STB should open up Singaporean homes to tourists to quash perception of sterility and cultural blandness, adman suggests

Singapore heartlands: the new frontier for tourism?

Heartlands: the new frontier for Singapore tourism?

The only way to quash the perception among foreigners that Singapore is sterile and lacking in character is to turn Singaporeans into brand ambassadors and invite tourists into their homes, an adman who pitched for the Singapore Tourism Board business some years ago has suggested.

Alluding to a different era of travel brought about by online lodging service Airbnb, Calvin Soh, an adman turned consultant who pitched for the STB account while working at ad agency Publicis, told Mumbrella that tourists needed to be given a “bigger and deeper reason to come” beyond a traditional ad campaign and experience the real Singapore that exists in the island’s heartland residential areas.

Singapore Tourism Board is currently going through a tender process to recruit a new advertising agency, next-round presentations having been made this week involving four contenders.

“In 2007, part of our pitch idea was to turn Singaporeans into ambassadors. Get tourists to stay with them for a deeper experience. Let them live in the heartlands, use the fact that we are safe and clean to our advantage. Only can you change the perception that we are sterile of culture and character,” Soh said.

Calvin Soh


Another dimension was added to the STB pitch after news emerged a fortnight ago that Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has entered talks with Airbnb to establish guidelines for the short-term leasing of properties. Renting out public housing properties is currently illegal in Singapore.

“This year, it’s not that we have become less attractive. We are more expensive, globalisation makes brands bland, the haze and the Chinese have stopped coming. Most are factors out of our control. More than ever, you need to give people a bigger and deeper reason to come. What is our surprise? Orchard Road? Chinatown? Marina Bay Sands? Sentosa? Shopping? Other cities have caught up,” he said.

“You have no choice but to increase your sales marketing force. More than ever, Singaporeans have to be ambassadors. Only we can show them the side unseen, the local makers, the unseen food artisans, the little pockets or art music and culture,” Soh said.

“That is where Singapore unexpected lives. The organic and not the manufactured. Everyone outside thinks they know Singapore, and that’s where the tension point is. Surprise them. Allow the connection. Incentivise and empower. Make ambassadors/hosts of us all.”

“Just don’t do an ad campaign because it won’t solve the fundamental issues,” he added.

STB had suggested in 2007 that the idea had been too risky and Singapore was not ready for it, according to Soh, who was formerly vice chairman and chief creative officer of Publicis Asia Pacific and is now running creative consultancy Ninety Nine Percent.

Singapore Tourism Board is now looking for an idea that will position the citystate now and for the next 50 years. The contenders are Omnicom’s DDB and TBWA and WPP’s Comwerks and Ogilvy & Mather.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing