A hawker bustles around a food stall, fanning the charcoal and turning over skewers of grilled meat. Another elderly hawker seasons a chicken with salt and pepper, before tossing it into a stew.

This will be a familiar sight for many Singaporeans – except now it’s happening in augmented reality (AR). The Singapore Tourism Board is pushing out a slew of tech initiatives to help revive the tourism sector, after it was hit hard by the halt in tourists due to Covid-19.

Tech-driven experiences will be key in reshaping the sector, says Poh Chi Chuan, Acting Chief Technology Officer of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). GovInsider spoke to him to find out more.

AR leads the way

Tourists will soon be able to see landmarks like the Merlion from their home – thanks to an augmented reality (AR) push. STB is turning to the technology to promote Singapore as a destination to potential visitors, Poh says.

The agency is working with the National Heritage Board to develop a database of 1,000 3D models of Singapore’s icons. These models are uploaded to the Tourism Information and Services Hub (TIH) for stakeholders to access, he says. Firms can use it to create AR experiences within their apps and websites.

Fans of Pokémon GO may also spot their favourite characters at local tourist establishments. STB has partnered with the AR game developer, Niantic, to encourage players to explore the island’s precincts and support local businesses.

Players can capture Pokémon at 300 new stops in the game – hotels, attractions, retailers, food and beverage outlets, and tour ticketing stations. An in-app banner will redirect players to the SingapoRediscovers microsite that showcases ongoing promotions.

AR is a “critical tool” that tourism companies can use to engage with visitors before they arrive in Singapore, Poh says. It can also be used to deliver a more interactive experience at tourist sites – bridging the “online to offline divide”, he adds.

STB’s AR team is developing a set of recommended standards for technical format and quality, Poh says. Content creators are encouraged to adopt them if they would like to use TIH to share and exchange AR content – that would “reduce friction” in integrating different types of AR content, he adds.

Enter robots and AI

AI will be key in providing “personal, responsive, and relevant” services, says Poh. STB is supporting companies in developing and piloting AI solutions through the Singapore Tourism Accelerator programme.

Delight Labs, a Hong Kong-based cloud company, is partnering Jewel Changi Airport to create an AI voice assistant. The company hopes the chatbot can help visitors easily buy Jewel’s attractions tickets, and allow Singapore to become the first airport in the world with voice ticketing, Poh says.

STB is working with the third cohort of the accelerator programme to develop robotics solutions. These robots may be used to disinfect hotel rooms, provide precision markings for events, and carry out other labor-intensive tasks, Poh says.

The agency is also part of the Alliance for Action on Robotics taskforce with other agencies and companies, he says. The taskforce is working to identify possible use cases for robotics that can solve manpower challenges in the tourism industry.

Data is king

Data will be crucial in Singapore’s tourism recovery. The agency has launched new updates to its analytics network that collects and analyses tourist data, says Poh.

The Singapore Tourism Analytics Network, Stan, is traditionally used by businesses to understand tourist behaviour – such as spending patterns and length of stay – and better target their marketing to visitors.

The new features will democratise data about the industry and visitors, and allow companies to benchmark their performance against their peers, says Poh. Anonymised geolocation data will also be added to provide insight on what tourists do in the island.

“STB takes any breach of data seriously”, he says, and is ensuring its tech initiatives are in line with best practices in data privacy and protection. “We will work closely with the relevant government agencies on developing the necessary safeguards to address potential data privacy and security issues.”

Safety is key

“Cleanliness and hygiene will be the foremost consideration for future travellers,” says Poh. Singapore has taken a “safe and calibrated approach” to reopening hotels, attractions, and tours.

Tourism and lifestyle businesses have also embraced technology to improve safety and raise hygiene standards, Poh says. Zero Latency, an immersive VR gaming facility, has used in-built proximity sensors to enforce safe distancing into its game. The Singapore National Museum and Asian Civilisation Museum have also piloted an “all-access” contactless pass that replaces physical touchpoints.

“The tourism sector is still in the early stages of developing and deploying technology to enhance safety and hygiene, and we look forward to such initiatives being rolled out more widely,” he says.

It may take three years before international travel can resume to pre-Covid levels, according to the International Air Transport Association. Technology will be crucial in Singapore’s push to revive the industry and attract both locals and tourists to its destinations.

Image of Poh Chi Chuan and video by the Singapore Tourism Board