Cautious outlook for 2017 as Chinese clients gain more options elsewhere.
Chinese arrivals to Singapore from January to November last year recorded an impressive year-on-year increase of 36.1 per cent, to 2,637,240 visitors, according to Singapore Tourism Board‚Äôs (STB) latest statistics.
While STB does not track MICE arrivals by countries, Low See Peng, regional director, Greater China, STB, said Singapore was regarded as an attractive destination for the Chinese in 2016, leading to a ‚Äúpositive growth‚ÄĚ in Chinese business traffic.
Low said STB‚Äôs various incentive schemes aimed at event planners, such as the INSPIRE programme which provides value-added services and the Business Events in Singapore (BEiS) scheme which provides funding support, have helped to boost business arrivals from China.
According to Joseph Sze, director of CSI Marketing China, Singapore is favoured for meetings and incentives. He said: ‚ÄúThere are many creative itineraries that can be delivered with a memorable impact, and that is what Chinese clients want.‚ÄĚ
However Sze pointed out Singapore‚Äôs limitation in accommodating mega Chinese groups with more than 1,000 pax.
He added that Singapore ought to pay attention to Chinese clients‚Äô rising expectations for innovative event content as a result of ‚Äúa fast-changing China MICE industry landscape‚ÄĚ and intensifying competition from other destinations.
Michael Chong, managing director of Global Events Management & Travel, observed the same: ‚ÄúRegional countries are becoming more appealing to the Chinese business event market and as such Singapore has lost some clients.‚ÄĚ
Rising costs in holding meetings and incentives here pose another problem.
That said, Chong believes that Singapore‚Äôs high level of safety and security, and familiar food, culture and language stand the city in good stead to keep Chinese groups coming.
For MCI Group Asia Pacific though, Chinese business has been gloomy and numbers have dwindled over the last few years, according to Vincent Yap, regional director of South East Asia, marketing and communications.
Yap said: ‚ÄúThe allure of Singapore as a venue for business meetings and incentive trips for Chinese companies has lost or is losing its appeal, even more so with the tightening of travel regulations and budgetary cuts in China.
‚ÄúWith a limited budget, companies are restricting the number of meetings and instead, looking at a farther destinations like Europe. The uncertainty in Europe and the weaker euro have opened greater opportunities for the Chinese market to consider it as a destination.‚ÄĚ
STB‚Äôs Low is equally cautious about the year ahead, saying: ‚ÄúWe expect macroeconomic factors such as the general bearish economic outlook to have an impact on business traffic and expenditure from China. Nonetheless, we believe Singapore remains a compelling and attractive destination for business travellers.‚ÄĚ
To keep Singapore competitive, STB is creating opportunities and platforms for local business event stakeholders and Chinese industry players to network and keep each other updated on Singapore‚Äôs latest meeting and incentive offerings.
For example, the MICE Conference which comprises industry forums and workshops for China travel agents and corporate clients, will return for its third edition in 2017, Low said.
She also emphasised the STB is strengthening its in-market presence in China. In 2016 it appointed six major MICE travel agents in China as Singapore MICE Strategic Partners to build a pipeline of corporate clients through a series of awareness-building activities such as familiarisation trips.