To tap on this demand, we will also progressively launch a series of new sustainability-themed tours by the end of this year, where guests can immerse themselves in the unique heritage, biodiversity and nature in our surroundings, and gain a deeper appreciation of conservation and sustainability. Collaboration elevates the industry Another important factor in the industry’s growth is collaboration, as the old notion of “competition” may no longer be valid today. The pandemic has shown how it is important for our industry to collectively leverage on each other’s strengths and expertise to navigate these uncertain times. The Sentosa community, for instance, has come together to launch unique insider experiences and curate various bundles and deals across dining establishments, attractions and hotels, which could also be adapted for tourists and MICE audiences at a later stage. We have also teamed up with like-minded brands, such as Brewerkz to launch four destination-inspired carbon-neutral beers, bolstering our decarbonisation efforts and extending our reach to the retail audience on mainland Singapore. Collaboration goes beyond such leisure offerings too. As part of our Sustainable Sentosa strategic roadmap, Sentosa Development Corporation and diverse business establishments in Sentosa have collectively launched the Sentosa Carbon Neutral Network, harnessing each other’s networks and knowledge as we transform Sentosa into a carbon neutral destination and a globally recognised sustainable tourism destination. Continue to invest in understanding consumers Ultimately, with the ups and downs in the trajectory of the pandemic, consumer perceptions and expectations will change. Businesses therefore need to continue adapting and investing in understanding consumers even better, so as to develop well-informed, insights-driven solutions. Such consumer insights provide a basis for businesses to rethink and redefine products and services, while identifying growth opportunities. With mass international travel resuming in fits and starts, it is also timely for leisure and tourism players to innovate, experiment, and seize new opportunities, to drive repeat visits and consumption among locals. Apart from pushing ahead with new developments on the island, Sentosa, for one, has rolled out an array of smaller-scale programmes – in view of restrictions on large-scale events – at more frequent intervals throughout the year. These range from intertidal walks and heritage tours, to a series of archery, yoga and Muay Thai by the beach experiences – which were fully booked within days. Among business establishments on the island, the Royal Albatross tall ship has also launched a cruise specially designed for dogs and their fur-parents, complete with customised meals, making it a world’s first. We have also seen the advent of “daycations” all across Singapore. Extending such new and refreshed experiences can help boost consumers’ curiosity, to entice more to venture out and explore what Sentosa and Singapore have to offer. If there is anything the pandemic has shown the tourism industry, it is that adaptability and being agile are fundamental to our sector’s survival. The recent challenges in Singapore’s reopening has signalled to us that the road to recovery will be a long and winding one. We must therefore continue to collaborate, innovate, and keep up with evolving consumer behaviours as we reimagine the future of travel and leisure together.