In recent years, the concept of sustainable tourism has gained significant attention as the world grapples with the urgent need to preserve and protect our environment. Sustainable tourism, also known as eco-tourism or responsible tourism, focuses on minimising the negative impacts of tourism on local ecosystems, cultures, and communities while maximising the benefits for both visitors and host destinations. Recently Singapore has been certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, GSTC as a sustainable destination. In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Renjie Wong, Area Director, India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board, talks about sustainable tourism and how Singapore came to be awarded as a sustainable tourism destination.
1. What inspired Singapore Tourism Board to focus on sustainable tourism practices, and what impact has it had on the industry so far?
As a small, low-lying island with no natural resources, sustainability is an existential need rather than an abstract ideal or trendy catchphrase for us in Singapore. Our commitment to sustainability is focused on long-term strategies to create a sustainable future. By emphasising sustainability as a core value, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) aims to attract and retain visitors who prioritise responsible travel, positioning the popular city-state itself as a leading sustainable urban destination globally.
In line with this, STB developed its destination sustainability strategy and roadmap for the tourism sector in line with the Singapore Green Plan 2030, with a focus on environmental sustainability and sustainable management. This was formulated in consultation with the tourism sector and refined by a sustainability study commissioned to assess the quantitative benefits of sustainable travel.
The impact of these initiatives has been significant. Singapore is the only country in the world to have been certified as a sustainable destination by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). As a result of the increasing focus on sustainability, the tourism industry has channelised its efforts to introduce measures such as eco-friendly accommodations, highlighting responsible tour operators to help reduce the environmental impact of travel.
2. What are the key initiatives that the board has implemented to support sustainable tourism practices, and how have they been received by tourists and stakeholders?
Understanding the importance of sustainability for today’s travellers, the STB is collaborating with hotels, attractions, cruise liners, and restaurants to offer eco-friendly experiences. It is also working with the GSTC to develop a sustainable framework for the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events (MICE) sector. These initiatives are an integral part of the country’s journey towards a greener future.
Here are some examples of how the STB has partnered with local stakeholders to support sustainable tourism practices:
– Partnered with the Green Building Council of Singapore (GBCS) to promote eco-friendly hotels. The GBCS has developed a Green Mark certification scheme for hotels, which helps to ensure that hotels meet certain environmental standards
– Joined hands with the Singapore Eco-Business Council (SEBC) to promote sustainable tour operators. The SEBC has developed a Green Label certification scheme for tour operators, which helps to ensure that tour operators use sustainable practices
– STB and Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) have joined forces to launch a roadmap aimed at raising sustainability standards across Singapore’s MICE industry over the coming years. These include developing a set of sustainability standards by 2023 that the industry can readily apply, with the aim of making these internationally recognised by 2024 and ensuring that purpose-built MICE venues and 80% of SACEOS members obtain internationally or nationally recognised sustainability certification, or both, by 2025
– Under the Hotel Sustainability Roadmap, together with the Singapore Hotel Association, we aim to have 60% of hotel rooms in Singapore to attain internationally recognised hotel sustainability certification by 2025
– Cruise tourism is a key growth lever for tourism in Singapore. Given this, we have initiated a number of measures, for instance, the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to become Singapore’s first solar-powered ferry terminal
– Furthermore, Singapore’s resort island, Sentosa aims to become a globally recognised, certified sustainable tourism destination and transform itself into a carbon-neutral destination by 2030. As a step in this direction, the island plans to eliminate single-use plastic bottles by the end of this year
3. What role do you think sustainable tourism practices play in attracting and retaining visitors to Singapore, and how do you measure the impact of these efforts?
Sustainable tourism practices play an important role in attracting and retaining visitors to Singapore. By promoting sustainable tourism, Singapore can address traveller needs and reconsider their carbon output. The government has recognised the importance of sustainability in the tourism industry and has dedicated itself to supporting sustainable tourism development.
To measure the impact of sustainable tourism efforts in Singapore, initiatives such as the MICE Sustainability Roadmap and Hotel Sustainability Roadmap have been launched. These list specific targets that contribute towards Singapore being one of the most sustainable destinations globally.
Additionally, the impact of sustainable tourism practices can be measured through indicators such as reduced carbon emissions, increased use of renewable energy sources, and improved waste management practices. These indicators track tangible progress towards sustainability goals and demonstrate the positive impact of sustainable tourism on the environment and local communities.
4. What advice would you give to other destinations looking to implement sustainability in their tourism, and how can they balance environmental and economic sustainability?
Sustainable tourism is a win-win for both the environment and the economy. It is important for destinations to collaborate with local stakeholders, develop partnerships, and engage the community in decision-making processes. By pushing beyond sustainable practices and promoting eco-friendly experiences, destinations can strike a balance between environmental and economic sustainability. By working together, destinations can implement sustainable practices that benefit everyone.
5. How has STB engaged local communities in its sustainable tourism efforts, and what has been the response from residents and businesses?
