Hospitality industry should make use of downtime to upskill and retrain: SkillsFuture CEO

SINGAPORE – Instead of a typical art tour with participants tagging behind a guide, those who went for an augmented reality art tour at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore last year were able to interact with the exhibitions by scanning a QR code.

The use of computer graphics to enhance real-world objects saw art pieces by well-known artists like Frank Stella come alive with just the use of a mobile phone.

Amid such changes to tourist experiences, tourism and hospitality businesses should make use of the downtime in travel to retrain and reskill its workers to embrace technology, chief executive of SkillsFuture Singapore Ong Tze-Ch’in said at a virtual global hospitality conference on Thursday (June 3).

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the travel industry. Visitor arrivals to Singapore plummeted to 2.7 million last year, the lowest in about four decades and about a 85 per cent drop from the 19.1 million arrivals in 2019.

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Council for Hotels, Restaurants and Institutional Educators Conference, organised by hospitality school Shatec, Mr Ong said the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated several known mega-trends, such as digitalisation.

The new requirements on the sector, such as the emphasis on safety, has led to contactless experiences, with hotels automating their check-in processes or using robots to deliver food or provide cleaning services.

Mr Ong said: “Workers need to embrace the use of technology much more, as they learn how to continue operating in a Covid-19 environment. Hence, investment in skills upgrading and training during this downtime is critical, as we seek to enable the industry to emerge stronger and transformed in the new normal.”

Tourism businesses are also partnering with technology companies to enhance or reinvent tourism experiences, said Singapore Tourism Board (STB) chief technology officer Wong Ming Fai at the conference, adding that consumers are likely to have a greater preference for digital solutions after the pandemic.

More than 30 hotels are moving to STB’s E-Visitor Authentication System by the end of this year. The system, launched in 2019, uses facial recognition to authenticate a guest’s identity and simplifies the check-in process.

Apart from building digital capabilities, the sector should also grab this opportunity to test and scale up its new tourism offerings, Mr Wong added.

He cited examples such as the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2020, which managed to continue after it pivoted to a hybrid format with augmented reality running routes. Of the 13,000 runners in the marathon’s grand finale, 37 per cent were from overseas.

Technologies such as 5G, robotics, artificial intelligence, and extended reality like virtual and augmented reality, will all change the way people travel, Mr Wong said.


More than 30 hotels are moving to STB’s E-Visitor Authentication system by the end of 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

Responding to a question from the audience about the potential cost of investing in such technology, Mr Wong said some tour companies have used off-the-shelf consumer products, such as mobile phones, selfie sticks or basic cameras, to enhance their offerings.

He added:”Some of these are more low-cost investments, while some might require a bit more, but it brings about new revenue in a time where revenue might be low.”

Various resources, such as STB’s Tourism Information & Services Hub, also allow businesses to contribute and access content for use on digital channels, Mr Wong noted.

For example, application developers can tap ready travel software services to develop immersive experiences for customers in the travel industry.

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