STB's chief technology officer Quek Choon Yang: "We have rolled out a series of initiatives under each pillar to make digital transformation easier and more cost-effective for companies." Credit: Raymond Toh
SINGAPORE - Digital transformation in the MICE industry is something that is foremost on the mind of Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) chief technology officer, Mr Quek Choon Yang. He shared his views on how STB is working with industry partners to come through this crisis and re-emerge to take on the challenges ahead.
Areas of digitisation to adopt
Travellers are likely to come out of the pandemic with a heightened sense of hygiene, both personal and environmental. As we aim for recovery and prepare for a 'new normal' in travel, now is the best time for companies in our industry to adopt new technologies to address travellers' demands.
A few important areas for the MICE sector include:
• Contactless interfaces/interactions where possible, which could include more voice interfaces and fewer touch screens
• Seamless admission processes at events to avoid queues and congregations at the entrances
• Augmented and virtual reality solutions to enhance the show experience and deliver highly personalised and compelling on-demand content to delegates and visitors
• Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and services to capture, track and analyse visitor and delegate data in real-time.
For example, Delight Labs, a Hong Kong based start-up from the Singapore Tourism Accelerator's first cohort, developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) voice assistant solution enabling businesses to provide on-demand information and services in various languages, across all major voice and messaging platforms. The Singapore Tourism Accelerator is a highly-selective programme for promising tech startups or pre-scaleups that can power the travel and tourism industry. Delight Labs is in talks with MICE partners to explore how their AI assistants and chatbots can help to answer attendees' questions.
In our engagement with the tourism industry, we realised businesses tend to ask us three key questions regarding digital transformation:
• How can I start learning more about myself and what's out there?
• How can I put my concepts/ideas to test?
• How can I leverage a community that is bigger than myself?
This is why we have structured our initiatives in a Learn-Test-Build model: to help businesses learn more about themselves, test their concepts or ideas, and build solutions that last and meet customers' needs. We have rolled out a series of initiatives under each pillar to make digital transformation easier and more cost-effective for companies.
The aim of the Learn-Test-Build framework is to help tourism businesses in Singapore build capabilities to succeed in the digital age. With COVID-19, this framework has also become critical in helping businesses build resilience and position themselves for recovery.
With the MICE sector heavily hit by event postponements and cancellations, event organisers and owners should look to innovate new services and solutions to address the "new-normal" and prepare for recovery.
Identifying areas of intervention
Part of the "Learn" pillar, the Tourism Transformation Index (TXI) is a self-diagnostic tool for companies to assess their strengths, identify areas of opportunity and garner recommendations on next steps to take in their digital transformation journey.
Businesses can tap on TXI to get a holistic understanding of their current state of transformation and map out their potential next steps. The tool provides a holistic measure of the business's current state of transformation across six domains: leadership and organisation, process and operations, customer, innovation, technology and data.
On STB's end, this is an important first step that will allow us to identify areas of intervention for our stakeholders. TXI will be launched in Q2 2020.
Companies can also enroll themselves in STB Tech College to use this downtime and learn about how other firms accomplished their transformation plans. We launched the first set of Tech College foundational modules for decision makers with the Singapore Management University in January 2020.
The first two runs have trained over 30 industry leaders to take on the challenges of being innovation champions in their companies.
Think big, start small, scale fast
As part of the "Test" pillar, we are creating platforms for tourism stakeholders to test their ideas, with the opening of a co-innovation space in STB later this year called ThreeHouse. Companies can collaborate with one another or with us, workshop and prototype new ideas and solutions here.
In innovation circles, there's a common adage: "think big, start small, scale fast". With ThreeHouse, we want to support companies to ideate and come up with a minimal viable product that can be quickly tested in the marketplace. Where necessary, we are prepared to pilot new ideas that may not be fully compliant with our existing policies.
If successful, we will help companies scale up the idea onto a bigger platform. Co-located with the Singapore Tourism Accelerator, we hope that ThreeHouse will also draw on the best ideas from innovative start-ups around the world in the Accelerator to ideate new solutions to pressing problems.
Information is power
To ensure that they are able to maintain their international digital presence, businesses can make use of the Tourism Information and Services Hub (TIH), an integrated open platform where businesses can contribute and access travel-related content and services for use on their own digital platforms.
TIH has had wide support from the industry, with close to 3,000 businesses from over 80 countries signing up, including CTrip/Trip.com and Changi Recommends.
Offerings listed on TIH may be put up on STB channels such as the Visit Singapore Travel Guide App, hence increasing businesses' opportunities for exposure.
With TIH, businesses can increase the discoverability of their offerings to non-English speaking travellers by leveraging TIH's translation service to contribute information in Korean, Chinese and Japanese (available in the second half of 2020)
For the "Build" pillar, we have a number of software services to help companies accelerate their implementation. This includes the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan), which has been made available to the industry for the first time. Via Stan, MICE industry partners can access updated tourism statistics and exchange data, which will help their recovery planning. Stan provides access to 10 years' worth of visitor arrival data, broken down by market, region, visitor profile and mode of arrival.
STB will conduct an industry-wide capability upskilling programme and engage stakeholders, including hotels, attractions, MICE companies and travel agencies, on how to adopt Stan and use data analytics in their work. With Stan, businesses will be able to identify where the pockets of opportunities are once the tourism industry shows signs of recovery.
We are cognizant that certain sectors and certain source markets will recover quicker than others. Hence, Stan's ability to analyse data will be especially important in planning for recovery.
Other tools available to companies are:
• the Visit Singapore Account which helps companies convert anonymous visitors into identified customers to facilitate data sharing while being fully compliant with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
• the Visit Singapore Pass, a whole-of-Singapore pass that allows visitors to discover, purchase and enter any event or attraction using the same pass.
Tips for the future
In the short term, with global air travel and tourism at a standstill, it is essential for tourism businesses to maintain their international presence digitally - even if their customers are not here, and build demand for when the market recovers.
It is important for companies to be able to market and sell their services digitally, and do it well. Additionally, tourism businesses should leverage this downtime to accelerate their plans for digital transformation so that they can be in a position of competitive strength when the market recovers.
Hence it is important for tourism businesses to build trust with consumers, provide safety for visitors and be able to influence consumer choices. To survive and even thrive in this new normal, businesses need to be armed with the right data, insights and ability to test and scale new products fast.