As the country prepares to reopen its borders for travel, it needs to work towards managing risks instead of eliminating them entirely, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Speaking at the TravelRevive trade show on Wednesday (24 November), Mr Chan said: “Shutting ourselves off from the world is not an option.”
This, he explained, is because Singapore is “unable to tap on a large local population or domestic travel to sustain our tourism sector”.
Noting that it is not realistic to expect all risks to be eliminated before reopening, Mr Chan said that it would be far more productive to learn how to manage these risks which would put Singapore “in good stead” as there is no knowing what the next crisis might be.
While the global pandemic has been “especially hard-hitting” for countries that don’t have a large domestic market, the outbreak has given countries such as Singapore the impetus to reinvent themselves, said Mr Chan.
“We are not waiting for the vaccine to arrive. Nor are we waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to blow over. Instead, we are establishing the foundations now and getting started on the journey to reinvent and rebuild the industry,” he added.
Even after COVID-19, global travel will never be the same, stressed the minister.
However, he added that changes to how people travel and how events are conducted were already in motion before the pandemic.
Digitalisation has pushed many businesses to revaluate the need for routine travel.
This, he said, is on top of the general move towards sustainability has led to many travellers seeking greener methods of fulfilling their desire for new experiences.
What the pandemic has done is accelerate this move towards digitalisation and sustainability, now with the added need for health security, he said, “over and above physical security and comfort”.
“Therein lies the opportunity for us all,” said Mr Chan.
Countries that are able to ensure visitors’ health security “in a faster and better way will gain a competitive advantage”, said the minister.
Singapore, in turn, recognises this and has every intention to be amongst the leading lights in this area, said Mr Chan.
“If any country in the world has the incentive and the drive to get the formula for reinvention right, Singapore must be one of the front-runners,” he stressed.
Aside from the safe resumption of travel, Mr Chan said Singapore will also “lead the reinvention” of global travel, especially in the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry.
This includes — but is not limited to — implementing safe travel and even protocols such as pre-departure and on-arrival COVID-19 tests, contact tracing under the TraceTogether system, and the recently launched Event Industry Resilience Roadmap.
The trade show Mr Chan spoke at, TravelRevive, is in fact the first major international travel trade show in Asia Pacific since COVID-19 broke out.
The event is a trial of the new hybrid trade show prototype for safe business events.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Wednesday that close to 1,000 local and international attendees will be at the event, with crowd density controls and safety measures in place.
Aside from events, Mr Chan also said that the government will also support the travel industry in “reimagining the entire visitor experience”, explaining that the Changi Airport Group has developed an online tool—the Safe Travel Concierge—to help travellers manage their visits by customising a pre-entry checklist before they enter Singapore.
“We are doing all this not just to return to the previous status quo. We are going to … bring new players together, set new standards for the industry and to develop a whole new experience for people to come to Singapore for leisure, for MICE and for business,” he said.
Netizens worry about risk management
Many netizens commenting on the CNA Facebook page do not seem to be enthusiastic about the reopening of Singapore’s borders for travel.
Some worry about how well risks can be managed.
One person worries about the risk of travellers bringing in the virus and spreading it within the local community.
They also questioned whether Singapore’s hospitals have the capacity to deal with a new wave of outbreaks.
Another person questioned the cost of trade offs between reviving the tourism sector and the health of the public if borders are opened prematurely.
A couple of netizens pointed out that it might be better to err on the side of caution and lean on the nation’s reserves instead of pursuing economical growth in these dangerous times.