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Ready, Jet-Set, Go!: Making Singapore More Vibrant With The Tourism Development Fund


Image: Credits to Unsplash (Unsplash: Bna Ignacio) https://unsplash.com/photos/people-at-the-market-C8gvt2LMX94

In this Explainer, find out...

  • What is the Tourism Development Fund (TDF)?

  • What kind of projects has the government invested in under the TDF?

  • Why is the government investing so much in developing the tourism sector?


Introduction

Tourism has been identified as a source of economic growth in Singapore since the 1960s. However, with no natural resources or sceneries of any kind, it was challenging for Singapore to strategically position itself as a tourism destination.¹ Starting from a clean slate was no easy task, but setting up the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, now known as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), allowed the Government to develop meaningful tourism policies and strategies to allow Singapore to become the attractive tourism destination it is today. 


One of the policies adopted in 2005 was the Tourism Development Fund (TDF), which was a S$2 billion fund by STB to help transform Singapore’s tourism sector in terms of tourism infrastructure, diversity in tourism offerings, and developing the skill sets of workers and organisations contributing to the tourism sector. Read on more to find out the goals of the TDF, and how the Government has used these funds to help achieve their tourism vision.


Evolution of Singapore's Tourism Strategy

Since the 1960s, Singapore has allocated a lot of money towards advertisement campaigns, creating promotional materials and symbols, as well as organising activities and building infrastructure to make Singapore a more appealing destination to visit. For example, the Government made efforts to preserve historical areas such as Chinatown, develop new attractions like Sentosa, and launch the Great Singapore Sale to attract tourists.²   


In 1986, the first tourism master plan was launched, namely the Tourism Product Development Plan. S$1 billion was contributed towards achieving the goals of this master plan. In 1994, the Tourism 21 plan was launched to make Singapore a tourism capital by the 21st century, with an operating budget of S$600 million. These master plans positioned STB in a new coordinating role between government agencies, the private sector and other third parties to promote tourism in Singapore.³ 


In the early 2000s, the outbreak of the SARS virus led to a drop in international visitors. As SARS eased in 2004 and visitors returned, STB felt Singapore needed to enhance its international competitiveness for sector recovery from the outbreak. At the same time, the interest in diversifying tourism was also driven by increasing competition from other nearby cities.⁴ A cumulation of these different events marked the beginning of the TDF. 


Tourism Development Fund


What is the Tourism Development Fund?


The Tourism Development Fund (TDF) was launched with Singapore’s Tourism 2015 (T2015) vision in 2005.⁵ T2015 aimed to boost Singapore’s tourism receipts to S$30 billion, increase visitors to 17 million and create more than 100,000 tourism-related jobs by 2015. To make all this happen, the tourism sector needed to be transformed, and funding was needed to support this transformation.⁶


Funding from the TDF would be channelled to four key areas. First, Singapore needed to develop critical infrastructure to support tourism growth and develop more strategic tourism products. Second, Singapore would need to host more mega-events. Finally, the skills and capabilities of local firms and workers had to be developed in line with tourism development.⁷


This prompted the creation of three key schemes under the TDF.


1. Tourism Product Development Scheme


This scheme aims to create new tourism products and services or improve existing ones. 


There are three areas of focus under this scheme:


i. Cruise Development Fund: To grow the cruise industry.


ii. Experience Step-Up Fund: To enhance tourism experiences. 


iii. Tourism Product Development Fund: To develop infrastructure or major attractions in Singapore.


2. Tourism Event Development Scheme


This scheme aims to support events that help position Singapore’s image as an international lifestyle and business events hub.


This will be achieved via three main areas:


i. Business Events in Singapore: Encourages the organisation of quality business-related events.


ii. Kickstart Fund: To fund innovative tourism solutions that need to be tested further for their potential and scalability. 


iii. Leisure Events Fund: To support the creation of unique leisure events to boost Singapore’s vibrancy. 


3. Tourism Capability Development Scheme¹⁰


This scheme aims to increase the capability and develop talent in the tourism sector. 


Under this scheme, there are three areas of focus:


i. Business Improvement Fund: To help businesses innovate their business processes and improve productivity and competitiveness. It also supports businesses in adopting sustainability-related tourism initiatives. 


ii. Local Enterprise and Association Development Programme: Supports initiatives by trade associations and chambers in Singapore to drive industry initiatives in tourism.


iii. Training Industry Professionals in Tourism: Encourages employees in the tourism sector to upgrade their skills. 


Since 2005, the TDF has been topped up four times, with the latest tranche being a S$300 million top-up in March 2024.¹¹ This top-up is pivotal in continuing to direct the tourism sector towards its post-COVID-19 recovery. 


Experiences and Projects Funded by the TDF


In recent years, Singapore has amped up her range of tourism experiences, as well as helped the tourism sector make strategic pivots. Here are some exciting projects that were funded by the TDF.


1. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour


Most notably, STB had used funds from the TDF to secure an exclusivity arrangement with concert promoters for The Eras Tour. This made Singapore the tour’s only stop in Southeast Asia, much to the envy (and chagrin) of our neighbours.¹²


This prompted a rise in tourists visiting Singapore for the concert. It is likely that half the tickets were snapped up by an international audience.¹³


In return, Singapore earned tourism receipts estimated at between S$350 million to S$450 million contributed by Taylor Swift’s concert (from March 2024) and Coldplay’s concert (from January 2024).¹⁴ This is far greater than the grant offered to bring Taylor Swift to Singapore.¹⁵ The revenue is attributed to ticket costs, local transport (public transport or private transport), costs of accommodation, shopping, dining and entertainment.


