By Rumi Hardasmalani
SINGAPORE — Imagine landing at the airport and getting checked into your hotel room as you clear immigration control. Your luggage will automatically be sent to your room and be waiting for you. Welcome to the Singapore of the future — if the recommendations of the Hotel Innovation Committee are successfully implemented.
Set up in February last year to drive the local hospitality industry to adopt innovative technologies, the Hotel Innovation Committee seeks to raise productivity and relieve the manpower crunch in the sector. It is led by the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), the apex body for hotels in Singapore, and comprises local hoteliers, international experts, solution providers and academics.
As the Republic gears up for another record-breaking year in terms of international visitors, seamless check-in and automated luggage transfer are among several strategies being explored to ensure Singapore remains competitive with other destinations in creating memorable travel experiences.
According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), both visitor arrivals and tourism receipts exceeded forecasts last year to hit historical highs. Singapore garnered S$24.8 billion in tourism receipts on the back of 16.4 million visitor arrivals.
In the first seven months of the year, international arrivals to Singapore exceeded 10.1 million.
“What we are trying to do at the Hotel Innovation Committee is not only share best practices when it comes to tactical solutions, but also look at strategic transformation of the industry,” chief executive at Far East Hospitality Arthur Kiong told TODAY.
Mr Kiong was co-chair of an expert panel established to look at the issues and challenges of the local hotel industry, together with STB chief executive Lionel Yeo, which presented its findings in late 2015.
According to Mr Kiong, the idea is for all hotels to get together and pool resources to solve common issues instead of trying to come out with such initiatives on their own. The aim is to make travel “more seamless and remove the inconveniences of having multiple touch points. As soon as you land at the airport, you should be able to take care of the purpose of your visit, be it leisure or business,” Mr Kiong explained.
The committee is also looking at riding on big data analytics and will need to work with government authorities at various levels for the implementation of these plans.
“In order to come to an understanding that we want to make check-in faster and make the guest experience more seamless, we have to have an agreement in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and homeland security agencies,” Mr Kiong added.
According to Mr Richard Skinner, strategy leader at PwC Singapore, seamless check-in would relieve one of the major pain points on the customer journey and is something larger hotel chains are already working towards.
“It would create a strong customer experience, but it’s unlikely customers will choose their destination based on these things. It’s the overall tourist offering or image of the country or business needs that will drive stays and the experience right now is likely to be sufficiently strong to not unnecessarily deter these visits,” he said.
Mr Patrick Fiat, general manager and CEO at Royal Plaza on Scotts however noted that that a centralised system may be a challenge for airlines, chain hotels and independent hotels operating on different systems.
“Interface, integration and data protection will be some of the key issues … However, the compact size of Singapore is a great advantage for the development of infrastructure and technology and nationwide implementation. The usage of big data and automation will not only help in increasing productivity with the labour crunch situation but will also create a seamless experience for visitors to Singapore,” he said.
SHA executive director Margaret Heng noted that the Hotel Innovation Challenge launched earlier this year to crowdsource solutions to improve productivity and enhance service experience saw positive responses.
Some 130 hoteliers listened to pitches from 25 solution providers in the areas of front office, housekeeping, engineering and procurement, she said.
Since the submission deadline at the end of August, a total of 28 proposals were received and are currently being evaluated. At least 29 hotels, ranging from small to large-scale, have committed to participating as pilot partners for the development of these innovative solutions, said Ms Heng.
“These pilot projects, targeted for completion in 2018, will put the industry in the forefront of hospitality innovation,” she added.
According to analysts, Singapore continues to lead the way in innovation-led transformation across industries, including hotel, retail, food services and manufacturing.
“It’s no longer a case of just carrying out customer surveys. Service providers now need to be able to respond with immediacy to customers’ needs and big data will help them achieve that. This will enable the faster and more efficient provision of services and products as well as help with targeted marketing,” said Mr Robert McIntosh, executive director at CBRE Hotels, Asia Pacific.