Asian venues shutter amid city lockdowns and social distancing orders

Silence has befallen several MICE venues in Asian cities as the fight against the spread of Covid-19 heats up.

Covid-19 has resulted in empty event venues and million dollar losses
Covid-19 has resulted in empty event venues and million-dollar losses
  • Malaysian and Philippine venues forced to obey strict lockdown orders, while freedom of choice remains for venues in Singapore and Indonesia
  • Venues that remain open enforce stringent hygiene procedures and health checks
  • City lockdowns and other measures restricting gatherings are deemed tough but necessary

Silence has befallen several MICE venues in Asian cities as the fight against the spread of Covid-19 heats up.

Major convention and exhibition centres in Malaysia and the Philippines, where strict lockdown orders have been issued, have temporarily shuttered.

The Malaysia International Trade & Exhibition Centre (MITEC) and Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Setia City Convention Centre in Selangor, and Setia SPICE Convention Centre in Penang have closed and will reopen on April 1 in accordance with the government’s Movement Control Order which kicked in at midnight on Wednesday. At press time, the Order is expected to conclude on March 31, 2020.

MITEC staff is working remotely, while the two Setia venues will maintain a few operational employees on site to cover security and maintenance.

Over in the Philippines, the entire Luzon island, which Metro Manila is part of, and 41 other destinations in the country have imposed community quarantine in varying degrees and length of time.

The Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) will be temporarily closed from March 17 until April 14, 2020 to abide by the Enhanced Community Quarantine, which orders stringent social distancing and prohibition of mass gatherings, among other requirements.

Roberto A Garcia, deputy general manager of PICC, said: “We shall undertake minor repairs and maintenance, and conduct another round of disinfection and sanitation while there are no scheduled events if restrictions are eased up in the coming days.”

Shortly after a government advisory last week to implement social distancing in Indonesia, the Indonesia Convention Exhibition (ICE) has decided close off its venues until mid-April and is implementing split shifts for its staff. During the closure, ICE will carry out periodic disinfection.

Open and cautious
The Singapore government has so far resisted a lockdown order, allowing convention and exhibition centres to remain open. Latest measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 included social distancing at public venues, entertainment venues and tourist attractions as well as deferment or cancellation of all ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with 250 participants or more.

But Singapore’s venues are by no means lackadaisical about the situation. Cleaning and sanitisation were stepped up as soon as the first bout of infections were reported, and thermal scans were deployed when the city-state raised its DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) alert to orange – the second-highest level of alert – on February 7.

Aloysius Arlando, CEO, SingEx Holdings, told TTGmice: “Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria hosts a wide range of events each year – and these include smaller events the likes of corporate meetings which will continue to take place while the venue remains open. We stand by the social distancing guidelines from the local authorities and will continue to take the necessary precautions in adherence to the advisory for events and gatherings.”

Illustrating the precautions taken by his venues, Arlando said: “When the DORSCON alert was raised to orange, we limited access to Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria to just three main entry points with temperature and health screening stations.

“Medical protocols to assess the conditions of unwell visitors are in place; individuals who are unwell with fever or respiratory symptoms will be turned away from Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria. However, if deemed necessary, we will refer unwell individuals to the hospital for further medical assessment.

Arlando: all necessary precautions taken as venue remains open

“We will also work closely with our event partners to facilitate contact tracing measures during event days. Further, we will ensure that event participants are reminded to reduce contact with others, avoid shaking hands and consider adopting alternative greetings instead. These measures that we have been implementing since Covid-19 came to light are now part of our operational consciousness.”

Similarly armed with the freedom of choice, the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) in Indonesia has also chosen to continue with operations.

Despite having no events on the books in the coming month, Hosea Andreas Rungkat, director of convention services, said JCC would use the time to carry out repairs and cleaning – something the hugely popular centre was rarely able to do due to a packed schedule.

As the outbreak unfolded across the region, JCC established a staff clinic to tackle medical emergencies and conducted staff training to ensure everyone was aware of critical Covid-19 preventive procedures.

Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center (BNDCC) has also chosen to remain open for business, and is accepting requests for site inspections.

Yasinta Hartawan, general manager of BNDCC, said the venue has “taken good measures to ensure the well-being of the community”, such as making hand sanitisers easily accessible everywhere around the compound, establishing temperature screening at the entrance, and increasing the frequency of cleaning spraying disinfectant at public areas.

Brutal blood loss
According to an impact study published by UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, earlier this month, massive tradeshow postponements and cancellations are costing the global industry losses of €23 billion (US$26.3 billion).

Asia-Pacific is the hardest hit, with lost orders worth around €13 billion.

As additional events continue to be postponed, UFI expects these numbers to rise further in the weeks to come.

But as business events have a significant impact on the global economy, influencing direct spend, creating jobs and promoting knowledge and trade exchange, among other benefits, the actual losses as a result of tradeshows not happening as planned are more extensive.

Kai Hattendorf, UFI managing director/CEO, said: “Globally, the fact that more than 500 tradeshows have not taken place in recent weeks is creating an escalating ripple effect for whole industries.”

As an industry, the exhibitions industry generates a total economic output of €22.9 billion per month globally on average, translating into more than 270,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

Based on the current numbers and size of the events not taking place, €14.4 billion of economic output have already been lost, noted the UFI study. In Asia-Pacific, the economic loss is in excess of €8.4 billion.

Gunther Beissel, MITEC CEO, said: “To date, Malaysia has had to cancel or postpone most of, if not all of its business events.”

Beissel noted that the outbreak has not only disrupted events, it has also dealt a “massive negative” blow on the national economy.

A statement issued by the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) yesterday estimated a total loss of over RM1.5 billion (US$343 million) to date for the Malaysian business events sector.

It said that in just three months – between February and April 2020, a total of 47 business events were cancelled with another 62 were being postponed nationwide.

And as the fasting month for Muslims approaches (for a month from April 23 this year), JCC is bracing for a “tough two months”. The venue will be quiet until after Eid al-Fitr on May 23 and 24.

A necessary evil
While city lockdowns are among the harshest responses a government can take in battling a pandemic, venue chiefs have voiced their support for the measure.

Beissel: tough measures absolutely necessary

Gunther Beissel, MITEC CEO, said: “The Restricted Movement Order by the Government is not only a necessary move for tourism which includes the MICE/business events industry, but it is for the nation to get back on its feet. It plays an integral role in ensuring we are all and healthy during this pandemic.”

Arlando, who is also the president of the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers, agree that the tough measures are necessary.

“Despite the current impact on the MICE industry, these measures are necessary given the health and safety risks that come with large gatherings – as displayed by recent happenings around the world. MICE events bring together attendees from all over the world. We are therefore supportive of the hard but critical measures the world is taking, to help slow down the transmission of the Covid-19 virus and hence, speed up outbreak containment. Just one day of practicing social distancing can help reduce the burden of cases,” he explained.

As Ryan Adrian, president director of Indonesia International Expo, owner of ICE, puts it simply: “We need to save people’s lives to keep the business running. It is when everyone is safe and sound that business will rebound.”

Far from recovery
With tradeshows and exhibitions requiring a longer planning lead time, are venues in Asia starting to see stirrings of “revenge consumption”, where pent-up demand for travel, business meetings and trade events leads to a flurry of MICE activity when the outbreak is contained?

Beissel said nothing in that direction was showing up yet.

“As a matter of fact, industry key-stakeholders are now focusing on eradicating the pandemic. When the country gets back to normal, we are hopeful that business will pick up at an acceptable rate,” he said.

However, Beissel said the outbreak has changed the way MITEC does business. “Moving forward, technology applications are becoming even more important in conducting business,” he said.

Arlando has also identified opportunities amid the business slowdown. “In times of crisis, there is always opportunity,” he opined.

“SingEx will be making use of this downtime to work on strengthening our company’s fundamentals in preparation for the upturn, focusing strongly on talent development and operational excellence and readiness,” he said. – Additional reporting by Tiara Maharani and Rosa Ocampo

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