Figure 1: Taylor Swift - The Eras Tour Poster¹⁶



2. Cruise Development through the Disney Cruise


The TDF has contributed to a five-year collaboration between STB and Disney Cruise Line to bring the iconic “Disney Adventure” cruise ship to Singapore’s shores from 2025.¹⁷ Bringing unique and relatively exclusive experiences like the Disney Adventure Cruise allows Singapore to attract more international cruise passengers. Ultimately, these efforts will facilitate the cruise market’s return to pre-pandemic levels.


3. Focus on Boosting Sustainable Tourism


By 2030, Sentosa aims to become a carbon-neutral destination by offering more eco-friendly hotels and attractions, reducing carbon emissions, and attracting businesses that are keen on working with Sentosa to become carbon-neutral. Funds from the TDF will be channelled to help Sentosa pivot from its existing practices towards more environmentally responsible practices.¹⁸ 


One Stone, Many Birds


An Economic Centrepiece


As a policy, the TDF is a one-stop platform where different businesses may work with STB to develop tourism in Singapore.


An Ever-Evolving Attraction


In light of Japan and Thailand gearing up to build their own IRs and casinos, Singapore faces increased competition from its regional counterparts in areas that have conventionally been its unique offerings.¹⁹ As such, the TDF is an important investment in new strategies that continue to build Singapore’s competitive advantage in attracting tourists. 


Today, the TDF is a flexible fund that caters to a wide range of innovative programmes presented by applicants. For example, Trifecta is an upcoming facility partially funded by the TDF, that offers indoor skating, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding from the heart of Orchard Road.²⁰ Apart from helping support businesses that offer unique experiences, the TDF has also funded businesses’ efforts to become more productive and sustainable.²¹ 


Administratively, the grant application for this novel experience product may be categorised into the Tourism Product Development Scheme, leading to unique offerings relative to what our neighbours offer.


A Practical Substitute for Primary Sector Goods


More crucially, the TDF bolsters the tourism industry’s place in the Singapore economy, where it takes on multiple hats beyond generating revenue. As it turns out, tourism is a key substitute for the lack of a primary sector in Singapore. 


Due to the cost-benefit constraints of nurturing the primary sector (e.g., agriculture, mining, fishing, etc.) in land-scarce Singapore, tourism has become an attractive alternative. This is because tourism relies on our existing skilled workforce to create tourism services and products, which Singapore “sells” in place of goods such as agricultural produce. As visitors from other countries purchase tourism services and products, Singapore receives more monetary inflow from abroad. This ultimately promotes economic growth.


Indirect Social Benefits


Beyond the economic benefits arising from the TDF, Singaporeans also stand to gain from the investments made through it. For one, any tourism infrastructure that has been built under the TDF can also be enjoyed by Singaporeans. In addition, Singapore’s liveability is improved by the wellness experiences and nature-related activities funded by the TDF. ²²

Finally, facilitating tourism has allowed Singaporeans to connect with the rest of the world, since more people get to interact with Singaporeans and appreciate Singapore’s unique culture. 


But... A Good Investment?


Nonetheless, to measure the TDF’s success, it is important to note how well it sustains the areas of capacity, marketing, and unique offerings – all of which are also components of tourism. 


Booming Demand, Insufficient Hands


While demand for Singapore’s tourism offerings is certainly booming, industry members are concerned about their ability to match demand. In one case, DMC, a travel agency, stated that room supply is “tight”, driving up hotel rates. Furthermore, the manpower shortage has hindered DMC’s ability to bid for new projects.²³ To this end, the TDF’s Tourism Capability Development Scheme is useful insofar as it trains tourism employees and supports businesses’ adoption of new technologies. This will indubitably play a role in tackling the industry’s capacity challenges.²⁴ 


Meeting Changing Consumer Preferences


Singapore-bound tourists are increasingly seeking affordable holidays. Travellers to Singapore are spending less than before – the per-tourist spending in 2018 was S$1454 as compared to S$1535 in 2008. Furthermore, there have been concerns about ‘over-spending’ on holidays to Singapore. In 2024, Phoenix Weekly, a Shenzhen magazine, ran a story claiming that tourists too could go bankrupt in Singapore due to the high cost of living. This prompted a fervent response from Chinese nationals on how to cut costs in Singapore or to reconsider travelling to Singapore.²⁵ Given that Chinese tourists are a key market, marketing strategies conducted by the STB should emphasise how the offerings funded by the TDF appeal to the tourists’ preferences for affordable options.


Factors Beyond Singapore's Control


In measuring the success of the TDF, it is important to note that tourism has always been viewed as a volatile industry with unpredictable returns. For example, pandemics such as COVID-19, which halt all international tourism, can grind a country’s tourism sector to a halt. Within the first 3 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, year-on-year tourism receipts fell by 39%.²⁶ Hence, it is hard to predict and measure the actual success of the TDF if black swan events change the conditions that tourism in Singapore operates in.


Enough Differentiation from Competitors?


In 2021, the Tourism Development Fund was topped up with S$68.5 million to support explorations into areas including wellness. However, the foray into wellness is already being emulated by other countries– posing further challenges for the TDF’s usage in creating unique wellness products and spectacles.²⁷ 


Thus, tourism developments supported by the TDF may require a unique selling point for Singapore to differentiate itself from its competitors. In the case of wellness offerings, Singapore differentiates itself from the rurally-situated wellness experiences offered by its neighbours through accessible wellness situated next to businesses or other leisure providers.²⁸ Hence, visitors looking to kill two birds with one stone may instead choose Singapore as a destination.


Conclusion


In summary, the TDF is essential to ensuring the continued success of the tourism sector. However, in light of the increasing competition in the region and the volatility of the global market, the current tranche of the TDF may bring in lower returns compared to its predecessors.


MAJU PE 2024_18_Ready, Jet-Set, Go!_Making Singapore More Vibrant with the Tourism Develop
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This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own. 


By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of  Singapore.






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