Super trees in Singapore with illustrated lines and clouds

What Big Tourism Destinations Can Learn from the Singapore Tourism Board

The city's response to the pandemic offers a framework that can be emulated

More than 50 years since Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew revealed to The Straits Times “a two-stage plan, which will transform Singapore into ‘a beautiful garden city with flowers and trees, without waste and as neat and orderly as possible,’” the city has deservedly earned its reputation as the world’s greenest. Their four-tap water system provides diversified and sustainable natural water resources across the nation, while in 2015, the city announced plans to become a Zero Waste Nation. And that’s not to mention that MIT’s Treepedia ranked Singapore as one of the top three cities with the most number of trees in its Green View Index.

But it is not just the city’s eco-conscious and green initiatives that provide lessons for other big tourism destinations to learn from. The Singapore Tourism Board’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic—which includes initiatives like the SG Clean campaign and CruiseSafe certification program that promote the health and safety of the city’s residents while also supporting the local tourism industry—offers a valuable framework that is to be emulated, too.

Photos from around Singapore
Photos: Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board; Illustrations: TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota 

The SG Clean quality mark, part of the National Environment Agency’s SG Clean campaign, is given to businesses, organizations, and industries who have met standard hygiene and sanitation practices. These premises, which include airports, hotels, hawker centers, arts venues, coffee shops, shopping malls, and cruise terminals, must adhere to a set checklist based on their category or sector. For instance, hawker centers are to use different color cloths for cleaning and sanitizing common areas, while each of their food stalls needs to provide serving spoons for shared dishes. A representative from CE LA VI said that STB officers would come in multiple times a week to ensure that they were following protocol and offer solutions on areas where they could improve.

The campaign itself was swiftly implemented; it was announced on Feb. 16, 2020, just three weeks after Singapore saw its first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 23.

“As we knew from SARS in 2003, instilling a sense of collective responsibility by businesses and the public was critical in fighting an outbreak. It was also important to give consumers and visitors the confidence to step out and support businesses,” said Rachel Loh, STB’s Regional Director of the Americas. “Building on our existing reputation as a clean and green city, SG Clean was hence developed to galvanize locals and encourage businesses to adhere to high standards of hygiene and sanitization.”

As of Oct. 9, more than 25,000 businesses have been SG Clean-certified. “I think the key to SG Clean is to give confidence to the public and that we as businesses care about hygiene and the situation at hand and that we just want it to get better,” said Janice Wong, a multi-award-winning pastry chef at 2am:dessertbar. (To see which premises have been certified, the Singapore Tourism Board has shared the complete list on their website.)

Though the campaign is scheduled to end on June 30, 2021, Loh says that STB’s efforts to maintain and promote cleanliness, safety, and public health won’t stop then. “STB will continue to monitor the ever-changing situation surrounding COVID-19, and work with the relevant government agencies to review the SG Clean program to ensure that local businesses continue to uphold high standards of environmental public hygiene on their premises.”

The tourism board is now extending these “high standards” to one other industry that has taken a significant hit since the start of the pandemic: cruises. On Oct. 8, STB announced a CruiseSafe certification program, which sets forth strict health and safety regulations for cruise lines departing Singapore. These regulations include testing passengers for COVID-19 before boarding, reducing ship capacity and encouraging safe distancing between groups, and having a COVID-19 emergency plan in place.

SG Clean sign in the Hyatt
Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board

According to a press release, STB says that the city is “one of the first countries in the world to develop and implement a mandatory audit and certification program for cruise lines before they can commence sailings.”

Round-trip pilot cruises for this program are scheduled to begin sailing on Nov. 6; they will make no ports of call and are limited to 50 percent capacity. Just two cruises, Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream and Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas, will participate.

For the pilot program, additional measures beyond what the city currently requires for cross-border travel are being implemented to ensure the utmost safety. Among other protocols, crew members arriving from outside of Singapore will need to serve a 14-day quarantine in their home country; they must also undergo a Stay-Home Notice for an additional 14 days upon arrival. Cruise lines that do not adhere to these standards may be fined, suspended from sailing, or have their CruiseSafe certification revoked.

“This cruise pilot is a valuable opportunity for cruise operators to reinvent the entire cruise experience in order to regain the confidence of passengers,” explained Keith Tan, Chief Executive of the Singapore Tourism Board. "As ASEAN’s lead coordinator for cruise development, Singapore remains committed to supporting and growing cruise tourism in the region."

As the fifth most visited city globally, Singapore has naturally seen a dramatic drop in tourism during these uncertain times—but STB is now looking to revitalize domestic travel through initiatives that go beyond instilling health and safety measures.

In partnership with Enterprise Singapore and Sentosa Development Corporation, STB announced a $45 million campaign in July to bolster the city’s tourism industry by curating itineraries, packages, and promotions for local businesses such as accommodations, attractions, restaurants, and tour operators. By the end of September, more than 130 businesses had signed up to participate in the program.

“With SingapoRediscovers, we have collaborated with various partners to create value for consumers through engaging content, quality experiences, and attractive promotions,” said Tan. “Through this campaign, we hope that Singaporeans will gain fresh perspectives and take a short holiday—or a Singapoliday—to rediscover their own country and help support local businesses.”

The SingapoRediscovers Voucher scheme will kick off this December by giving each Singapore resident $100 in vouchers to spend on hotels, attractions, and tours. A complete list of merchants will be announced later this fall, but locals can expect experiences such as dining up in the air in a cable car, biking through Singapore’s offshore islands, and taking a sustainability tour at Gardens by the Bay.

Aerial view of Garden by the Bay and the supertrees
Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board

While the campaign supports local businesses, STB is thinking ahead about giving future international travelers the confidence to explore the city. This is “an opportunity for local tour operators and attractions to introduce safe, attractive, and more exclusive tours and experiences suited for smaller groups,” says Loh. “These products will also serve as pilots that can then be offered to international visitors as borders reopen.”

Beyond SG Clean and SingapoRediscovers, STB is using this halt in travel to prepare for its eventual return.

For one, they are honing in on the use of technology to give visitors a more positive, “seamless” experience. Case in point: The Visit Singapore mobile app, which enables travelers to navigate the city with ease from the moment they step off the plane. Through the app, they can submit their arrival card, store and scan tickets for events and attractions, download train system maps and guides, and refer to a currency converter when purchasing anything from food to souvenirs.

The tourism board is also planning to expand Orchard Road, known for its shopping malls bursting with department stores and boutique shops, to include “more greenery and enhanced public spaces.”

“We are reviewing longer-term tourism strategies and plans to ensure that they are resilient and meaningful in the new COVID environment,” Loh said. “This is why we will continue to forge ahead with major tourism infrastructure and redevelopment projects, tapping on new consumer trends coming out of the pandemic such as wellness, nature, and sustainable tourism.”

As the tourism board continues to maintain and build on Singapore’s image as a green and healthy city, and pushes to improve the visitor experience ahead of the pandemic’s end, Loh remains optimistic. “Travel and tourism will never be the same again, but we believe that Singapore is well-positioned to meet the needs of the future traveler.”

Main Photo: Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang