Singapore Tourism Board: Uniquely Enriching

As a management trainee with the Singapore Tourism Board, Kevin Choe is at the forefront of one of Singapore's most dynamic industries today.

by Colin Lim

At the age of seven, Kevin Choe left Singapore to study at the International School of Bangkok in Thailand. About ten years later, he returned to complete his National Service, but found himself feeling out of place. "I felt like a foreigner in my own country, after being away for such a long time,” recalled Kevin.

In an interesting turn of events, Kevin is now a management trainee in the F1 Projects Division of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). As part of a Project Management team, he is involved with preparation work for the FORMULA 1™ SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, scheduled to take place in September 2008. The event is hailed as a milestone for Singapore's tourism industry, and Kevin has been tasked with important responsibilities that are crucial for its success, despite having joined STB for less than a year.

The big switch
Kevin graduated from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. A love for automobiles since a young age led to him studying about internal combustion engines in his final year, which at one point involved "taking apart engines and putting them back together”. Despite enjoying his course of study, Kevin eventually decided against pursuing an engineering career.

Upon coming across ads by STB, and learning about exciting developments like the FORMULA 1™ race and two upcoming integrated resorts in the news, Kevin was drawn to the tourism industry, which he found to be a vibrant and promising one that he could see himself in. Knowing about the STB Management Trainee Scheme was also a factor in his decision to apply to STB.

After a couple of selection rounds, Kevin was successfully selected as a management trainee, officially joining STB in July 2007. STB's mission is to develop and champion tourism, so as to build the sector into a key driver of economic growth for Singapore. By focusing on creating experiences for visitors and generating high tourism receipts, STB works towards strengthening Singapore's position as a premier business and leisure destination.

Grooming talents
The STB Management Trainee Scheme is a 12-month training programme that offers a unique opportunity for graduates to be in a multi-faceted sector that includes marketing, business development, product development, leisure travel, business travel, education and healthcare services. The Scheme facilitates professional diversity by rotating trainees to various divisions in their first year. Training includes attachment to Singapore Visitor Centres (SVCs), and deployments to two different divisions. Kevin started off in the SVC located at Changi, where he was involved in front line service. "I got to interact with tourists from all over the world, while at the same time, enrich my knowledge about Singapore's tourism products,” said Kevin. Trainees also get the chance to go on familiarisation trips to various tourist attractions in Singapore, such as Sentosa and the various museums, which Kevin candidly described as being "very cool”.

Every year, about 10 to 15 trainees are accepted, depending on the quality of the candidates. Other than excellent academic results (2nd Upper Honours and above) and extra curriculum activity records, candidates also need to have a passion in tourism. However, the good news is that the program accepts candidates from a diverse range of educational backgrounds, including business, hospitality and tourism management, accountancy, engineering, international relations, geography and more. Moreover, graduates from reputable local and foreign universities are both welcome to apply.

For Kevin, after his attachment at the SVC, he was posted to the International Group of STB, which aims to promote Singapore as a compelling destination for business and leisure, through activities such as marketing, strategic alliances and the fostering of good government relations. His main project under the International Relations Division was the ASEAN Tourism Forum held in January 2008. Describing the event as "a platform for the ten ASEAN nations to discuss ways of promoting the Southeast Asian region as a single tourist destination,” Kevin helped out by preparing bilateral documents, and even got to travel to Bangkok for about a week, where the forum was held.

Acknowledging that the event is an important annual affair that brings together the ASEAN tourism ministers, Kevin is grateful that the Management Trainee Scheme gives fresh graduates like himself the opportunity to take on responsibilities early on in their careers. "It's a really good start because I was given the opportunity to take on tasks and roles that are important even at this early stage,” said Kevin.

Life in the fast lane
In February this year, Kevin was posted to the F1 Projects Division, which works closely with the race promoter, government ministries and other agencies to facilitate the staging and running of the annual F1 race. This was good news for Kevin, who had specified the division as one of his preferred ones earlier on, due to how he felt that his engineering background would help him on the job. The divisions which management trainees are posted to depend on several factors, such as their indicated preference, course of study and organisational needs.

Describing the scope of work in the F1 Projects Division as dynamic, Kevin is mainly in charge of transportation matters for the upcoming race. This encompasses arrangements for transport by land or water, arrival and dispersal plans, as well as security and emergency response routes. "Hosting an F1 race on a street circuit brings about the need for road closures, which can be quite tricky in orchestrating, with regards to minimizing public disruption whilst ensuring the necessary race infrastructure is set up on time,” explained Kevin.

He adds that his job requires him to come into contact with stakeholders (people affected by the F1 race), which includes those that have limited access to their property due to road closures. Kevin also has to communicate with numerous other government agencies in the course of his work. "When setting up installation works for race lighting, such as erecting a lighting pylon, we must seek approval from a number of authorities before works can proceed. For example, if the lighting system needs to be clamped to an existing bridge structure of if a lane needs to be closed for installation works, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority will need to be consulted respectively,” elaborated Kevin.

The Singapore Grand Prix Season is organised in conjunction with the race, spanning three weekends and showcasing entertainment events and lifestyle festivals. The race itself will make history by being the first-ever city night race to be held. As Singapore has secured the rights to the race for the next five years, it is important for the inaugural race to be a success.

"Organising the night race is challenging because no one else has done it before, so there's no one for us to benchmark against. We have to take into account all sorts of issues that were never before seen in previous races. After completing the first race, we will have to study the lessons learnt and look at ways to enhance the race to keep the tourists coming back for the next race,” said Kevin.

Thankfully, Kevin's engineering background has indeed come in handy. He said, "For example, the circuit layout and schematics for lighting are all engineering drawings. Being able to decipher the schematics really helps me in my job.” However, he considers the switch from an engineering background to working in the tourism industry as also being one of his biggest challenges so far, in terms of how he has had to adapt his skills and thinking processes accordingly. Interestingly enough, he reveals that few of his colleagues graduated from tourism-related courses, a testament to how the Management Trainee Scheme is open to talents from all fields.

Kevin hopes to stay on in the F1 Projects Division after the race, as he enjoys doing the work involved. Post-race construction activities will include the dismantling and removal of race infrastructure and the gradual reopening of roads. But for now, Kevin is enjoying the fact that he is part of the bustling tourism industry. "The tourism industry will be increasingly vibrant in the next few years. With so much happening so quickly in Singapore, and being in an organisation where you see people working on new developments and upcoming events, it is exciting to be part of the action,” revealed Kevin.

On the impression that working in STB involves a great deal of travelling, Kevin says that this depends on the division you are in, as well as the emergence of new markets that can be tapped on. In other words, traveling is on a needs basis depending on the work you are involved in.

But what there definitely is for a career in STB is dynamism and a sense of satisfaction. Coupled with the numerous developments bound to further boost tourism in Singapore, working in STB will undoubtedly lead to personal and professional transformation that is uniquely rewarding and enriching.

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