Singapore gains global destination sustainability certification. What have been the impacts and learnings?

EP was delighted to interview Carrie Kwik, Executive Director, Europe at the Singapore Tourism Board following their announcement that Singapore has been certified as a sustainable destination by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) after being the first to apply the certification process on a country level.

We were interested to learn more as we wanted to understand whether this would attract increased inward investment and also encourage stronger collaboration across industry as well as inspire a stronger understanding of the cultural legacy amongst the population.

As many will know, there has been much debate over how important a role that sustainability plays today in attracting investment as well as acknowledgement that, post pandemic, many have found a renewed interest in history and the cultural legacy as being a key pillar in sustainability strategies. We wanted to understand how this accreditation will impact Singapore’s tourism strategy and whether it has been a good agent for change?

In talking to Carrie, it is very clear that Singapore is committed to building a strong sustainability agenda and see this only as the start of a major commitment to a longer-term plan.

“We hope that 2023 is the year in which we do see full recovery in our tourism just as many others do as well. Over the last few difficult years, we have worked hard to ensure that we develop our plans for the future, even with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” noted Carrie.

“As we are an island which has limited resources, it is important that we create a natural plan which recognises the importance of sustainability which in turn will attract tourism to Singapore. We have laid out a number of important goals to be achieved by 2030 which include:

  • Every household will be within a 10-minute walk from a park
  • One million more trees will be planted
  • There will be three times the number of bicycle paths in Singapore
  • 60% of the total hotel stock will have attained internationally recognised industry-specific certification (e.g., by the GSTC).

These are just some of the examples of the work we are putting in place.”

To achieve accreditation, we asked, did industry work closer together and be more collaborative?

“Yes, working with the leading association bodies was an important part of the process and there was collaboration across all areas, with businesses, with society and with Government. We have to show that we are walking the talk and that this is only the start of a longer journey towards being recognised as one of the world’s sustainable urban destinations”, replied Carrie

“In terms of Hospitality, we worked closely with our local industry associations to develop Hotel and MICE Sustainability Road maps with clear objectives and targets to achieve”

Do you believe that the island will attract more inward investment with the accreditation?

“Of course, we hope so and yes there are signs as many investors do want to see that countries, just as with business, have clear plans for how they will be increasingly sustainable. However, this is also deeper; we are developing strategies on a whole number of levels which help make our economy stronger – on waste management, in our communities and with our attractions. We are investing ourselves in the development of new parks and green attractions which we believe will help us attract even more visitors to our island.”

How important of a role does cultural legacy play in the overall plan?

“There has been a focus on conserving our tangible and intangible cultural heritage; for example through our festivals and their importance, in how it tells our story, how it impacts our society and people, on our food and tourism. This process is allowing us to bring so much together on many levels which hopefully will make us ever better as we recover from the last few years. In 2020, Singapore Hawker Food was inscribed on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

We have worked to maximise the social and economic benefits of tourism for locals. These include supporting and spotlighting local entrepreneurs, a user-friendly built environment, as well as supporting career opportunities and training in tourism.”

Has the process helped create positive change?

“We feel it has been positive because as part of the process, we also learnt where we are doing well and where we needed to improve and understanding this is part of the longer term plan. We are committed to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Our aim is for the country to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Before starting the formal process which took over a year, we embarked on internal assessments to ensure that we were ready – so this has been a multi-year journey which has given us many learnings and insights along the way. Others will naturally wish to follow but for us, this lays down our own sustainability benchmarks for the future.”