SINGAPORE - In 50 years, Singapore has transformed its tourism landscape, from having a handful of attractions in 1964, when the tourism board was started, to being voted Lonely Planet's top destination for 2015.
Over the next 50, the industry must focus on the quality of experience and the value of every tourist over sheer numbers, if it is to keep growing, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.
Only by investing in capabilities, refreshing attractions and engaging locals more deeply can Singapore remain special, and overcome the challenges of competition from its neighbours as well as a tight labour market.
Speaking to industry leaders, stakeholders and front-line staff at the Tourism50 gala dinner at Gardens by the Bay, Mr Lee paid tribute to the pioneers of tourism and the front-line staff who interact with visitors every day.
Because the human touch is crucial, he called on the industry to invest in capabilities so workers are at the top of their game and proud of their jobs.
To continually refresh the visitor experience, Singapore will bring in new events like last weekend's Women's Tennis Association Finals, and spruce up older attractions. There are "bold plans" to develop Mandai, including a new Bird Park to replace the one in Jurong, he added.
More has to be done to engage residents and showcase home- grown talent not just to visitors but also internationally, Mr Lee said. "Ultimately, if we don't feel proud of our home, we cannot expect visitors to feel excited about Singapore," he added.
Pointing to Gardens by the Bay as an example of what can be achieved, he said it was "not an easy decision" to build a park right on prime land.
But the Government agreed with city planners and it turned out to be the right decision, he said, as it has become a place Singaporeans are proud of, identify with and enjoy.
The gala dinner was organised by the Singapore Tourism Board to celebrate 50 years of tourism development and industry partnerships. There was also a ceremony for the Singapore Experience Awards, given each year to recognise excellence in the tourism industry.
Veteran tourist guide Geraldene Lowe-Ismail, 75, took home the highest accolade, the Lifetime Achievement award.
In her close to 60-year career, she has pioneered walking tours and trained countless tourist guides. She still conducts historical and architectural tours.
"I still have to do retraining so that I'm up to date with the new attractions," she said.
Ms Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder and editor of travel industry site Web In Travel, was named tourism entrepreneur of the year.
For the third consecutive year, the Chingay Parade was named leisure event of the year, while the Night Safari won the best visitor attraction experience award.
In all, 29 awards were given out, including awards presented to the best customer service providers in categories such as retail, tour guides and transport.
This article was first published on November 1, 2014.
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