At STB we actively engage with local communities for our sustainable tourism efforts in a number of ways. Here are some examples to highlight this:
– Partnered with the Singapore Eco-Business Council (SEBC) to develop a sustainable tourism business charter. This charter outlines a set of principles for businesses to follow in order to operate in a sustainable manner
– Worked with local communities to develop green spaces and to protect water bodies. For example, the Singapore government has worked with the community of Punggol to develop a green corridor that connects the Punggol Point Park to the Coney Island Park. The green corridor has helped to improve the biodiversity of the area and has provided a new space for recreation and leisure
– STB has joined hands with the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment to curate immersive, sustainable experiences for Go Green SG, an annual national initiative that brings together sustainability-related events to galvanise Singaporeans to take collective climate action
– To support tourism businesses at all stages of their sustainability journey, Singapore launched the Tourism Sustainability Programme (TSP). For example, tourism businesses can tap on TSP to upskill and train employees to take up sustainability-related skillsets or adopt solutions to make their businesses more sustainable in the longer term
6. How has the board incorporated social responsibility into its sustainable tourism practices, and what initiatives have you launched to support local communities?
At STB, we firmly believe that sustainable tourism should contribute to the well-being and empowerment of residents, ensuring that tourism growth is inclusive and create positive social impact. As a part of this, the STB launched SingapoRediscover initiative, which urges residents and visitors to explore the diverse attractions and experiences within the country. STB has collaborated with local community partners, including neighborhood associations and cultural groups, to showcase hidden gems and lesser-known aspects of Singapore. These initiatives provide opportunities for local businesses and artisans to thrive, while also highlighting the unique cultural heritage and stories of various neighborhoods.
By incorporating social responsibility into sustainable tourism practices, STB ensures that tourism in Singapore is a force for good, uplifting local communities and fostering a sense of pride and ownership.
7. What role do you think education and awareness play in promoting sustainable tourism practices?
Education and awareness efforts foster a mindset shift, encouraging stakeholders to view sustainability as an integral part of their business strategies and operations. By embracing sustainable tourism practices, stakeholders can not only attract environmentally-conscious visitors but also contribute to the long-term preservation and prosperity of Singapore’s tourism industry.
Through targeted educational initiatives, STB provides resources, training programs, and guidelines to enhance stakeholders’ knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism. This includes raising awareness about the importance of conserving natural resources, minimising waste, supporting local economies, and respecting local cultures and traditions.
8. How do you address the issue of over-tourism in Singapore, and what strategies have you implemented to manage visitor numbers sustainably?
At STB, we are committed to managing visitor numbers sustainably. As a part of this, we have implemented a number of strategies to manage visitor numbers, including:
– Promoting hidden gem precincts: The STB is promoting hidden gem precincts within the country to encourage tourists to explore beyond the popular tourist spots. This helps to reduce the pressure on popular tourist destinations and spread the benefits of tourism more evenly across the country
– Encouraging sustainable tourism practices: The STB is encouraging sustainable tourism practices among tourists and businesses. This includes promoting the use of public transportation, walking, and cycling; encouraging tourists to stay in eco-friendly accommodations; and supporting businesses that adopt sustainable practices
– Working with local communities: The STB is working with local communities to ensure that tourism benefits everyone. This includes working with communities to develop sustainable tourism products and services; and involving communities in decision-making about tourism
9. What role do you see sustainable tourism practices playing in the post-pandemic recovery of the tourism industry, and what initiatives has Singapore Tourism Board launched to support this recovery?
Sustainable tourism practices have played a pivotal role in the post-pandemic recovery of the tourism industry globally. We recognise that integrating sustainability into the recovery process is essential to ensure a resilient – and responsible – tourism sector.
Here are some examples of the sustainable tourism initiatives that have been launched recently:
– Tourism Sustainability Strategy, which was developed in line with the Green Plan. The strategy charts three strategic focus areas to steward the tourism industry’s sustainability efforts – becoming a sustainable urban destination, building a sustainable tourism sector, and showcasing Singapore as a sustainable urban destination
– Singapore has gained popularity as a key aviation hub in South Asia and sustainable aviation fuel is identified as one of the key elements to achieving the aviation industry’s emissions reduction goals. In 2022, Singapore announced that it will have the world’s largest sustainable aviation fuel plant by 2023. Singapore Airlines has also operated its first flight with blended sustainable aviation fuel as part of a pilot to advance the use of sustainable aviation fuel in Singapore
– Singapore companies with relevant expertise have also partnered with overseas businesses to support them in achieving their sustainability aspirations. For example, Singapore developers and consultants have ensured that more than 300 projects from 16 countries had been certified under the Building and Construction Authority (BCA)’s Green Mark scheme
10. What is your vision for the future of sustainable tourism in Singapore, and how do you plan to achieve this vision?
Singapore’s vision is to become one of the world’s most sustainable urban destinations – a city in nature where large experiences come with small or, where possible, regenerative footprints. Our vision for the future of sustainable tourism in Singapore is to establish it as a global leader in responsible and eco-friendly travel. Working together in a public-private partnership, we are actively fostering a destination that embraces sustainable practices, preserves our natural resources, and enhances the well-being of Singapore’s diverse communities that make the vibrant destination what it is.