“We Are Reimagining What Wellness In A Busy City Could Look Like.”

Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive of Singapore Tourism Board (STB), shares about the future of tourism in Singapore and how he is promoting wellness within his organisation.
Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive of Singapore Tourism Board (STB), shares about the future of tourism in Singapore.

Family, fitness, faith and food. Known among colleagues for his high energy, Mr Keith Tan takes care of his wellbeing by abiding by these four ‘F’s.

Despite his action-packed schedule as Chief Executive of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), he regularly carves out time for daily exercise, having nutritious food, his faith, and spending time with his wife and four teenage children.

Thanks to STB’s SingapoRediscovers campaign, his family has explored local gems like Lazarus Island, with “the most beautiful beach in Singapore”, Keith says.

The campaign was born during the pandemic, which upended travel and the tourism industry. In this time, Keith has been hard at work spearheading efforts to revive the sector and look after his colleagues’ wellbeing.

During COVID-19, STB’s work pivoted from attracting tourism-related business to supporting government efforts against the virus.

When thousands of Chinese tourists were stuck in Singapore, for example, unable to fly home in the early days of the outbreak, the STB tapped data science and its relationships with travel agents to pinpoint their whereabouts. This effort helped other public agencies with contact tracing.

The STB also played a pivotal role in the reopening of borders via the Vaccinated Travel Lanes.

“Our priority was to advocate from the perspective of the traveller,” Keith explains. “How can we simplify the documentation? How can we make visitor information easily accessible so that travellers don’t have to look through six different websites?”

Video by: Eric Lin

The Future of Singapore’s Tourism

Now that tourism has opened up again, Keith is excited about the possibilities. One major win was securing the return of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, which he believes will not only bring travellers, but also boost business in many other areas. The prestigious race would also bolster Singapore’s image as a desirable destination for world-class events.

Keith is especially enthusiastic about upcoming hotel projects that focus on wellness and sustainability. The Grand Hyatt, for example, partnered with local sports apparel brand Kydra and local food producers for a wellness retreat, to cater to the growing demand for sustainability and wellness experiences.

“These two concepts have resonated a lot with travellers post-pandemic,” he observes. “They've seen how the world became better environmentally when people travelled less. In these challenging times, wellness and mental wellbeing have become important considerations too.”

The focus on wellness and sustainability is part of STB’s current campaign to attract tourists: SingapoReimagine. This initiative was launched in late 2020 to reintroduce travel to Singapore and the world.

“We are reimagining what a sustainable urban destination and wellness in a busy city could look like,” says Keith. “We do not want tourism and travel to go back to business-as-usual pre-COVID. The expectations and demands of travellers have changed.”

Video by: Eric Lin

Compared to places like Bali, Singapore isn’t typically regarded as a wellness destination. But the city’s accessibility to green spaces, surrounding seas and healthy food options make it a potential wellness hub. Keith hopes Singapore can become a go-to vacation spot for stressed-out families to relax, with holistic offerings that differentiate us from other traditional wellness destinations.

And though there are challenges, such as having to rebuild manpower in the tourism sector and help with rising costs, Keith is “absolutely confident” about Singapore's tourism revival: “Over the last two years we've built up a rich range of products and offerings… and the perception of Singapore as a desired destination remains very high.”

A Focus on Overall Wellbeing

For Keith, the focus on wellness isn’t just about attracting tourists. Mental wellness is a topic close to his heart. During the pandemic, it became clear that STB staff were becoming worn down with the constant uncertainty and demands placed on them.

To support his colleagues, Keith began volunteering as a Public Service Wellness Ambassador (WA). He is part of a network of volunteers who encourage open discussions around mental health and build a culture of care within the Public Service.

In his role, Keith leads the team of WAs at the STB, encouraging them to speak up for wellness at their various meetings, watch out for signs of burnout and stress in their colleagues, and form networks of support for each other.

Video by: Eric Lin

At the organisational level, the STB has also implemented wellness-oriented policies. There is a quarterly “recharge week” where no meetings are held so that staff can focus on getting work done. And every week, Friday afternoons are set aside for staff to focus on physical or mental wellness. They can also use this time to pursue learning activities or corporate bonding activities.

STB’s flexible work arrangements allow for employees to “work from anywhere” two to three days a week. A recent survey by The Straits Times also listed the tourism board as one of Singapore’s best employers in 2022 – a testament to its efforts to look after staff.

As the head of the STB, Keith pays particular attention to newly appointed assistant directors, the middle managers integral to the success of STB’s transformation work.

He joined the STB as Chief Executive in October 2018, and was previously Deputy Secretary (Policy) in the Ministry of Defence and Senior Director of the Public Service Division PS21 Office.

Keith realised the importance of supporting this group while at the PS21 Office from 2013 to 2014. Trust, cooperation and communication among middle managers are “absolutely critical” for successful service delivery. For these aspects to emerge, they had to feel empowered, not just execute instructions.

“We don’t really support middle managers, we… expect them to sink or swim. I don’t think that’s wise as we focus on developing a new generation of leaders,” he says.

At the STB, Keith makes time to speak to and advise all his assistant directors – the “first tier” of people managers in the organisation. The STB also has a mentorship programme for experienced directors to mentor newer assistant directors.

“That’s important if we want to build a stronger culture and a new generation of leaders.”

In his efforts to connect with staff, the avid reader and Literature graduate incorporates quotes from his favourite poets – WH Auden, TS Eliot, Ocean Vuong – into his letters to STB staff.

“I hope these quotes inspire my team to look above the daily stress of our work and see that there is meaning in what we are doing,” he says.

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    Sep 14, 2022
    Rebecca Wong
    Norman Ng
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