A new breed of MICECategory: 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 Singaporeâ€™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 Singaporeâ€™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 Singaporeâ€™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 Suppliersâ€™s (SACEOS) executive director, Elizabeth Chin, said that STBâ€™s decision to focus on developing the MICE sector was timely.
â€śCurrently, the MICE industryâ€™s profile is not as prominent as other segments in the tourism sector. Hopefully, more awareness about Singaporeâ€™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,â€ť 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, STBâ€™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: â€śSingapore constantly improves existing infrastructure to meet the needs of the MICE industry to ensure facilities remain relevant and competitive.â€ť
She added that Singaporeâ€™s MICE sector will continue to thrive because of Asiaâ€™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 Singaporeâ€™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 STBâ€™s renewed bid to bolster Singaporeâ€™s MICE infrastructure and manpower capabilities, many acknowledged that much more effort was required to improve recruitment and retention levels.
East West Executive Travellerâ€™s CEO, Janet Tan-Collis, who is also the vice president of SACEOS, believes that there is a huge gap between STBâ€™s vision and what the industry can provide owing to manpower limitations.
She said: â€śSTBâ€™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 thereâ€™s a huge deficitâ€ť
â€śIn 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 â€“ it is a catch 22 situation.â€ť
World Expressâ€™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. â€śNothing beats on-the-ground experience to instil knowledge and creativity,â€ť he said.
Tan-Collis stated that few tourism and hotel management graduates end up in the travel trade, and even fewer venture into MICE. â€śSome 90 per cent (of graduates) eventually leave for more lucrative sectors such as banking or finance,â€ť she said.
â€śSadly, there is an entrenched perception that tourism and MICE firms do not pay well, which is a shame as weâ€™ve observed that some of these youths are exceptionally talented.â€ť
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.
â€śWe 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 Singaporeâ€™s MICE sector,â€ť said Janet Tan-Collis, vice president of SACEOS. She added that STB has been highly supportive of the associationâ€™s efforts. â€śIt 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.â€ť