• A new breed of MICE

    A new breed of MICE

    Category: Country report
    Issues: May 2012

    Singapore is placing a greater emphasis on developing its MICE industry, but a deficit of young talents might thwart its plans, writes Linda Haden

    Marina Bay Sands
    STB will spend S$905 million to foster growth in Singapore’s
    MICE and tourism sectors

    In an address at the annual MICE Tourism Industry Conference (TIC) held at Max Atria on February 23, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced that MICE is poised to play an even greater role in Singapore’s latest drive to become a world-class, quality tourism destination.

    Statistics drawn from STB reported sizeable growth in the MICE sector last year. Some 2,130 MICE events were held in the country in 2011, a 46 per cent increase from 2010.

    Together, these events generated S$550 million (US$425 million) in receipts, a 10 per cent rise on the previous year.

    Surprisingly, despite Singapore’s status as a business events hub, MICE generated just 2.2 per cent of total tourism revenues in 2011, and hence, there is a lot of potential for growth.

    The Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers’s (SACEOS) executive director, Elizabeth Chin, said that STB’s decision to focus on developing the MICE sector was timely.

    “Currently, the MICE industry’s profile is not as prominent as other segments in the tourism sector. Hopefully, more awareness about Singapore’s MICE capabilities will be generated with this thrust. This has become particularly crucial since regional MICE bodies like Malaysia and Thailand are stepping up their game,” she said.

    As part of its new five-year strategy, STB will partner with industry players in and out of the MICE and tourism sectors to co-create and anchor signature content to draw more visitors.

    When queried if STB had any specific tactics in mind to enhance the MICE industry, Neeta Lachmandas-Sakellariou, STB’s assistant chief executive, did not reveal any details, but she said that the bureau was still in the midst of gathering feedback from the trade.

    In a statement issued by STB prior to the TIC, Jeannie Lim, executive director, exhibitions & conferences and conventions & meetings, said: “Singapore constantly improves existing infrastructure to meet the needs of the MICE industry to ensure facilities remain relevant and competitive.”

    She added that Singapore’s MICE sector will continue to thrive because of Asia’s relatively robust economic growth.

    Reports in the national press reveal that the Singapore government intends to introduce the Tourism Events Development Scheme, with the aim of organising and attracting top-class lifestyle, corporate and leisure events. This will run alongside the Tourism Product Development Scheme, which encourages the industry to co-create tourism products with STB.

    In addition to the upcoming improvements in Singapore’s tourism and MICE infrastructure, the NTO is striving to upgrade its human resource capabilities.

    The government has allocated S$905 million to STB for tourism developments until 2017. A third of this amount will be used to assist industry stakeholders to build manpower competencies through education and skills-upgrading initiatives, particularly in key areas such as conference management.

    Although industry members applaud STB’s renewed bid to bolster Singapore’s MICE infrastructure and manpower capabilities, many acknowledged that much more effort was required to improve recruitment and retention levels.

    East West Executive Traveller’s CEO, Janet Tan-Collis, who is also the vice president of SACEOS, believes that there is a huge gap between STB’s vision and what the industry can provide owing to manpower limitations.
    She said: “STB’s emphasis on quality means that the industry can expect more discerning travellers with higher expectations in the near future. Thus, it will become more pressing to find and train professionals, but there’s a huge deficit”

    “In the meantime, (tourism-related) companies want to train existing employees and to develop their capabilities, but employers cannot spare their employees the time because of the manpower drought – it is a catch 22 situation.”

    World Express’s managing director Darren Tan stated that due to the fluid nature of the MICE business, it was difficult for a single course to meet all the training requirements of both MICE professionals and new entrants. “Nothing beats on-the-ground experience to instil knowledge and creativity,” he said.

    Tan-Collis stated that few tourism and hotel management graduates end up in the travel trade, and even fewer venture into MICE. “Some 90 per cent (of graduates) eventually leave for more lucrative sectors such as banking or finance,” she said.

    “Sadly, there is an entrenched perception that tourism and MICE firms do not pay well, which is a shame as we’ve observed that some of these youths are exceptionally talented.”

    Developing MICE appeal

    To attract raw talent, and to combat misconceptions about the MICE industry, Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) is developing an educational platform aimed at young adults.

    Seminars, surveys and talks are on the cards to help SACEOS and its members reach out to university and polytechnic students.

    “We hope that we can attract young champions to the MICE industry through these dialogues while supporting young talents already working in the MICE trade, encouraging them to become beacons for the industry. We are working hard to bring enthusiasm and passion back into Singapore’s MICE sector,” said Janet Tan-Collis, vice president of SACEOS. She added that STB has been highly supportive of the association’s efforts. “It is so important to be able to attract talents with the right aptitude into the MICE sector because after being trained, firms will not just have the right software, but the right heartware as well.”