The board inked multi-year partnerships with four major Chinese digital players yesterday (Oct 22) at a Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) signing ceremony hosted on the sidelines of travel trade show ITB Asia, currently taking place in Singapore.
The MoUs will see online travel services Alitrip and Tuniu, and social review sites Dianping and Mafengwo, curate and distribute compelling content on Singapore’s destination offerings over a period of two to three years.
The partnerships will enable STB to engage these digital-savvy visitors at various junctures, from attracting them to visit Singapore, to delivering an enhanced visitor experience here, and encouraging them to share their experiences post-trip.
During his opening remarks, STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said the digital and mobile revolution has drastically changed the way visitors research and consume travel products.
“It underscores how we must stay ahead of the curve to adapt to the changing needs of our visitors,” he said. “Only by doing so are we able to ensure Singapore remains top-of-mind as a destination. Visitor-centric experiences and marketing are both integral to our drive towards Quality Tourism; this expansion of digital services for China is a strong illustration of our commitment.”
These moves will allow STB to extend its digital presence in the important key-source market of China, which has seen a surge in the number of Free and Independent Travellers (FIT) and the proliferation of mobile usage to search for travel information.
Visitors from China are Singapore’s second-largest contributor of international visitor arrivals (1.7 million) and SG$2.6 billion (US$1.86 billion) in tourism receipts in 2014.
For 2015, the number of China visitor arrivals for January to August has increased by 19 percent year-on-year to 1,462,974.
The event also saw the launch of the new YourSingapore WeChat Service account and Baidu Connect service to provide in-destination mobile services for Chinese visitors to the island nation.
The initiatives are also expected to amplify STB’s current digital marketing efforts for China, which include STB Weibo (440,000 fans) and WeChat Subscription3 (76,000 followers) accounts, and collaborations with video portals such as Youku (11 million views for STB-commissioned micro-movies) to push out Singapore content.
Edward Chew, regional director (Greater China), STB decline to share any details on budgets or much it is spending on its expanded digital push but Chew said that it was “within the realm of past investment history”.
Asked about where Singapore ranked on the list of preferred destinations by Chinese visitors, Chew said that there any many lists done but pointed to an annual consumer satisfaction survey conducted by the China Travel Academy.
“Singapore has consistently ranked very high on satisfaction,” he said, “China is a huge market but it’s not a numbers game for us, at the end of the day it’s about travellers having the best experience in Singapore and wanting to come back.”
Chew said that with the rise of Chinese FIT visitors in recent years, there is a need for comprehensive information for trip planning.
“They also desire real-time useful tips, navigation, payment and translation tools to explore a destination independently,” he added. “I am thus excited to work with some of the most influential Chinese digital players in the market currently to provide innovative content and services for the Chinese visitors.”
“This includes driving awareness and conversion for Singapore pre-trip, to equipping the visitors with necessary tools to explore Singapore with ease, and sharing their experiences with the online community thereafter,” he added.
Chew described China’s digital landscape as “unique”, and said the board is “definitely keen” to work with even more local digital players in the near future to further widen STB’s digital footprint in the country.
Another driver behind STB’s digital investment is the growth driven by Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in China. Outbound travel in China is expected to reach 200 million by 2020, double the 100 million who left China in 2013, and tourist spend is also expected to triple.
“In this situation, how do we connect with these potential visitors across China? To tap a market with multiple growth centres?” Chew said. “The traditional model would see us working with travel agencies in different cities and buying ads in multiple cities but the internet revolution allows gives us a unique opportunity.”
He added by working with its digital partners in China, it enables reach across hundreds of cities, the option to customise travel products, get them online and instantly find out what traveller preferences are.
Singapore’s tourism industry players are also expected to benefit from these digital partnerships with increased exposure to their product offerings in the Chinese market.
Yeo said that navigating and marketing in China’s digital landscape, is not an endeavours that STB can embark on alone, and must be done with industry players.
“It’s not enough for STB alone to be on these platforms, we must bring along the industry with us,” he added. “We have an integrated digital framework in place and need them to help tell that compelling story of Singapore.”
Attractions such as River Safari and Gardens by the Bay will be featured in the new YourSingapore WeChat account, while the offerings of Sentosa-HarbourFront precinct will be detailed in the new Baidu Connect service. More precincts and attractions will be added to these two platforms at a later date, according to Chew.
Khoo Shao Tze, chairman of Sentosa-HarbourFront Business Association said participation in STB’s continued expansion into the Chinese digital marketing landscape opens up many opportunities.
“Chinese visitors will be able to discover the many hidden gems of the Sentosa-HarbourFront precinct easily through the YourSingapore Baidu Connect service,” he said “This platform will open doors of opportunities for the businesses and attractions of the precinct to connect with the Chinese visitors and deliver in- depth experiences and storytelling services to them.”
STB will also continue to conduct its regular trade marketing workshops with the local industry to raise awareness of the various digital marketing platforms available.
In addition, industry players are encouraged to leverage the SG$10 million (US$7.17 million) Experience Step-Up Fund (ESF) under its Tourism Product Development Scheme.
Launched in August, the fund aims to encourage businesses to develop new tourism experiences that will enhance overall visitor experience and satisfaction in Singapore.