Travel agents in Singapore to get help to thrive in digital age

Tech firm Zumata, which has developed chatbots such as an insurance one pictured here, is helping travel agents like Quotient Travel Planner to design chatbots for their own customers. The chatbot will help Quotient's customers access its services whenever they need them. (St Photo: Desmond Foo)

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) – The Singapore Tourism Board will help agencies identify tech solutions to common issues. Travel agents in Singapore will receive government funding to speed up their adoption of technology, such as developing mobile apps to give customers a better experience.

Instead of traditional travel agents coming up with the solutions and asking the authorities to help with the funding, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will identify a range of technological fixes to common problems, and offer them to the agencies.

This initiative will be launched by the second half of next year, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann on Nov 15 at the Travel Agent Industry Forum.

Travel agencies also need help to upgrade their hiring practices, said Steven Ler, acting president of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), which organized the forum with STB.

In his opening speech, he said many agencies hire through print advertisements or via word of mouth, which may not lead to the right job applicants. He said Natas will launch a talent development platform by the end of next year, which will connect job seekers and travel agents.

Giving an update of the Travel Agent Roadmap, Sim said more than 40 projects were funded by STB’s business improvement fund (BIF) and experience step-up fund, both aimed at making travel agents designers of travel experiences.

Both funds financially support up to 70 percent of projects that cost up to S$500,000 (US$368,487). Sim added that five times as many travel agents were supported by either fund this year compared with last year, and encouraged more agents to apply.

She cited Dynasty Travel, which is developing a mobile app with the BIF’s help. The app will help customers make bookings, write reviews and contact the firm in emergencies, which will help it to tailor travel experiences and build customer loyalty.

The roadmap, initiated in August last year, aims to boost the travel agent industry via technology, business transformation, and manpower.

Another firm benefiting from the drive to adopt technology is Quotient Travel Planner, which is creating a chatbot with tech firm Zumata for customers to access its services whenever they need them.

Its co-founder and director Lim Hui Juan said: “We’re seeing a lot of clients requiring a quick response to certain situations, or wanting to tweak their experiences on the go, and that’s something we think a chatbot can help with.”

Lim expects the chatbot to be ready within a year. “We think it’s going to be fun to see if this new technology can really help us.”

Sim also announced the launch of the Business Transformation Playbook, which guides travel agents who want to adopt new business models through features such as a self-assessment kit.

She said: “The Government has been supporting our travel agents to grow and thrive in an increasingly competitive tourism landscape… but we also need our travel agents to join us on this journey.

“We encourage you (agents) to find out more about the road map’s initiatives, seek out the opportunities that lie amid the challenges, and tap these resources to reach new highs.”

The forum was held at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

By Jose Hong