SINGAPORE'S tourism industry is working on raising the bar as competition for the tourist dollar heats up in the region.
In the works is the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) 2020 Roadmap, a medium-term plan for the MICE sector, while a hotel industry expert panel was set up in February to advise the government and hoteliers on productivity-boosting strategies amid a tight labour market.
In addition, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S Iswaran yesterday announced a $15 million Association Development Fund - aimed at helping industry and precinct associations introduce initiatives to develop capabilities and engage visitors - at the Tourism Industry Conference 2014. The $15 million, which will be spread over three years, taps the $905 million Tourism Development Fund unveiled back in 2012.
In his speech, Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Trade & Industry, said: "We must focus on concepts, and creating distinctive software that can maximise the value we derive from the infrastructure we already have and continue to build, and also in order to differentiate Singapore from regional competition."
He added: "We also need to help Singaporeans acquire new capabilities and raise productivity so they can take on higher-value jobs that can support the tourism industry's growth."
This comes as other countries in the region invest in new tourist attractions to get a bigger slice of the growing tourism pie, which is being fuelled by rising travel demand and an emerging affluent middle class.
Business travel and MICE is another key area where the industry is trying to position itself for the future with the MICE 2020 Roadmap - a collaboration between MICE players and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) - which seeks to plug gaps and strengthen capabilities. The MICE 2020 Roadmap is expected to be completed in 3Q14.
"MICE 2020 is a renewed partnership intent to raise the game. We live in a very competitive world. Moving forward, clearly we cannot sit there doing what we used to do," said Singex chief executive Aloysius Arlando, adding that the industry needs to work together to figure out what the "next big thing" is.
Meanwhile, a seven-member hotel industry expert panel has been established to examine areas such as boosting industry productivity as well as redesigning processes.
According to panel member Allen Law - who heads the Park Hotel Group - one of the areas that the panel is considering is leveraging on research and development to create new-to-market technologies that would help hotels.
At the conference yesterday, STB chief Lionel Yeo stressed the need for hoteliers to make do with slower manpower growth, noting that many hotels are struggling with a manpower crunch given the low unemployment rate.
Mr Yeo said: "With even more hotel rooms coming onstream in the next few years, this situation will get worse if our industry does not transform. Based on our rough estimates, an additional shortfall of about 3,000 workers by 2017 is looming if we don't make adjustments. This is almost 10 per cent of the industry's current workforce."
Some existing hotels have already started changing the way they run to adapt to manpower constraints, while other upcoming properties plan to operate on business models more in tune with the current environment.
For instance, One Farrer Hotel and Spa, which opens its doors in July, is striving to work with 30 per cent less staff than the industry average. It will do this through new technologies and concepts, such as by doing without an actual physical restaurant while offering guests the choice of food available in the area.