Can We Make Singapore Tourists More Happy?

November 26, 2014 Blog, Business and Management 5 comments

Oh dear! Customer satisfaction has dropped this year, according to a survey done by the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES).

Reading various reports in The Straits Times, TODAY and Business Times, several sobering statistics await us:

  • Overall customer satisfaction for the tourism sector declined by 7.3% from last year to 69.1 points.
  • Hotels and attractions reported significantly lower scores, particularly hotels which declined 10.4% to 69.4 points. This is the hospitality industry’s worst performance since 2009.
  • The F&B sector suffered a drop of 6.5% in customer satisfaction from last year to 65.8 points.
  • Restaurants registered a double-digit plunge of 10.5% in customer satisfaction to 64.1 points.

Why the Drop in Customer Satisfaction?

So what led to the drop in customer satisfaction? Here’s what I could gather from the various media reports:

  • Generally slower and poorer responses by staff to restaurant customers in areas like bill timeliness and accuracy, time taken for order.
  • Poorer cleanliness and food quality.
  • Shortage of manpower across all tourism sectors.
  • The lack of skilled and trained manpower (likely a result of high turnover).
  • Unmatched tourist expectations due to websites like Trip Advisor.
  • Social media (likely due to over-hyped or puffed-up reviews).

Beyond these points, I believe that one of the key reasons leading to the comparative drop in customer satisfaction may have to do with the fact that almost 73% of our tourists come from Asia. Unlike Western tourists from markets like North America, Europe and Oceania, the Asian tourist may be one used to certain levels of customer care and hospitality in their home countries.

How Can We Lift Customer Satisfaction?

While the manpower crunch has often been cited as the primary reason for the decline in tourism service standards – and hence customer satisfaction – it is unrealistic to expect the government to backtrack on our foreign labour policies. After all, there is an almost continual stream of online and offline protests targeted at foreign talents in Singapore.

Beyond manpower, what else can we do to improve the perception of our foreign visitors when they arrive on our shores?

Let me propose some initial ideas – feel free to add on with your own views and thoughts.

1) From Overflowing Hospitality to Chic Convenience

Given the high costs of labour and land in Singapore, it is unrealistic for us to compete with cheaper regional competitors in providing “head to toe” pampering and hospitality. This means that the way we market and position Singapore should be more akin to cosmopolitan cities like New York, Paris and Tokyo as opposed to being yet another “Land of Smiles” with waiters, bellhops, and retail associates waiting on you.

How we can do this varies from industry to industry. In the hospitality industry, for instance, greater emphasis could be placed on the cleanliness of rooms, convenience of location, and overall efficiency. While people are certainly the most important resource in the tourism trade, we shouldn’t give our visitors the false impression that they will be given personalised concierge style service when we are moving towards a more “self-serve” economy.

2) Engage Everyday Influencers

In the digital and social age, every customer has the ability to either build or harm a brand. Empowered by social networks like Facebook and Twitter, tourists and locals alike have the ability to voice their happiness or displeasure while influencing their family and friends.

Rather than focus purely on major media channels and big time influencers, it may be useful to consider taking little actions to nudge everyday customers to give you their honest to goodness feedback. Find ways to connect even after the sale. Through efforts like this, tourism brands may be better able to influence how they are perceived on the social web.

3) Cut The Hype – Be Authentic

Customer dissatisfaction often comes when sky-high expectations are not met by reality. In the hospitality and F&B sector, we are often inundated with pristine and perfect photos of lushness, luxuriant pampering, and immaculate surroundings. Modelesque talents adorn our marketing, complete with mega-watt smiles. Unfortunately, this may lead our visitors astray, thinking that what they are about to experience is “Rolls Royce” treatment every step of the way.

Rather than constantly project a “Ritz Carlton” standard of service (unless of course you are a 6 star hotel or 3 star Michelin restaurant), consider being authentic and honest in marketing your outlet. Season your website, Facebook updates, and Tweets with day-to-day pictures of what happens on a regular basis. Show your potential customers what you do behind the scenes. Be quirky and funny, but most importantly, be real.

4) Make Self-Service a Game

Yes, I know. Not everybody wants to cook their own pasta, make their own beds, or listen to a machine. However, there is merit in transforming a “self-service” hospitality model from one of pain to pleasure.

The key here is to make it seem fun and to reward tourists for helping themselves. For instance, if they can do their own self check in and check out, they could enjoy a free drink from the bar (this could be in the form of a coupon issued). Or if they choose to return their dishes and plates after a meal, they get a free ice cream cone.

OK, I know that some of you – especially my friends in the tourism trade – are rolling your eyes at my suggestions. I don’t blame you. But think about it, we willingly lug our bags up our hotel rooms in Paris and merrily insert yen notes into ramen vending machines in Osaka. Why can’t we move towards a more automated, contemporary version of hospitality and F&B in Singapore’s tourism sector?

Let me know what you think.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. The evidence in the article indicates that hotel management is now seriously looking at guest satisfaction. As indicated in the report it is evident that hotel customers in Singapore are dissatisfied and this is reflected in your report. At face value it appears that overall customer satisfaction has improved but this is mainly because of rising satisfaction in the finance, insurance and healthcare sectors, which tends to hide the poor performing areas.

    1. Aamir, thanks for your reply. Indeed, it is a challenge trying to raise service levels in Singapore, and the recent reports also seem to indicate a glaring deficit. I like the idea of how we as customers in Singapore can also be more gracious ones. 🙂

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