Reduced foreign attendance at business events during the Covid-19 pandemic has driven the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to revise its business events strategy and action plans, with the adoption of new event formats and business model being the prime focus.
Andrew Phua, STBâ€™s executive director, exhibitions & conferences, told TTGmice that the organisationâ€™s priority now is to â€śget domestic events in placeâ€ť to keep the city-stateâ€™s business events sector going as border controls keep international delegates out.
Through the enforcement of Safe Meetings Measures (SMM) for events last year, Singapore has been able to conduct about 60 pilot events that saw close to 9,000 attendees.
But with its vision set on the eventual return of international events, STB has also been piloting several events to perfect its processes for conducting large-scale events in a safe, trusted and innovative manner.
These pilot events include TravelRevive in November 2020 and Geo Connect Asia 2021 last month â€“ both utilising a hybrid format of online and in-person attendance.
Phua said having to engage the community digitally could present new opportunities for the destination.
â€śTake Geo Connect Asia for example. The number of online attendees was larger than the in-person turn-out. We have the opportunity to (entice) this captive virtual audience, and get even more people to come to Singapore (for the next edition) when travel lanes are up and safe travel protocols are in place next year,â€ť he said.
Currently, in-person events in Singapore have to abide by strict SMM requirements, which include mandatory on-site Antigen Rapid Test for participants and separating delegates into zones and cohorts for safe distancing.
At the Singapore Tourism Industry Conference this morning, for instance, delegates were grouped into clusters of five within various zones. Interaction was limited to members of the same cluster.
When asked if SMM would have to eventually relax to allow spontaneous face-to-face interactions among event delegates, which is a key objective of business events, Phua said that would happen progressively.
â€śWhen SMM first started, it allowed events with cohorts of 20 people. Today we allow cohorts of 50. That will step up over time, especially as more of the population gets vaccinated,â€ť he explained.
â€śMeanwhile, what do we do to ensure there is quality interaction in a safe and trusted manner? At some tradeshows, we have put in Plexiglas dividers and microphones to allow interaction between exhibitor and buyer â€“ and they can even speak for up to 30 minutes. Before the next buyer comes along, that Plexiglas is sanitised,â€ť he added.
Admitting that face-to-face interaction is harder to manage at hybrid events, Phua said work to develop creative ways to facilitate interaction continues.
In light of new event formats and business models, Phua shared that STB is reviewing its current event support schemes to keep them relevant.
â€śIn terms of our Business Events in Singapore scheme, we will have to first and foremost review our KPIs (key performance indicators). In the past, our KPIs were mostly tourism receipts and number of foreign attendees. With border restrictions in place, we have to tweak these KPIs.
â€śTherefore, in our last two pilot events, TravelRevive and Geo Connect Asia, it was no longer about the number of foreigners but the total attendance, the local business spend to the whole industry, and the knowledge and thought leadership value,â€ť Phua detailed.
He added that STBâ€™s Business Improvement Fund now looks at helping business event owners pivot digitally and to build up technology capabilities.
When asked how would knowledge and thought leadership value be measured, Phua told TTGmice that it was indeed â€śharder to quantifyâ€ť than other KPIs.
However, he suggested that the presence of A-list speakers, new announcements from the event, and international media value could be good indicators.
â€śWe want people to associate (high-profile) events like the World Economic Forum and the Trump-Kim Summit with Singapore,â€ť he said.