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Singapore is already laying out plans for tourism recovery following the coronavirus, even if the country remains mired in a deepening crisis that threatens to tip the country into recession this year.

The Singapore Tourism Board this week revealed more details on the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force, a public-private cooperation group set up to develop and implement strategies to aid the tourism industry and position the country for recovery.

In a showing of broad support from the local tourism, hospitality, business events, and retail sectors, the task force enlists leaders from industry bodies from the national marketing organization itself as well as the Singapore Hotel Association, Changi Airport Group, Resorts World Sentosa and National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, among others.

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The joint task force will prioritize work on the four areas of restoring confidence and providing assurance to Singaporeans and foreign visitors; rallying stakeholders in their sectors to participate in and support recovery efforts; building the tourism sector’s capabilities and identifying opportunities amid the current situation; and developing a recovery strategy that differentiates Singapore from its competitors.

Cooperation, not competition

The task force is “intended to spur the industry stakeholders to work together as partners rather than as competitors”, Singapore Tourism Board Chief Executive Keith Tan told Skift. “Through (the task force), they have already started to share some cross-cutting best practices applicable to different segments of the tourism industry.”

Industry heads have been galvanized to put up a coordinated front to overcome the crisis, said Aloysius Arlando, president of Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers and who is also a member of the task force.

The task force “is a public-private partnership in true Singapore fashion, recognizing that we are all in this together,” he said. “The fast-evolving situation calls for us to work together and keep the workforce meaningfully engaged while keeping our heads afloat, so that we can look at recovery and prepare for the upturn when it comes.”

More details about the task force’s work will be unveiled in the coming days, but Tan stressed that they will have “a strong bias to action”, and good ideas from the task force will be fed into the tourism board-led campaigns and strategies throughout the year.

The latest efforts come on top of the initial relief measures the tourism board has announced in early February to assist the hard-hit tourism and hospitality businesses.

Plugging gaps

What Singapore can do meanwhile, said industry leaders, is to put its focus on providing support to people employed in tourism, which is estimated to support at least 164,000 jobs in the country.

“We are also providing more comprehensive job support that was not available in 2003 [SARS period], such as wage support for tourist guides during this tough time,” said Tan.

“SkillsFuture Singapore [a government-led online portal on training and career guidance] will also be providing enhanced training support for the tourism sector, with enhanced absentee payroll and course fee support for tourism businesses that send their staff on selected training programs,” he added.

“Through this, we hope to encourage businesses to retain and retrain their employees during this lull period, so that they are positioned to capture growth in the recovery stage,” said Tan.

The Singapore conventions group is also leveraging the strong government assistance to roll out several business clinics for its members, a majority of which are small- and medium-sized enterprises, to make sense and mitigate the fallouts of the evolving coronavirus situation on their business, said Arlando.

The educational sessions range from enterprise risk management and cash flow management to understanding the legal considerations during crises, topics that would be useful to “keep ourselves afloat” amid the challenging time, he added.

“The situation exposes gaps in the sector’s understanding of and operational readiness during crises, so we’re looking at how to plug them and strengthen them,” said Arlando. “The industry may have been a bit too dependent on standard templates, so the crisis we’re going through now will help to raise our consciousness level. This is the opportunity that this crisis presents.”

Others like Pan Pacific Hotel Group is using the current downtime to renovate its hotels and “retool and reskill” its staff, said Choe Peng Sum, CEO of Pan Pacific Hotels Group. Parkroyal on Kitchener Road, for instance, has redesigned some jobs and processes, and retrained its people to be multi-skilled, making them more easily deployable to take on new or complementary roles.

Such productivity initiatives have found support from various government agencies including the Singapore Tourism Board, which have pledged grants for their full deployment, he shared.

No room for complacency

For now, Singapore’s travel business leaders is aware that the crisis is far from over, even if the spread of the virus appears to be contained within the city-state for the time being.

As mounting cases in new epicenters outside of Asia heighten global consciousness of coronavirus, Arlando said the sector should brace itself for the “second wave of impact” from corporate companies imposing bans on employee travel, compounding fallouts arising from the first wave of travel bans installed by governments.

Cautioning the tourism sector against giving in to complacency, Arlando expressed, “The only way to be in control is to make sure measures and protocol are in place, so that we can keep the heart beating for the industry.”

Photo Credit: Singapore’s efficient and forward-looking response to the crisis could be a playbook for other destinations looking at tourism recovery. Singapore Tourism Board