Travel TechnologySingapore Tourism Board taps augmented reality to drive the digital transformation of a sector disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

AR is here to help with Singapore's post-Covid tourism future

STB’s Poh Chi Chuan: Augmented reality is is an “accessible technology” that will be the “mainstream in the next couple of years”.
STB’s Poh Chi Chuan: Augmented reality is is an “accessible technology” that will be the “mainstream in the next couple of years”.

Singapore’s tourism industry, like its counterparts across the rest of the world, has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ability to pull through and emerge on the other end of the prolonged crisis will require players to have a customer-centric mindset and organisational culture that is centred on technology and data.

That is the message from the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) acting chief technology officer Poh Chi Chuan, who sees in the current pandemic an opportunity – an urgency – for industry players to adapt to the new realities and accelerate their digital transformation to better capitalise on opportunities when recovery comes.

Fronting STB’s ongoing push to drive the digital transformation of the tourism sector is the Augmented Reality (AR) Strategy, which is set to receive heavy investment from the board in the coming months.

A short video showing the sample of AR content that STB is developing, which features a 3D model of a chicken rice stall with animation. Source: Singapore Tourism Board

The focus on AR, said Poh, is built on the belief that it is an “accessible technology” that will be the “mainstream in the next couple of years”. He added, “While many tourism businesses are already trialling innovative formats such as livestreamed and pre-recorded content, AR as a tool would be a critical one for tourism companies to leverage, especially at this time when digital engagement has become the default means of communication."

As well, AR layers digital content onto the real world and allows tourism businesses to bring virtual stories to life within the user’s actual environment, remarked Poh, a possibility that was made more apparent as a result of a “paradigm shift” arising from Covid-19. It is critical that tourism businesses continue to promote Singapore as destination and engage with visitors at a time when international travel is still restricted.

When Travel Weekly Asia asked why AR was given the preferential over digital technology tools such as virtual reality (VR), Poh explained, “AR content can provide an interactive and personalised experience for tourists by using their mobile devices, without requiring expensive investments in hardware as is the case with VR, which require VR headset. At such, it can be scaled across the tourism sector at a relative low cost. With the advancement of technology and high ownership of personal mobile devices, AR content is also increasingly accessible to consumers around the world.”

AR adoption is already evident within the tourism sector, noted the technology executive. Notable examples include the Singapore Zoo, with its Hello from the Wild Side initiative; and the National Heritage Board partnering with SmartGuide to design digital self-guided trail guides using audio, geolocation and AR for three NHB heritage trails at Orchard Road, Little India and Balestier.

However, Poh acknowledges that developing and maintaining digital content can be a “costly” endeavour for tourism businesses, so STB will enhance its Tourism Information and Services Hub – also known as TIH – to be AR compatible.

STB has set out a target to achieve a library of at least 1,000 pieces of high-quality 3D content such as Singapore icons, cultural and heritage items over the next few years, adding to the existing 8,000 counts of media pieces and information of 3,000 places of interest currently available on TIH. Industry partners that have registered for a TIH account will be able to access 3D assets for free through the TIH website from 2021.

Meanwhile, STB’s in-house developer team is working on developing a series of AR prototypes to showcase the various applications of AR, and tourism companies keen to create world-class AR experience are invited to reach out to STB.

But AR adoption only forms one part of the digital transformation journey, Poh reminded. Having the right organisational culture and customer-centric mindset will also be key for tourism businesses to emerge on the other end of the global health crisis that is currently gripping the sector.

Other tools that STB has in the pipeline this year include the Tourism Transformation Index (TXI), a self-diagnostic tool to help companies assess their current gaps or areas of strength; and the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (Stan), which allows companies to better benchmark their own performance in the marketplace and better understand their target audience.

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