The art of reimagination and reinvention

The pandemic travel freeze has sparked off a wave of innovation in Singapore’s tourism landscape as tour operators and hotels rush to pivot their offerings to lure local patrons, boosting the country’s destination attractiveness in the long run.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have dealt Singapore’s tourism industry a tough hand, with tight travel curbs over the past two years, but one silver lining has emerged from the crisis that may yield long-lasting benefits.

In a bid to increase local patronage to tide through the travel slump, great strides have been made by travel and hospitality players towards innovation of their tourism products.

The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, an immersive virtual experience directed by Singapore actor Hossan Leong and set in the Raffles Hotel Singapore, invites guests to explore the hotel’s grounds for clues to unravel the mystery

Tour operators have churned out creative offerings that provide unique, immersive and culturally-rich experiences. Think zipping around the city in a vintage Vespa sidecar to explore filming locations of the Crazy Rich Asians movie or visiting a traditional coffee roasting factory and watching craft masters work on paper making.

Local agency Tribe Tours gamified the tour experience in what it touts is the first-of-its-kind product in the local market with Chinatown Murders. The outdoor escape room game tour requires players to solve puzzles around the heritage district – an innovative tour format that has since been imitated by other operators.

Domestic response to the game tour has been “unexpectedly good”, according to founder Jason Loe, who attributed the warm reception likely to the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers scheme launched by the Singapore Tourism Board in December 2020 to stimulate domestic tourism in the absence of international travel.

The agency also hosts livestream tours, which pulls back the curtain on everything from food factories to disappearing trades in Singapore.

Loe told TTG Asia that they have been mulling over hybrid concepts and livestreaming tours even before the pandemic struck, but Covid-19 accelerated that pivot as “there was time to properly curate meaningful experiences and tap into new fields”.

Paranormal tours offered by Oriental Travel and Tours have also proved to be a hit among locals, which has led the operator to come up with more of such after-dark offerings, shared founder Stanley Foo.

The agency’s guided Creepy Tales of Singapore outing takes participants to spine-chilling locations such as the Bukit Brown Cemetery with over 100,000 tombs and a World War 2 battlefield to educate them on Singapore’s urban legends and history.

Meanwhile, hotels are also dialling up the novelty factor by offering experiential stay packages that allow guests to experience Singapore in unusual ways.

Raffles Hotel Singapore debuted its first-of-its-kind virtual interactive play, The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, set against the backdrop of the iconic grand dame. According to managing director, Christian Westbeld, the detective whodunit tale “exceeded expectations” and was “very well-received”, with guests “pleasantly surprised by this unexpected experience from a hotel”.

“We wanted to give guests the flexibility to enjoy this from the comfort of their homes wherever they are in the world or for local guests to experience the play in real life at the property itself – where the theatrical experience transcended the virtual realm in the form of a treasure hunt through exclusive daycation and staycation packages,” Westbeld explained.

Elsewhere, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore are luring guests with an array of unique experiences, including guided cultural tours around The Fullerton Heritage precinct, sustainability-themed tours at the Fullerton Farm where an array of fresh ingredients are grown, as well as culinary and cocktail-making workshops.

Singapore’s recent move to ease border controls with Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) forged with several countries signal a positive sign towards tourism recovery. As of end-December, the VTL scheme, which kicked off in September, allows quarantine-free travel for vaccinated travellers from 24 countries including the UK and the US.

Since news of the VTLs broke, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore have received enquiries and bookings from a mix of international travellers and Singaporeans who are returning primarily from the UK, the US and Australia, according to a spokesperson.

To cater to VTL travellers, both properties have rolled out the Experience Fullerton Hospitality package which includes daily breakfast for two, S$50 (US$37) dining credit and one-way limousine transfer for a minimum stay of three nights.

The package has seen “strong demand”, said the spokesperson, adding: “We expect many of these bookings to materialise in the first quarter of 2022, and we anticipate an uptick in bookings from VTL travellers as more VTLs are opened over the coming months.”

While the current spread of the new Omicron variant threatens to derail the muted inbound improvements, industry stakeholders remain cautiously optimistic on the country’s tourism outlook.

Loe reckoned: “We have built and cultivated a strong relationship with our local fans, so much so that they now look forward to our new tour launches. They have also become the ‘evangelists’ and word-of-mouth for Tribe’s experiences when their friends come back to Singapore.”

Association of Singapore Attractions’ chairman, Kevin Cheong, expressed hope that the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit displayed by tourism businesses will prevail beyond this current period. “We must keep this spirit alive to continually reinvent ourselves, refresh our experiential offerings and most of all, rejuvenate our products,” he said.

Sarah Wan, general manager, Singapore, Klook observed that travellers worldwide are increasingly seeking more hyper-local and authentic experiences.

She said: “The efforts to innovate and deepen offerings will start to bear fruit once cross-border travel resumes, paving the way for a wider range of offerings for overseas travellers when they return. This is a perfect opportunity for Singapore to showcase a different side, beyond the urban environment.”

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