Going Against the Grain: Traversing the Multifaceted Industry of Tourism During a Global Pandemic


Share this post:

All hope is not lost in the tourism sector; find out how two NUS graduates went against the grain to contribute to the tourism industry that’s full of hidden opportunities in spite of Covid-19 while majoring in something unrelated. 

In the last two years, the only times when tourism was mentioned were: 

  • When people brought up the fact that we no longer can travel 
  • In marketing angles for products and services that begin with “travel the world with…” 
  • When there was a dip in stock prices and ongoing retrenchment in the tourism sector. 

In other words, the tourism industry was… scaled down to a size we’ve never seen before. Close to non-existent even, other than within the country itself. If anything, Covid-19 has torn the tourism sector apart and proved how booming industries can be shut down in a matter of months. 

In the face of such adversity, daring as it sounds, young graduate Andrea Chiow, 24, class of 2020, not only didn’t flee but even looked forward to starting her career in this industry. Chiow majored in Business Administration with a specialisation in Management and Organisation and decided to join the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) as a fresh grad.

Graduating during the pandemic means… combined commencements and masks up!

Likewise, Gabriel Hon, 29, remained steadfast in the tourism sector since joining the STB family in 2017, even though he graduated with a STEM degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Both Hon and Chiow were a part of STB’s Management Associate Programme (MAP), a 12-month programme that offers trainees the opportunity to gain exposure and build knowledge in various areas within the tourism sector. Curious to find out what motivated them to do so and make this unexpected move despite being from different backgrounds? Read on if you want to find out more about the tourism sector and the many opportunities that it provides! 

The Ridge: What’s your current role at STB? What do you do? 

Andrea: I’m currently the Assistant Manager under the Hospitality, Policy and Planning Group at STB. Industry engagement forms a huge part of my current role and I work closely with hotels to better understand their current needs and how we can better support them. I enjoy interacting with hoteliers, and this aspect of my work also allows me to build better relationships and understand the hotel industry better. As part of the recovery work that we do, I work with hoteliers to answer any potential queries that they may have on the hotel Safe Management Measures. 

Gabriel: After my MAP ended, I was deployed to the Conventions, Meetings & Incentive Travel (CMIT) team for almost three years. At CMIT, my key job scope is to drive visitor arrivals through corporate meetings and incentive travel. I managed the manufacturing, urban solutions, transport and lifestyle sector. I also supported STB’s regional offices in India, the Middle East & South Asia in their business development efforts. 

I was recently posted to Industry Marketing where I’m involved in working with the various business units in STB to develop sound marketing strategies and plans to achieve the organisation’s business goals. It’s quite different from my stint in CMIT, but I’m enjoying the learning process!  

Gabriel (first row, fifth from left) at STB’s launch event along with his other fellow Management Associates back in the day when large scale events were possible

TR: What pushed you to join the tourism sector and to apply for STB’s Management Associate Programme (MAP)?

A: Fun fact: I was an intern with STB when I was schooling, so I kind of always knew that the tourism industry is where I want to be upon graduation. I graduated last year when the news of Covid-19 made global headlines. Although the tourism industry was impacted by the pandemic, deep down I knew I still very much wanted to be part of the industry. I believe that our tourism industry will rebound someday, and it will emerge more spirited than before, with new and exciting experiences awaiting our international guests. My internship stint with STB also gave me a glimpse into how it was like working with the board, and after the positive experience that I had, I could definitely envision myself working in STB for a long, long time. 

Andrea (third row first from the right) in an online Zoom meeting. An all-too-familiar setting for many. 

When I broke the news of my MAP offer to my parents, they were very supportive. I’m guessing it’s because they knew how passionate I am towards the tourism industry. They were also definitely not surprised at all. I’m very happy to be given the opportunity to join STB in the MAP, where I am able to contribute to Singapore’s tourism industry in my own way. I enjoyed the rotations to the various business units as it showed me how multi-faceted tourism is. There are many different functions within tourism, and I believe that the work that we do here in STB is meaningful. I’d have to say that my passion and interest in the tourism industry has helped me overcome challenges that I’ve faced along the way. 

G: I was not adamant to look for a job outside of engineering. Rather, I was looking for an organisation with interesting work with good learning opportunities for a fresh graduate, and with values that aligned with mine. STB MAP struck a chord with me because of how diverse the work was, and the learning opportunities that are present for fresh graduates who are looking to kick-start their career in tourism. 

TR: What did you learn as part of STB’s Management Associate Programme? 

A: Prior to my permanent deployment to the Hospitality Industry Transformation team, I experienced rotations to the Data Partnerships team under the Technology Transformation Group, and the F1 team under the Experience Development Group. If anything, both rotations taught me the art of working with different stakeholders, and how I can manage them effectively. During my time in the Data Partnerships team, I worked with our tourism stakeholders to translate their implementation of data analytics into case studies on STB’s Data College platform to encourage the adoption of data analytics in the tourism industry. It was eye-opening for me to see how data can play a part in optimising tourism business processes and deriving more consumer and business insights. Being part of the F1 team also taught me event management skills, and how we should be adaptable and flexible as plans tend to change along the way. 

G: During my time in MAP, I experienced two rotations. Visitor Experience, where I was the product manager for the Visit Singapore mobile app [and] Tours and Industry Development, where I worked on the Business Transformation Through-Train programme for travel agents and the Tour Design Challenge, which was held to encourage industry players to create more innovative tour products that would appeal to both leisure visitors and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) visitors.

TR: For our readers who are interested in the tourism sector, but may worry about working in the industry without any prior knowledge, were there any experiences in NUS that helped you in your roles?

A: Well, I’d have to say that the many group projects in NUS had given me some foundation skills in project management. In my time here at STB, I often work on several work streams concurrently, and I’m glad that NUS has prepared us with project and time management skills in this aspect through our school projects. Through[out] my time in STB, I’ve also learnt to dedicate my time better so that I do not overlook or neglect any workstreams. 

G: During my time in NUS, I was part of the NUSSU team and I ran several events, which has honed my skills in event management and planning. Also, I was presented with several chances to give presentations to my peers, and my public speaking capabilities have improved! 

Gabriel (third from left) at Asia’s largest travel showcase, ITB Asia with his colleagues.

TR: I know the tourism industry is in a tough spot right now. What gives you the strength to go on, despite the difficulties?

A: I have formed good relationships with the hoteliers that I work with daily, and they would often reach out to check if I’m doing well. It’s extremely heartening to know that they’re keeping me in mind. In the past year when travel was paused, I was inspired by the speed and ways [in] which they have pivoted to rejuvenate their offerings and to cater to domestic tourism. This inspiration has rubbed off on me and I’ve learnt to persevere and not give up whenever I face a challenge. 

G: The rotation opportunities within the MAP has allowed me to scratch the surface of what I think I know about tourism. From my time in Visitor Experience, to Tours and Industry Development, and the three years in CMIT, I have been exposed to the various functions that keep our tourism industry running daily. As I mark my fourth year in STB, I’ve learnt how our tourism industry contributes to the economy, and that each sector in the industry does not work in silo[s]. I’ve come quite far from when I first joined STB, and I definitely see how dynamic and ever-changing the industry is. 

Applications for STB’s Management Associate Programme are now open till 31 December 2021. Interested candidates can apply via Careers@Gov. More details on the programme can be found here