Ms Laura Gan was in the middle of her two-year posting to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) regional office in London when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
As borders closed and global tourism ground to a halt, she returned home in 2020. However, this unexpected detour would open doors in her career.
Laura was posted to the Strategic Planning & Incentive Policy team which formulates STB’s strategies to maintain Singapore’s vibrancy as a top tourist destination. One area is to reimagine the sector through the lens of sustainability.
“Sustainability is such a buzzword now,” says Laura. “But what is sustainability? How do you apply it in the context of your business? Sustainability goes beyond the environment; it also covers the social and the economic aspects.
“It’s about how to upskill the workforce in many different facets of sustainability – for example, if you have a marketing role, it’s about how you can effectively communicate your organisation’s key sustainability messaging in a way that the layperson can understand.”
The 30-year-old now leads a team as an assistant director at the Sustainable Tourism Office, created in 2022 to oversee and drive the implementation of STB’s sustainable tourism strategy.
Her team works horizontally across STB’s other teams, strategising on how to implement changes in the tourism sector in line with Singapore’s wider sustainability strategy.
This could mean getting tourism industries to develop sustainability roadmaps and strategies – relooking their waste and energy management practices.
“We must consider the entire consumer journey,” says Laura. “We don’t just want you to visit a sustainable attraction or stay in a sustainable hotel. It’s also about how you get there, what you eat, what you buy.”
In 2022, the strategic planning team launched the Tourism Sustainability Strategy as well as the Tourism Sustainability Programme. The three-pronged strategy covers destination development, industry development and a marketing plan.
“Our vision is to be a City in Nature, where large experiences come with small footprints,” she says.
Her team organised the inaugural Sustainable Tourism Dialogue in 2022, which had 200 attendees both in person and online. They sought to break out of industry silos and increase engagement between different tourism stakeholders and academia.
Since joining STB in 2015, Laura has had the chance to work on major projects such as the Orchard Road rejuvenation project and a string of high-profile campaigns to mark the Singapore Bicentennial in 2019.
One close to her heart was The Last Overland, which she worked on during her stint in the STB London office. It was a reverse recreation of the 1955 Oxford-Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, in which six university students drove more than 19,000km from London to Singapore in six months.
The 2019 team drove in the opposite direction from Singapore to London over 100 days.
“There were many challenges along the way, from team members taking ill on flag-off day to navigating challenging terrains with the original 1955 Oxford car,” she recalls.
“To bring this story full circle was such a nice way to link Singapore and the UK. It was an inspirational story of passion and strength, which truly epitomised STB’s brand, Passion Made Possible.”
Laura was awarded the STB full-term scholarship in 2011 to do an undergraduate degree in Statistics and Management at University College London, followed by a Master of Science in International Management at London School of Economics and Political Science.
The STB scholarship was the only one she applied for.
“The hospitality industry has always excited me,” she says. “I was always interested in discovering unique dining spots, attending new events and trying new concepts. STB was and still is the organisation that could make these things happen.”
“Showcasing what our little red dot has to offer and telling stories of Singapore always make me proud,” she says.
Transforming S’pore tourism with tech
During a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) internship, Mr Edwin Tan got to see first-hand how technology could transform and reinvent the tourist experience.
One of the projects he worked on with his team was to make use of augmented reality (AR) to come up with a storytelling game to reunite a lost fairy with her family in the sprawling Gardens by the Bay’s Floral Fantasy.
“The aim was to bring the guests on a magical journey,” says the 25-year-old.
From enhancing visitor experiences to streamlining booking processes, technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the tourism sector. Edwin describes, for example, the ways in which AR has been incorporated into tourism in Singapore – from more immersive exhibits to educational tours in hotels.
He predicts that in the future, some tour guides may even use the technology to provide personalised tours for visitors, which means that no two tourists would experience Singapore the same way.
“The future of AR in tourism is exciting,” he says.
Supplementing knowledge with skills
Edwin is a recipient of STB’s mid-term local scholarship which funded the final year of his Bachelor of Social Science (Economics and Psychology double major) as well as his Master of Science in Marketing Analytics and Insights, both at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
In addition, he also pursued a master’s degree to bolster his existing theoretical knowledge with practical skills so he could solve real-world problems. It was a chance to equip himself in preparation for a career within the digital economy.
Though STB is looking to attract various applicants from all majors, it is seeking, in particular, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) applicants to champion innovation within STB as well as drive technology transformation within the sector.
Of the various Groups in STB, scholars attached to the Technology Transformation Group during their internship will get to work closely with key industry stakeholders to accelerate their tech capabilities. The group responds to the growing significance of technology in tourism, be it in using data analytics to generate insights about consumers, enhancing digital engagement with visitors, and more.
This year, Edwin will be joining STB under the Management Associate Programme (MAP) which offers two job rotations each year.
Management associates go through a 12-month training period that includes an attachment to the Singapore Visitor Centre at orchardgateway and two 21-week divisional deployments within STB. They may also get the chance to drive national events such as the Singapore Food Festival and the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.
Beyond the MAP, officers like Edwin can look forward to a breadth of learning opportunities and experiences across many pillars of work, including the chance to join regional offices around the world. He is looking forward to this diversity of work experience.
“In five years, I see myself as a manager with a relatively good understanding of the tourism industry,” he says. “By then, I hope to have the opportunity to lead bigger projects that will attract greater footfall to Singapore.”
Turning passion into future projects
One passion project the avid gamer hopes to helm in the future is an e-sports event.
“It would be awesome for Singapore to host more international gaming events, such as the League of Legends World Championship,” says Edwin, who has been playing League of Legends since he was in secondary school.
Multiplayer game Dota 2 held its annual flagship tournament, The International, in Singapore for the first time in 2022, with STB’s support. In addition, the Olympic Esports Week will be coming to Singapore in June this year.
“Hosting major e-sports events can raise Singapore’s profile as a destination for tourism and business, which might translate to future visits and tourism spending in Singapore,” he says.
|About the STB scholarship|
The Singapore Tourism Board’s Scholarship programme supports undergraduates who seek diverse opportunities and dynamic careers. It includes training and development opportunities across the industry.
This article is brought to you by the Singapore Tourism Board.