We’re living in a time where travelling has become a luxury; where business and consumer behaviour have been thoroughly disrupted. While no sector has been spared, the tourism sector, in particular, has had to put on its creative hat and quickly experiment with new ways to adapt to the demands of both overseas and local consumers. Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has demonstrated tremendous agility in that regard.
To find out more, we invited Lynette Pang, STB’s Assistant Chief Executive (Marketing Group) to shed some light on how STB crafted its response to this unprecedented situation, how it approached and implemented the shift to virtual/hybrid events, and what the future of the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions (MICE) industry could look like.
LinkedIn: Tell us, what were the biggest challenges you and your team faced in light of the pandemic?
Lynette: Dealing with the unknown. In the early days of the outbreak, very little was understood about the virus, and how long or deep its impact would be felt on travel and tourism. That was why we leant on our experience from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003—we engaged the industry early to draw up response plans and introduced a national cleanliness certification programme called SG Clean to raise hygiene standards and consumer confidence.
On the marketing front, we quickly realised that the recovery was going to be uneven and volatile across different markets. That was when we devised principles to allow freedom within our marketing framework, in a manner that is cogent but flexible. That was a big learning for us and we’re still learning.
LinkedIn: STB’s product is Singapore, essentially. In a time when travelling is discouraged, how is STB pivoting to ensure that Singapore, as a brand, stays top of mind?
Lynette: There are opportunities to seize, even during a crisis. In Singapore, we see this as a chance to reset and revive our tourism sector in ways that we never imagined were possible even a year ago.
We have embarked on the journey to reimagine the future of travel through our new initiative called SingapoReimagine. Through this platform, we hope to share Singapore’s experience and spark global conversations, ideas and stories on the future of travel. We are also engaging our passionate local tourism community, to co-create this new path for Singapore tourism.
Over the last ten months, we’ve also seen an opportunity to bring the Singapore experience to a wider audience. To build that desire to visit Singapore when the time comes, we worked with our partners to create virtual experiences that are both immersive and entertaining. Some examples include our first virtual edition of the Singapore Food Festival, virtual parties hosted by our iconic nightclub Zouk across different time zones and even a 360-degree virtual tour of our famous shopping street Orchard Road during its annual Christmas light-up.
Our audiences are consuming a massive amount of content during this period. Apart from producing our own content to appeal to their various interests, we have also empowered others through our SG Stories Content Fund. We set aside S$2 million for creators to tell compelling stories about our destination and our passions, and we’re very proud of some of the work that they have produced.
LinkedIn: The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) market is disrupted, but it’s also an opportunity to evolve. The first pilot of a MICE event with hybrid virtual components has been launched under STB’s Safe Business Events Framework, demonstrating what could be the new norm. What are your thoughts on the future of MICE and virtual/hybrid events?
Lynette: We were absolutely thrilled when TravelRevive was launched last month (25–26 Nov). It was the first major international travel tradeshow to take place physically in Asia Pacific during COVID-19, with close to 1,000 local and foreign attendees and visitors onsite. Our goal was to provide a seamless end-to-end experience that was both safe and meaningful, especially for our foreign delegates.
This required a lot of planning and solutioning across different parts of their journey – from before they depart for Singapore and their experience on the showfloor, to their meetings and after-hours itineraries.
This was only possible with the close partnership we had with our tourism stakeholders. Working with partners like Messe Berlin (Singapore) and their partners such as Pico and Gevme GSI, we prototyped solutions such as automated registration kiosks, plexi-glass shields in exhibition booths and meeting pods, as well as contact tracing tools that allow us to manage visitor flow and study movement patterns.
We hope that the success and learnings from TravelRevive will pave the way for other international tradeshows to take place in Singapore in the first quarter of 2021. We will also continue to explore innovative prototypes, as well as adapt existing protocols to ensure that MICE events are conducted safely.
Our goal is to provide a meaningful platform for international delegates and businesses to exchange ideas, bridge knowledge gaps, and reimagine how business events can take place in a safe, trusted and innovative manner. It also gives us a glimpse of how the future of MICE events will look like in a post-COVID world.
LinkedIn: What advice do you have for marketers who are at different stages of their own transformational journey?
Lynette: Don’t be afraid to try new channels and formats, but don’t forget what your brand stands for. Many of us are rushing into experiential marketing, virtual reality and pandemic-related content to connect with consumers, but they must be authentic and be based on true insights.
I also encourage all of us to be open and embrace working with different types of creative partners. It could be an entrepreneur who set up a pancake shop, or a fledgling skateboarder – each can tell an interesting story in a different way, and we should be open to that.
Another thing I’ve learned is to be flexible with the creative process. We are usually very particular about a good brief, but this pandemic has taught us that there needs to be some freedom within the framework where there can be more casual conversations, and more brainstorming to get something out fast. Creativity doesn’t belong to a single team or agency – it can come from different parts of the marketing ecosystem.
LinkedIn: What do you think is the most important skill marketers need to have to thrive in the new norm? And how are you leading your team through the uncertainty?
Lynette: The business models in many of our companies and organisations are undergoing a fundamental change, and marketing has an important seat at the table to drive this change and connect different parts of the business. After all, no one knows the customer better than marketers do.
As CMOs, our job is to lead by example – every campaign we launch and every segment we target must be driven by real customer insights, be true to our brand, and yet sensitive to the current situation in each market. Marketing sets the tone for how consumers perceive our business. But to be truly customer-centric in the new COVID-19 world, marketers, technologists and product teams must work more closely together than ever.
In terms of skills, the ability to adapt and think on your feet is at the top of my list. This pandemic has accelerated the need to relook old formulas, forge new partnerships outside of our traditional sectors, and create solutions to unlock new possibilities. The situation will continue to change rapidly, but if we continue to listen to our customers and remain agile, I am confident that we will all emerge stronger and better.
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