- Singapore’s pandemic exit could benefit year-end events
- Safe meetings procedures are well in place; will inspire foreign attendees’ confidence
- Asia’s fluctuating infections could handicap Singapore’s large-scale events recovery
Tradeshow and conference organisers in Singapore believe that easing of restrictions on business events and quarantine-free arrivals for vaccinated travellers, should these come into force once herd immunity is achieved in the coming month or so, could result in a livelier year-end calendar of events for the city-state.
Dylan Sharma, vice president, advocacy and communications with the Singapore Association for Conventions & Exhibitions Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), said the announcement was a “glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel” for “an industry that has been severely impacted by the pandemic in the past one and a half year”.
“The easing of restrictions such as quarantine-free travel will come as a much-needed boost for the MICE and events industry, as it will provide a sense of certainty and sufficient runway for the planning of events,” commented Sharma. “More importantly, as a country that is heavily reliant on international participants, the government’s plan to allow a certain degree of normalcy while Covid remains in our midst will allow our industry to finally open up and attract foreign visitors.
Despite pandemic challenges that shut Singapore off to most international traffic, the country has been able to conduct some 90 business event pilots since August 2020, most of which were hybrids that saw overseas participation via the Internet. Such pilots include the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Computational Electromagnetics, the Asia Pacific MedTech Virtual Forum 2020, TravelRevive, and Geo Connect Asia 2021.
“Should this come to pass, it would be great news and a fillip for the MICE industry and Singapore,” agreed Edward Liu, managing director of Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS). He added that quarantine-free travel would encourage regular foreign exhibitors and trade visitors to join the company’s tradeshows in person.
CEMS currently maintains a packed roster of tradeshows in Singapore over the months of October and November. They include Architecture & Building Services 2021, which comprises seven co-located exhibitions to present a comprehensive platform for all building needs for markets in South-east Asia.
“If the government could make the reopening pronouncements unequivocally, this would restore confidence in the economy both in Singapore and abroad. Businesses would be able to make firm decisions in sync with the government guidelines and policies. With their commitment to partake in our conferences and exhibitions, then it would be easier for us to persuade our international speakers and exhibitors to attend our events in-person,” added Liu.
Patricia Cheong, managing director Asia, of International Conference Services, told TTGmice that she is encouraged to “push forward with our plans for more in-person or hybrid events in the coming months”.
She said quarantine-free travel intentions are “spurring hope that regional, and maybe even global meetings and events, may be possible before the end of this year and paving the way for the return of larger-scale face-to-face events in Singapore”.
Cheong pointed out that compulsory quarantines have a direct impact on travel costs and time, discouraging companies from approving their staff’s in-person attendance at trade events in destinations with such requirements.
“This (in turn) impacted international attendance at events. Allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated participants means we can aim to return to live events with global participants as quickly as possible,” said Cheong.
With an expanded in-person audience no longer a possibility reserved for the distant future, organisers here say that greater attention must be paid to participants’ health and safety.
Cheong said: “Nothing can replace the in-person greeting and serendipitous moments that face-to-face events allow – but we also need to demonstrate that we are meeting safely.
“Fortunately, Singapore has been demonstrating the ability to deliver safe events amid the pandemic and instilling confidence with business travellers. Coupled with the reopening of borders and quarantine-free travel options made available, we expect to see a rise in demand from international delegations to events here in Singapore.”
With foresight, SACEOS has been preparing for brighter days, launching the SG SafeEvent Certification on April 7. The “first-of-its-kind programme” aims to strengthen Singapore’s position as a leading global business events hub, explained Sharma.
Event companies with a risk management plan and that are able to uphold hygiene and safe distancing benchmarks in accordance with the Technical Reference 84 Safe event management for the MICE and events industry, developed by the Singapore Standards Council, will be able to display a mark of assurance.
“To date, 68 companies have registered for the SG SafeEvent Certification, and many more are beginning the certification journey to be an accredited SafeEvent Organiser, Venue or Supplier,” he detailed.
Cautious steps ahead
Tradeshow organisers acknowledged that the extent of Singapore’s border reopening will hinge on how well other countries are coping with Covid-19 infections as well as their rate of vaccination.
Even as Singapore achieves herd immunity and is able to manage local cases through frequent testing and quick tracing, Liu said continued high global infections will force the city-state government to limit the reach of its quarantine-free travel allowance.
Cheong made the same projection. “At this stage, the plan is to start reopening borders and to establish travel corridors with countries that have Covid-19 infections under control. Unfortunately, vaccination has been progressing quite sluggishly in Asia. This would mean that having participants from the region would continue to be challenging,” she said.
Asia’s ongoing struggle with new waves of Covid-19 infections also means Singapore is more likely to reopen to vaccinated travellers from Europe, the Middle East and the US – where governments have also resumed life and economic activities in a post-pandemic environment – and less likely to those in the South-east Asia neighbourhood.
For Kenny Yong, founder and group CEO of Fireworks Trade Media, this presents a challenging reality. He explained: “Many shows staged in Singapore are regional-led – they target mostly visitors from ASEAN member countries. (Singapore’s quarantine-free travel) will not address the problem of us not being able to reach out to ASEAN visitors, which are key to many tradeshows here.”
Furthermore, the uncertainty of Covid-19-related regulations continues to weigh heavily on Yong’s mind.
“Singapore has announced a more liberal opening of the country but we have all witnessed the fluidity of situations these past 18 months, with many decisions made at a short notice. These are unsettling and enough to give any bona fide organiser the jitters,” he said.
And should quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers kick off come September, trade events scheduled for 4Q2021 would have a very small window in August and September to promote and acquire international visitors, opined Yong, adding that the move is good but too late for the industry.
Sharma echoed the same concerns, but noted that industry players are determined “to not let Covid-19 get the better of us, and for us to continue what business events do best – bringing people and communities together”.
He added: “We are determined to stay the course, take all necessary precautions, and look forward with optimism.”
Meanwhile, Cheong is keeping an eye on Covid-19 test requirements for event attendees once larger shows are allowed to resume in an endemic Covid state.
“Cost of testing remains high, and will serve as a key consideration when organisations evaluate the overall cost of travel for their staff to attend events overseas,” she explained, adding that there is also an expectation that organisers should cover the cost of pre-event testing to encourage attendance.
Yong is less concerned about the cost of Covid-19 tests on arrival and at events, as the “hunger” among his overseas clients to resume business trips and engagements in person has led many of them to allocate test charges as part of essential travel expenses.