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Transforming Singapore's tourism sector with AI

Samantha Chiew
Samantha Chiew • 7 min read
Transforming Singapore's tourism sector with AI
Wong: Moving forward, AI will allow businesses to create more immersive experiences and be more operationally efficient and sustainable, and generate higher revenues. Photo: Albert Chua/ The Edge Singapore
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A cornerstone of the local economy, the tourism industry stands at the cusp of a technological revolution. Embracing the global shift towards digital transformation, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to elevate its service standards and propel growth in the sector.

Even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global tourism sector has transformed. From personalised travel experiences to enhanced management of tourist destinations and streamlined customer service, AI has fundamentally altered how travellers plan, experience, and reminisce about their adventures worldwide.

In Singapore, AI technology plays an increasingly vital role in tourism. It enhances operational efficiency, streamlines business processes, and fuels revenue growth. As AI evolves, it becomes imperative for businesses in the tourism sector to embrace these technologies to stay competitive. AI meets the dynamic needs of travellers, offering a distinct edge in this fiercely competitive industry.

Wong Ming Fai, chief technology officer of STB, says: “It is important to integrate AI technology into operations, as such technology increases efficiency, helps tourism businesses streamline operations and drives revenue growth. The rapid evolution of AI technology has prompted businesses in the tourism sector to adopt AI solutions to stay competitive and relevant actively. Embracing AI innovations is imperative for businesses to meet the evolving needs of travellers and differentiate themselves in the market.”

Though the tourism sector traditionally relies on personalised physical interactions, Wong sees technology as opening new avenues to delight customers. Today, mobile apps and virtual and augmented reality offer immersive and interactive experiences, enhancing the memorability of travel adventures.

For instance, hotels and restaurants have increasingly introduced robots to enhance daily operations. Manpower constraint is a long-standing issue that has been prevalent for a long time, and robots help solve this problem by performing certain mundane tasks. This allows the human staff to better allocate their time to more significant tasks, such as providing warmer customer service. 

See also: Fitch sees Asian tourism rebounding to pre-Covid levels by 2025

The robots can provide faster response time and feature privacy-friendly acoustic sensors. Smart recirculation units (RCU) and energy-saving temperature-controlled devices also optimise energy usage.

Hotels are at the forefront of implementing AI solutions. Voice AI assistants, functioning as in-room concierges, offer guests a new level of convenience. These systems, available in multiple languages, use machine learning to improve service delivery, allowing guests to interact seamlessly with hotel services such as housekeeping.

“Moving forward, AI will allow businesses to create more immersive experiences and be more operationally efficient and sustainable, and generate higher revenues,” says Wong.

See also: Sats completes turnaround with better-than-expected FY2024

The business of AI

The integration of AI in tourism not only improves the customer experience but also drives operational efficiencies that can lead to significant cost savings. As STB continues to advocate for the adoption of AI, it positions itself as a key tech partner that local tourism businesses can rely on. 

“STB has always recognised the importance of adopting AI. When STB launched Tcube in early 2021, we knew that technology and transformation were imperative to survive and thrive then, especially in the new post-Covid environment,” says Wong. 

Wong joined STB in 2021 with a background in data and government technology, as he was previously the chief information officer at Enterprise Singapore. Apart from understanding the importance of technology in today’s business world, Wong is also familiar with the support needed and the challenges start-ups face. 

Tcube is a hybrid innovation space launched to help businesses in the tourism industry introduce AI into their operations. 

Under Tcube, tourism businesses can test solutions to solve pain points and open new opportunities. To facilitate this, the Singapore Tourism Accelerator sources for innovative technology solutions and has supported 58 start-ups to develop 73 industry solutions across seven cohorts as of March. 

Some examples include generative AI (GenAI)-powered multilingual chatbots to better engage with visitors from around the world and AI smart-scheduling solutions that focus on automation to manage productivity and manpower better. 

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Furthermore, STB has launched a suite of smart services that allow businesses to tap data and share content to drive innovation and guide their business decisions, such as the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan) and Tourism Information and Services Hub (TIH).

Stan is a data analytics platform developed by STB that allows tourism stakeholders to view visualisations and perform analysis on aggregated tourism-related data. It provides actionable insights into the city-state’s tourism landscape through data visualisation and aims to enhance stakeholders’ data analytics capabilities. Stan offers API-enabled datasets on various topics such as visitors, accommodations and attractions through a data marketplace, supplementing stakeholders’ analysis. It also features a private space and sandbox for data analysis, sharing and collaboration among tourism data partners to derive meaningful insights.

TIH, established by STB in 2018, is a comprehensive digital resource platform. It enables businesses to exchange and access pertinent information regarding Singapore’s tourism offerings. TIH features plug-and-play solutions such as a Recommendation Engine, Itinerary Planner, and a repository of over 3,200 listings and 14,000 media assets. Additionally, it offers free 3D models of the island’s unique food, landmarks and traditions for creating AR experiences. STB aims to further enhance the platform’s content and accessibility by integrating GenAI tools with TIH.

Tourism of tomorrow

Embracing AI, the city-state’s tourism sector is set to offer exceptional experiences, ensuring its global growth and relevance. Yet, Wong notes challenges for businesses in adopting AI, perhaps due to fear of diving into new tech. However, he emphasises that knowledge and awareness are crucial for integrating AI into business operations.

“Business owners should analyse their organisation internally and define the gaps they are facing and objectives before integrating AI into their operations. To start their journey, they can sign up for the Tourism Transformation Index (TXI) — a self-assessment tool which provides a holistic diagnosis of their organisation’s current state of digital transformation and targeted insights on the action they can take,” he says. 

Another step forward would be to leverage GenAI and the opportunity it presents to companies. “GenAI provides great potential, but ensuring its safe and responsible use is important. This involves having strong data protection and privacy policies, secure development practices, and using high-quality, unbiased data to reduce potential risks and inaccuracies in the results,” says Wong. 

He adds that when using GenAI applications, allocating resources to calibrate the outputs is crucial. Different models and techniques used to improve responses may vary in their ability to address specific use cases, so this must be factored into the project timeline.

To help tourism businesses search for tech solutions, STB partnered with IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform to bring the Tcube Tech Directory to IMDA’s Discovery Engine. The collaboration provides a resource for tourism companies to widen their search for innovative tech vendors and solutions to address their organisation’s pain points. 

This comprehensive platform offers diverse cutting-edge technologies, including AR/VR, Internet of Things and AI, to enhance business productivity, sustainability, and visitor experience. This enables tourism businesses to stay updated on the latest tech trends and discover recommendations to address various use cases.

Looking ahead, Wong is optimistic about AI’s ability to alleviate various pain points in travellers’ journeys while revealing new business opportunities. These include providing 24-hour customer engagement and guest hospitality management, offering targeted content recommendations, ads, and dynamic pricing to enhance revenue growth, overcoming language barriers with instant (voice) translations, and introducing new and immersive experiences.

On a personal note, Wong is excited about the development of wearables like smart glasses. “These devices will enable travellers to converse with AI travel assistants for recommendations and relevant information more seamlessly. For example, instead of taking out the phone to look at its display, the traveller can instantly see the information on his smart glasses or hear it via the speakers.  The traveller can also speak to his AI travel assistant without the need to take out his phone,” he says. 

With technology like this, it will feel like you are travelling with a seasoned tour guide who is always on hand.


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