Singapore to pump extra S$68.5m into tourism fund to support sector: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE will raise the pot for its Tourism Development Fund (TDF) to support the sector amid near-term headwinds.

The latest S$68.5 million top-up comes on continued "targeted support" for "quality tourism enterprises", Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) Tourism Industry Conference on Wednesday.

"In the near term, there will still be headwinds. But we remain committed to supporting our tourism sector, to help our businesses and workers build new capabilities and break new ground," he said.

Key grants under the fund will also see higher support levels continue until end-March 2022, after last year's Resilience Budget raised the maximum support level for certain qualifying costs.

Set up in 2005, the TDF has a mandate to grow tourism receipts, visitor arrivals and service sector jobs. The size of its most recent five-year tranche now stands at S$848.5 million - including the latest top-up and an earlier round in 2020, as well as the original S$700 million earmarked in 2016.

Initiatives supported by the TDF include the Experience Step-Up Fund; the Kickstart Fund to test innovative lifestyle concepts; and the Training Industry Professionals in Tourism grant, which covers part of the cost of sending employees for tourism-related skills upgrading.

Meanwhile, the STB will launch a Tourism Sector Capability Development Roadmap this year to meet the fresh demands on the workforce from Covid-19, said chief executive Keith Tan.

The skills plan aims to build skills needed to support travel during the pandemic, such as how to develop end-to-end safe itinerary experiences for groups.

The STB will work with the National Trades Union Congress to develop the roadmap, which is also supported by the Alliance for Action in Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences under the national Emerging Stronger Taskforce.

Still, Mr Chan noted that tourism already faced disruption, even before the pandemic. As such, he called on the sector to tap opportunities from a rising focus on sustainability, such as "enabling businesses from around the world to launch first-to-market solutions and innovations".

Technology also offers the ability to reinvent tourist experiences, he added, citing mobile applications, virtual or augmented reality and remote interactions as some changes.

Besides these trends, the STB's Mr Tan stressed that Singapore could become a holistic wellness destination, with potential tie-ups between tourism businesses and wellness brands.

To help businesses test their ideas, the Singapore Tourism Accelerator incubator programme will run for two more years, until September 2023, Mr Tan added. The scheme, introduced in 2019, has supported 21 startups to develop 35 solutions for the travel and tourism industry and will now include sustainability in its mandate, such as solutions for waste reduction and energy efficiency at tourism properties.

Other fresh efforts by the STB include an innovation space for businesses to test and scale digital transformation plans. It was announced last year as "ThreeHouse" and launched on Wednesday as the Tourism Technology Transformation Cube, or "Tcube".

"To me, the challenge is quite clear," said Mr Tan, urging Singapore's "forward-looking, hungry, digitally-savvy tourism companies" to seek and develop innovative and promising solutions.

Said Mr Chan: "The challenge that lies ahead is not recovery within this year, or even next year, but how Singapore will prepare for long-term success, and reinvent global travel."