For the first time in its history, SACEOS is headed by a person from outside the exhibitions sector and a boutique player at that. Raini Hamdi talks to Tan-Collis about it
Youâ€™ve been active in SACEOS* for the past 10 years and is now its president. Whatâ€™s it like for a DMC and luxury travel specialist (Tan-Collis is managing director of East West Planners) to be active in an exhibitions-dominated association?
Iâ€™ve learnt a lot from each of the leadership, from Dilys Yong (group president, HQ Link) to Rosalind Ng (immediate past president and IIR Exhibitions managing director Asia).
For them, no doubt, they look at big bucks, because exhibitions are big business. I saw how SACEOS had a strong business sense â€“ when the Exco talked, it always looked at business first, and that was exciting for me.
* SACEOS was founded in 1979 as the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers but appears to have all but dropped the acronym, referring to itself as SACEOS â€“ Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions Singapore
What points did you feel were missing, if any?
I felt the balance was not there. No doubt the exhibitions industry is a big game, but I believe meetings, incentives, events all require the same amount of attention and engagement.
SACEOS can be the overall vehicle representing the MICE private sector in Singapore. To bring the real dollar value (of MICE) to Singapore, there needs to be a closer partnership between the public sector and the private sector. The STB (Singapore Tourism Board) is astute enough to be the PR and marketing vehicle while SACEOS should (take care of the) sales, bringing the business into Singapore. We then go out as a team.
But isnâ€™t the membership mainly exhibitions-related?
Yes, we have around 123 members and many are PCOs, PEOs and suppliers to exhibitions. Part of my mission is to enlarge the membership to include the whole MICE industry â€“ the likely people are the hoteliers, attraction owners, venue operators, etc, but also photographers, landscapers, etc â€“ to make people understand how large the MICE industry is and to make people understand that SACEOS is not just about and for the exhibitions sector.
But how do you do that when the name itself refers to conventions and exhibitions?
Thatâ€™s why the branding has got to be changed but right now we donâ€™t have the financial wherewithals. And we should not try to do too many things. Iâ€™m trying to get the house in order first, so to speak â€“ get the right talent to drive SACEOS, work out what is needed by the membership and destination, put the strategies in place to serve our members, and by doing that we will have more members coming in.
You canâ€™t do much in two years (the presidency term) but I hope I can help put in the structure and focus, then from there hopefully weâ€™ll see an exponential growth in membership.
If I am a member from exhibitions, wouldnâ€™t I feel a dilution if SACEOS were to engage the whole MICE sector?
No, as I have the support of Rosalind to remain involved in the Exco. I also have more exhibition organisers in my committee than when the president was from the exhibitions industry. Whatâ€™s more, half of them are young. This is our next generation of leaders â€“ Ong Wee Min (honorary secretary) from Marina Bay Sands, Daniel Chua (vice president meetings & incentives, from Aonia), Susan Tan (committee member) from Singapore Exhibition Services and people like Nancy Tan (vice president conference, from Ace:Daytons Direct) who are young at heart.
I hope to play a part in grooming and passing on the baton to them, to lead the way, but also look towards them to lead. Iâ€™m excited to see these young people take on leadership roles. I donâ€™t expect them to do things the way we have done them, but on the other hand, unless they can tap on to whatâ€™s been done, they would not have the foundation or history to move on with the future.
How do you feel about making history with SACEOS as its first president ever from outside the exhibitions industry?
Iâ€™m excited. I call it a defining and refining moment â€“ refining in a sense the exhibitions business itself needs refinement and itâ€™s an opportunity to help refine it. If we cannot compete on prices because it is cheaper for exhibitions to be held in Vietnam than Singapore, then we need to compete on content, so perhaps we need to create more of our own content with the Singapore branding, in the likes of the water week or airshow.
A recent STB survey also shows that despite the phenomenal investment in the exhibitions sector, the profitability of PCOs is dwindling. So this is a good time to see how we can change the game.
A good part of the solution is getting talent to join the industry, so that there is an injection of new ideas. The problem is the talent is not looking to this industry and this is where SACEOS can also play a role to change it.
Weâ€™ve kept saying this industry is long hours, does not pay well, etc. Itâ€™s not true. Doctors, surgeons, lawyers, etc, all work long hours â€“ which profession does not? We should be saying instead, do you have the DNA to do this? Are you someone who has the kind of personality to succeed in this kind of business? Yes, our industry requires one to put in long hours, but it is far more exciting.
Getting the fresh graduates in is important, but then we also need the right kind and level of training so that the young minds can see where the business is, how they can make the money, where they can make a difference, and how they can add value in this age of technology.
Last question, how do you do all this â€“ manage East West, lead SACEOS, take care of elite travellers, and still raise beautiful kids?
(Laughs)Â Â They are wonderful kids and are part of my motivation.