How can AI Stimulate Singapore Tourism Industry?
Singapore is using AI to accelerate its Tourism Industry
Singapore is gradually reopening its borders after months of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak. As Singapore’s tourism industry contributes about 4% to its economy, it hopes that artificial intelligence can help the sector, welcome visitors safely.
Official data shows a decline of 76% in monthly visitor arrivals between January and July, as compared to the previous year. Visitor arrivals in July alone were lower than 99% year-on-year. Even though the Southeast Asian countries remain shut down to foreigners, officials are now considering lifting restrictions selectively for visitors’ groups.
Local start-ups such as Travelstop and Vouch rely on their AI-powered systems as the country navigates new security measures.
Vouch in 2017 launched an AI-enabled digital concierge that is designed to reply to guest inquiries, make bookings, and take room service orders. The company states hotels including Andaz Singapore and Pan Pacific use its chatbots in Singapore. It is also capable of conducting health declarations, facilitate contactless ordering for dine-in services, and manage crowd control.
Vouch co-founder Joseph Ling said, “Interestingly, COVID-19 has helped our business significantly.”
Initially, the company had to modify its in-room dining ordering facility to promote takeaways and deliveries, a feature that provided hotels for free during Singapore’s partial lockdown.
Ling said, “Thanks to this, we were able to build great relationships. When hotels began to plan for the future around June and July, we signed up many of them.” Explaining the growth rate of Vouch, he added, “15 percent of the total Singapore hotel room stock on board.”
Other AI-backed firms are also optimistic about the long-lasting outlook.
Travelstop, a two-year-old firm, aims to simplify business travel with the help of its SaaS platform, which has been designed to speed up the booking process, automate expense reporting and deliver cost-saving insights.
Travelstop’s co-founder Prashant Kirtane said, “For the last few months, even though corporate travel revenues have been down, we see significant traction on our expense management platform. It is because companies are now accelerating digitizing the workflows and processes to support the work from home culture.”
Travel: A changing industry
Ongoing border restrictions and lower consumer appetite for international flights have reshaped travel as an industry. Both entrepreneurs believe that machine learning and AI will change the travel experience.
Kirtane stated, “The business models of traditional corporate travel management companies have not evolved for decades.” He added, “Existing tools have not kept pace with the modern business traveler, and are generally not affordable by a smaller and mid-sized business.”
Ling from Vouch said, “Hotels used to feel more technologically advanced than our homes, but as AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and consumer tech enterprises take the lead, the tech gradient has reversed. Hotels now feel lower-tech than our own homes.” IoT is the idea of a network of devices that are all conceptually connected to the internet.
Motivation for Investors
Investors are closely watching this rapidly growing sector. Travelstop invested $3 million in pre-series funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel last year.
Kirtane said the company aims to complete another round of fundraisers by 2021. Meanwhile, Vouch has announced about $250,000 of investment to-date. It requires more funds as it will expand in Malaysia and Thailand.
Singapore officials announced a stimulating program for tourism-oriented tech start-ups in late 2019. Technological innovation “can also strengthen investor perception, and therefore encourage investments in the country.
The labor crunch
Singapore has long faced a severe labor crunch amid state. It imposed foreign worker levies and quotas that have contributed to wage increases. Walton said that tech and AI in areas such as hotel operations would go some way to alleviate this pressure for employers.
While artificial intelligence can enhance efficiency with fewer workforces, it can also lead to job losses. It seems this development is unwanted when people are already concerned about job security.