The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) Tourism Accelerator Programme has taken on new relevance during the pandemic—enabling international partnerships despite travel restrictions, while also helping drive digital transformation to help the local tourism sector adapt.
STB has supported more than a dozen start-ups and pre-scaleups through the Singapore Tourism Accelerator (STA) since the programme’s launch last year.
“The six-month programme is designed to help companies prototype and scale up solutions from around the world to tackle our tourism sector’s most pertinent challenges. In just one year, we have received more than 500 applications from more than 40 countries,” said Poh Chi Chuan, acting chief technology officer, STB.
After the recent conclusion of the second STA cohort, the third cohort commenced in October, and recruitment for cohort four will be underway come December 2020.
For the two latest cohorts of STA, there will be a special focus on solutions that will prepare tourism businesses for the ensuing challenges in a post-pandemic reality, Poh told Travel Weekly Asia. “These include contactless solutions, crowd management technology, sanitisation and hygiene innovations, solutions for virtual MICE events, robotics and automation, and augmented reality and virtual reality applications.”
Against the backdrop of a tourism downturn, STB has found its accelerator programme in a unique position to move tourism sector business forward in a meaningful way.
“With many tourism businesses in Singapore taking this downtime to work on their digital transformation, the programme presents them with a resource of globally sourced, innovative solutions", he pointed out.
In turn, the accelerator gives participating solution providers—local and international—direct access to key industry stakeholders regardless of geographical location.
New opportunities for attractions and hotels
Despite being limited by remote participation, STA cohort two start-ups and their industry partners successfully trialled 11 innovative solutions in Singapore.
One of the participating start-ups in Cohort two was Wheel the World, which aims to make travel more accessible for persons with disabilities. Through STA, it has been able to forge partnerships with Singapore’s tourism players remotely. The initiative has worked with Sentosa to curate experiences for people with mobility disabilities and with Shangri-La Group to assess the accessibility features of their properties.
“It is important to mention that in general our work requires a lot of onsite, in-person action, but we had to adapt to the travel restrictions by creating a remote solution. We searched for accessibility ambassadors in Singapore, and they became our eyes and our hands on-field. We were also able to understand how to onboard a new destination without actually... needing to be physically there as we did before," Arturo Gaona, head of partnerships and part of founding team of Wheel the World, told Travel Weekly Asia.
STA has enabled the startup to develop and test a new version of its Accessibility Mapping System with real industry partners. In addition, Wheel the World provided online training and certification to 80 tourism professionals through its newly piloted e-learning platform.
Another startup that participated in STA’s second cohort was SmartGuide, an app that turns travellers’ phones into personal guides. Employing geolocation technology, SmartGuide worked with the National Heritage Board to digitise heritage trails in Orchard, Balestier and Little India, and has several upcoming partnerships in the works.
In addition, with the insights it gained through STA connections, SmartGuide found the opportunity to create a product for hotels, effectively catapulting it into a new vertical, said Vaclav Jurcicek, chief business development officer and co-founder, SmartGuide.
“Our digital concierge that requires no contact with front desk staff protects guests and employees and liberates experienced concierge gurus to focus on complex personal services that value-add to hotel’s guests in luxury properties. In three- and four-star hotels, SmartGuide enables streamlining the operations, cost-cutting and reducing bottleneck operations for receptions such as tending to guests who require urgent check-ins or outs,” shared Jurcicek.
STB also recently inked an MoU with Paris&Co, the city's economic development and innovation agency, to facilitate the exchange of startups between both destinations and identify new opportunities.
In Singapore, STA alumnus Bakuun.com has already joined the Welcome City Lab innovation platform, gaining direct access to the travel tech ecosystem in Paris and now able to scale internationally.