A destination with heart

This is how Singapore is redefining business events through forays into its distinctive heartlands.

Business events continue to hold significant weight in Singapore’s tourism balance.

In 2018, the country welcomed more than 2.9 million business visitors, which accounted for S$4.7 billion (US$3.4 billion) in tourism receipts. With more business travellers seeking increasingly personalised and customised experiences, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has launched the In Singapore Incentives & Rewards (INSPIRE) programme.

Oriental Travel & Tours takes visitors into Ang Mo Kio, where they can interact with a bird-singing group and meet a bird-cage maker

Aimed at small- to mid-sized corporate groups, INSPIRE offers a selection of 63 complimentary incentive experiences designed as accompaniments to the main programme. Previously offered to corporate groups in South-east Asia and other selected regions, INSPIRE has been extended to markets such as the Americas, North Asia and Oceania.

The specially curated programme for corporate groups features four categories. Besides Singapore’s dining, entertainment, and nightlife, which the city-state is known for, groups can explore its constantly evolving, tailored attraction-based experiences. The two other categories that groups can opt for are thematic tours and learning experiences; as well as distinctive teambuilding activities.

An example of the experiences offered under the category of tailored attraction-based experiences is the making of bespoke cocktails at the UNESCO World Heritage site, Botanic Gardens; a tour around one-north, Singapore’s Silicon Valley; or attend a private, after-hours Garden Rhapsody show at Gardens by the Bay.

INSPIRE is open to corporate groups travelling to Singapore between now and December 31, 2021, with a minimum of 20 foreign event attendees staying for at least three days in Singapore.

Edward Koh, executive director, conventions, meetings & incentive travel, Singapore Tourism Board, said: “The INSPIRE programme will assist meeting planners in organising activities for their meeting groups. Our value proposition of mixing business with leisure means the ability to conduct serious business, while providing access to leisure activities.”

Hitting the heartlands
Adding to the crop of unique corporate experiences are guided tours into Singapore’s heartlands. Offered by local operators and hotels alike, these increasingly popular tours may seem out of tune with the city’s gleaming, all-business image.

Oriental Travel and Tours offers tours that take groups through the peaceful residential blocks of Ang Mo Kio to meet a bird-singing club, a bird cage-maker, and to view a mock-up of a local home. Another operator, Tribe Tours, has launched a photography tour focusing on Singapore’s prolific government flats.

Jasmine Tan, co-founder, Oriental Travel and Tours, said: “Our clients are mainly from Europe and America, and they are looking for something different to do beyond attractions like the Merlion and Sentosa, especially those who have visited Singapore more than three times. There are many pockets in the island that they can explore.”

This opportunity is not lost on the local hospitality sector, which has similarly responded by offering heartland experiences to customers, which include their business guests.

Six Senses Maxwell has partnered with Jane’s Singapore Tours to offer excursions to locales such as MacRitchie, Botanic Gardens and Tiong Bahru. Meanwhile, guests of Ramada by Wyndham Singapore at Zhongshan Park have the option of picking up a guide to Balestier, which provides a trail through the historic residential district to discover monuments, landmark buildings and vanishing trades.

Getting the inside scoop
Corporate groups on the hunt for activities with a more business focus are also in luck, as the rise of “localised” tours has sparked a niche group of such products, geared towards innovators and entrepreneurs.

Last year, tour operator Woopa Group launched a new brand, UBE Singapore, to cater to the city’s burgeoning events industry. UBE debuted with the Silicon Valley of Singapore Insider Tour, where participants can gain insight into thriving businesses in Singapore’s innovation parks, One-North and JTC Launchpad, and sit in for exclusive sharing sessions by founders of successful enterprises.

TY Suen, founder & CEO of Woopa Group, describes UBE Singapore as the “pioneer” of business innovation and start-up tours in Singapore.

“We aim to offer unique localised experiences (where groups can interact with) creative start-ups and businesses from key industries,” said Suen.

What lies ahead
Moving into 2020 and beyond, given a robust pipeline, the business events industry is likely to continue to shine.

Over the two-year period of 2020 and 2021, Singapore will host software company SAP’s Field Kick-Off Meeting, as well as – for the first time – the International Trademark Association’s 142nd Annual Meeting, which is expected to attract 8,000 participants.

Next year, Singapore will welcome the Asia-Pacific Life Insurance Congress and Million Dollar Round Table Global Conference.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak that erupted in January has given event businesses in Singapore “a very rough start” to 2020, said Aloysius Arlando, president, Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS).

Numerous global and regional events, such as the Sweden-Southeast Asia Business Summit and the Aviation Festival Asia, have placed their bookings on hold or postponed events. As such, Arlando believes 2H2020 will see a “bunching up” of postponed events, many have been rescheduled to May and July.

Industry stakeholders are also expect Singapore’s events industry to make a comeback in 2H2020, after the spread of Covid-19 is stemmed, and international meetings and events resume regular programming.

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