Keith Tan, CEO
Keith Tan took over the reins of the Singapore Tourism Board just under a year ago. He joined STB from his role of deputy secretary of policy at the Ministry of Defence.
Tan joined the Singapore Tourism Board midway through its 2016-2020 travel marketing strategy, which focuses on stories, fans and channels.
What do you see as some of the best destination marketing campaigns in the past few years that have made the most of social media? Are there any that you wish you had thought of?
Tourism Ireland's "Fill your heart with Ireland" global campaign used technology to monitor the physiological responses of a couple visiting Ireland for the first time. It showcased the various sights and attractions in Ireland, as well as the couple’s authentic reactions and responses in a heartfelt and innovative manner.
Inspired By Iceland’s "Iceland Academy" rolled out a series of video tutorials on Icelandic culture. Tutorials ranged from fun and quirky topics such as taking selfies and hot tub etiquette to essentials such as packing warm.
I liked how these videos provided visitors with insider tips on traveling safely and responsibly.
In 2016, Sweden introduced its own phone number in "The Swedish Number" campaign, which connected callers from abroad with regular Swedes who had downloaded an app to participate.
The campaign went viral, with nearly 200,000 calls received from 190 countries. Through this innovative campaign, any Swede could become an ambassador for Sweden and share their views about their country through a candid phone conversation.
Singapore Tourism Board
What role do you believe tourist boards should be playing in the digital travel age? Does technology have any potential to shape the future of destination marketing organizations?
As a start, it’s important to note that National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) play different roles in each country.
For Singapore, the STB takes on key roles as promoter, planner, facilitator and regulator:
- As a promoter, we seek to increase the mind-share of Singapore in the minds of discerning international leisure and business travelers through a strong brand and innovative marketing.
- As a planner and facilitator, we plan ahead to help the tourism industry meet the challenges of the changing environment, and facilitate exchanges with partners from around the world to unlock new areas of growth.
- As regulator, we oversee hotels, travel agents and tourist guides in terms of licensing and standards, as well as review and update the relevant regulatory frameworks to ensure they remain relevant in the current business climate.
In all of these roles, we work with many other government agencies to ensure that we have appropriate and business-friendly regulatory frameworks and support structures to support our ambitions.
Technology and data are front and center of STB’s work, and it must become so for Singapore’s tourism industry.
Technology enables tourism organizations and industry stakeholders to better understand visitors’ travelling patterns and behaviors, and formulate a stronger strategy to engage visitors.
Keith Tan - Singapore Tourism Board
Technology enables tourism organizations and industry stakeholders to better understand visitors’ traveling patterns and behaviors, and formulate a stronger strategy to engage visitors.
Within STB, our officers are expected to be tech-savvy, be it using data analytics to gather consumer insights for marketing or using digital platforms and content to engage potential visitors.
For example, STB uses the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan) in our day-to-day work. Stan is a data analytics platform that leverages tourism-related data aggregated from both STB and the industry to derive insights about our visitors.
The aim is to allow users within STB and the tourism industry access to relevant and actionable data and insights, to help them formulate strategies.
STB also developed the Tourism Information and Services Hub, a first-of-its-kind open platform allowing any global business to freely contribute and access content and travel software services for use on their own digital channels. Access to this content enables them to shape a strong narrative about Destination Singapore.
The Visit Singapore app enables visitors to explore Singapore with greater ease and convenience, enhancing their experience by offering recommendations and customized itineraries.
Supporting the tourism industry in adopting technology and innovative solutions is a major priority for STB.
We hold various innovation challenges every year, and we have now set up the STB “Tech College” which aims to increase awareness and adoption of relevant technologies and digital tools by our tourism industry stakeholders so that they can become more user-centric and data-enabled.
What is your view on tourist boards acting as platforms for the sale of product - hotels, tours and activities... or, should they be purely about marketing a destination?
It is for each NTO to determine their role in the sale of tourism products based on its resources, strengths and mandates.
For the STB, we do not see a need to do so, as our market is robust and our tourism stakeholders are able to hold their own.
However, partnerships with tourism stakeholders are central to our work in growing the tourism industry and driving businesses forward, and we continue to be on the lookout for new ways to work with them.
How have the skills required for traditional destination marketing evolved since the advent of social media?
Traditional destination marketing tends to be brand or sales driven. In this digital age, NTOs have to engage travelers at every stage of the consumer journey from awareness to advocacy, and technology enables us to do so.
Technology allows us to identify specific audience segments, and deliver highly personalized and creative destination marketing based on demography and interests.
