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Singapore Tourism Board launches green lane of prequalified technology solutions for travel agents

A year after jointly launching the Travel Agent Roadmap, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) announced follow-up initiatives to help travel agents meet the changing demands of travellers and tackle manpower-related challenges.

The Travel Agent Roadmap launched in August 2016 aims to enhance the capability and sustainability of the travel agent industry through three key areas, namely business transformation, technology and manpower. Since the launch of the Travel Agent Roadmap in August 2016, more than 40 projects proposed and implemented by travel agents have received funding under STB's Business Improvement Fund (BIF) and Experience Step-Up Fund (ESF).  These projects are wide-ranging in their scope and intent, including new business strategy, re-branding initiatives, adoption of technology solutions and creation of new tour products.

The announcements were made at the STB-NATAS Travel Agent Industry Forum 2017 today. A Business Transformation Through-Train Programme and a "Green Lane" for quicker adoption of technological solutions are among the new initiatives. Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry & Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Ms Sim Ann attended the event as the Guest of Honour.  

Supporting travel agents in business transformation

 The Business Transformation Playbook launched by STB today is intended to be a resource for travel agents who wish to adopt new business models. The Playbook includes information on how travel agents may change key areas of their businesses, such as their value proposition and how they reach their customers. It also includes a self-assessment kit to help travel agents take stock of their current business models, before considering their next steps.

As a follow up to the Playbook, STB will be initiating the Business Transformation Through-Train Programme to guide travel agents through the three phases of the transformation journey: ideation, research and implementation.

The programme will help travel agents envision new business models, identify gaps and opportunities, and implement business shifts to remain competitive.  An open call to the industry for a pilot run of the programme will be made in the first half of next year.

To support travel agents in moving into the online domain, NATAS will be developing an offline-to-online (O2O) portal to be ready by the second half of next year. The portal will feature themed travel fairs throughout the year, and will serve as a plug-and-play solution for travel agents who currently do not have the ability to go online.  

Green Lane for expediting technology adoption 

To expedite travel agents' adoption of technology, STB will develop a "green lane" where a set of solutions will be identified and prequalified for funding approval, allowing interested travel agents to adopt technology easily. Supported solutions may include basic systems that support travel agents in making quotations and reservations, managing tour operations and simplifying backend processes.

STB and NATAS will also organise regular technology showcases and talks to increase awareness among travel agents of the solutions relevant to their businesses.

At today's Travel Agent Industry forum, there was also a technology showcase where 21 vendors featured the latest solutions for travel agents. Among the solutions showcased were five technology solutions that were crowdsourced through the Tourism Innovation Challenge for Travel Agents held in May this year.

The solutions which emerged successful from the Challenge include the use of chatbots to improve the customer experience, and harnessing data analytics to identify customer preferences. These solutions were given grant support by STB to develop pilot solutions for eight travel agencies that cover inbound, outbound and corporate travel, over the course of next year. 

During 2018, NATAS will also be launching a Travel Technology Challenge, which will build on the Tourism Innovation Challenge to further proliferate new technology solutions in the industry.  

Boosting Manpower

STB and NATAS also launched the e-Onboarding Guide and Internship Guide today. These are aimed at easing new hires into their jobs and educating travel agents on improving their internship programmes, so as to help them attract and retain talent.

STB and NATAS will continue to organise workshops and networking events to understand on-ground challenges and educate travel agents on HR practices.

Over the next few months, much effort will also be focused on better profiling the industry's career and match job-seekers to employers. NATAS has been appointed as a Sectoral Outreach Multiplier for the P-MAX programme under Workforce Singapore (WSG)'s Adapt and Grow initiative to reach out to the travel agent industry and encourage SMEs' adoption of P-MAX. P-MAX helps SMEs recruit, train, manage and retain their newly-hired Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) employees more effectively.

For the job-seekers, NATAS will be launching a talent development platform by the second half of next year. The platform will allow travel agents to source for talent and help job-seekers understand the skills required, as well as the courses they may need to undertake, in order to move forward in their travel agent career.

Senior Minister of State Ms Sim Ann said, "The Government has been supporting our travel agents to grow and transform in an increasingly competitive tourism landscape. The amendments to the Travel Agents Act were passed in Parliament last week to foster greater innovation, reduce regulatory burden and raise industry standards by strengthening safeguards against travel agent malpractice. The initiatives launched today will complement these legislative amendments and equip our travel agents with the tools and resources to harness growth opportunities and become designers of travel experiences."

Mr Steven Ler, NATAS, Acting President, said, "Travel agents today are caught between a rock and a hard place. Our customers want better value, more customised experiences, while our processes and skills have yet to catch up. If we want to thrive into the future, a change must be made to how we do things, how we approach our customers and what we offer to them. Together with STB, NATAS has put forth resources for travel agents to take the first step."

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