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Social media enables us to connect directly with potential travelers, and engage them in a personal manner. It also allows us to have frequent and timelier engagement.
By monitoring social media trends, we can see what people are talking about, and tap opportunities to start conversations about Singapore.
For example, when Samsung launched its Galaxy Fold mobile phone last year, we responded with a cheeky photo of Singapore’s ice-cream sandwich, which is also foldable and much cheaper. The post reached more than 140,000 people and received more than 4,000 responses on social media.
Keith Tan of Singapore Tourism Board will appear at WebInTravel 2019 in Singapore, October 14-16.
Do you see a place for influencers in destination marketing?
We choose and engage influencers carefully, preferring to work with influencers with authentic and compelling stories representative of our Passion Made Possible brand and our Passion Tribes’.
Collaborating with them allows us to reach out to a wider audience.
Many influencers are well-known for certain interests, whether food, adventure or nightlife, and we partner with them to show how these passions can be realized in Singapore.
For example, popular Thai food media influencers Wongnai are known to be foodies. As part of our partnership last year, Wongnai featured Singapore food on their site, Facebook and app, including an episode by the famous Wongnai duo that reached more than two million people.
There is currently a lot of talk about overtourism. Do you see it as a challenge in Singapore?
We do not see evidence of over-crowding due to tourism. On average, there are about 169,000 visitors in Singapore at any given time, which is a healthy ratio relative to the local population.
Our surveys have also shown us that most Singaporeans are not concerned about overtourism in Singapore.
The majority of our attractions are located in different districts in Singapore, which means visitors are well distributed across the island.
As visitors become increasingly discerning and seek more authentic local experiences, there are also tours that bring them to residential neighborhoods - or heartlands as we call them - and away from conventional tourist locations.
There is room for growth in Singapore, and one way we will continue to pursue this growth is through the rejuvenation of various precincts and attractions in Singapore.
Examples include ongoing initiatives to enhance Orchard Road as a lifestyle destination and to develop the Greater Southern Waterfront - an area that stretches from Gardens by the Bay east to Pasir Panjang - into a new district, with recreational offerings.
What is the greatest challenge your organization currently faces?
In the short term, we continue to closely monitor the softening of some of our key source markets. We are cautiously optimistic about our tourism performance, taking into consideration macro conditions such as potential geopolitical tensions that might affect consumer confidence and travel sentiments.
We want to continue to appeal to quality visitors in our key source markets. To do this, we need to strengthen and entrench the appeal of our tourism offerings to locals as well as visitors.
Finally, we want to work with the industry to overcome economy-wide labor constraints in Singapore, and ensure that the industry thrives and remains competitive despite these constraints.
You previously held roles in government departments including the Ministry for Defence. Have you been able to bring experience and learnings from those roles to your current position?
I have completed postings in the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Public Service Division.
These postings, which include almost six years in Ministry of Trade and Industry, where I was director of the Economics and Strategy Division and the Foreign Economic Policy Division, have prepared me well for my role at the Singapore Tourism Board.
Along the way, I have learned to work with different stakeholders and bring them together for a common purpose.
These skills are relevant to my current role, which requires close collaboration with stakeholders from various industries including business travel/MICE, hotels and retail.
In my previous job in the Ministry of Defence, I spent a lot of time on defense diplomacy - building and strengthening Singapore’s defense and security partnerships with different countries and organizations using a variety of tools (e.g., joint exercises and training, policy dialogues, high-level visits and so on).
There are very strong analogies to the work of tourism too.
For example, in STB, we want to build strong partnerships with many stakeholders in Singapore and around the world. Through these partnerships, we want the world to know certain things about Singapore - our attractiveness, vibrancy, culture, food, business-friendliness and so on.
What do you love about your current role?
I love Singapore and this job gives me endless opportunities to tell the world how great Singapore is!
Our work must ultimately showcase Singaporeans and their passions on a global stage, and tell their stories to the rest of the world.
We hope that these stories will inspire visitors to discover and deepen their own interests in Singapore. By bringing the world to Singapore, we also give Singaporeans opportunities to connect with the world.
This is something that STB cannot do alone, and we will continue to work with various stakeholders to tell the great Singapore story and make Singapore a more vibrant and exciting place for Singaporeans and visitors.
How did you book your last vacation?
I tend to book my vacations online, and directly with the hotel/airline/attraction/tourist guide.
What are your favorite apps when traveling?
TripAdvisor, Google Maps, Google Earth, Booking.com, Waze (if | am driving), Rome2rio, Spotify and Results (for on-the-road workouts).
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PhocusWire talks to leaders across the digital travel landscape.