Singapore ramps up business events, but foreign influx will take longer

uring the meeting, stakeholders will be discussing how to reinvigorate the region’s business events industry and reboot inter- and intra-regional business travel.
  • Strong support and assistance to continue despite tepid take-up
  • Numerous challenges abound for large-scale events organisers
  • Smaller, corporate events appear more promising
During the meeting, stakeholders discussed how to reinvigorate the region’s business events industry and reboot inter- and intra-regional business travel

More than 15,000 people have attended over 140 business events in Singapore since the launch of the Safe Business Events framework in July 2020. From just 50 attendees, up to 1,000 fully vaccinated participants (predominantly seated, as in conferences) may now attend, or 500 non-seated and moving around (exhibitions).

At the Joint Leadership Summit at Fullerton Hotel from October 5-7, 2021, of the 22 global event organisers, trade association leaders, tourism bureau chiefs and government ministers, 17 came from overseas: the UK, US, Dubai, Netherlands, Switzerland, Philippines and Indonesia.

Karena Bauer, chairperson of the Association of Event Organisers (UK) said: “We are grateful to Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) for enabling this leadership summit to take place”.

Indeed, STB facilitates the entry of short-term international business events travellers on a pilot basis, with health and safety measures in place for such participants.

Poh Chi Chuan, STB’s executive director, exhibitions & conferences, explained: “Under the Ministry of Health’s current guidelines, selected groups of travellers are allowed to enter for essential business, official or work purposes with stepped-down protocols; we manage the risk through strict quotas, and by requiring them to undergo regular Covid-19 tests during their stay, including before departure and upon arrival.”

These travellers must be fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved Emergency Use Listing Procedure list vaccine, and are not required to serve the ‘stay-home notice’ if they are to be in Singapore for less than 14 days upon arriving.

Poh added: “We are taking a risk-calibrated and phased approach to resumption, and upcoming events will be platforms for event organisers to further finetune safety measures and protocols, as well as testbed new innovations to put us on a strong footing for recovery. These include safe itineraries for foreign participants, digital enablers and hybrid event formats, with the necessary safe management measures in place.”

The no-quarantine Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) from 11 countries – including the US, Canada, UK and several in Europe – supplement the reciprocal green lane with China and air travel pass with the Greater China area. But will they boost attendance at business events?

While some intermediaries and suppliers are hopeful, event organisers are less sanguine, as there are at least eight sizeable physical business events happening in November and December.

Perhaps the reopening came too late, or foreign business events delegates aren’t aware of special arrangements and waivers for selected countries. Some apprehension may be due to the spike in virus infections – Singapore’s seven-day moving average hovers around 3,000 cases – and the high cost of insurance premiums and virus tests.

Moreover, there are few flights and limited flight capacity, and the VTL scheme caps arrivals at 3,000 pax a day. Hotel room rates are also high, perhaps due to staycations, while dining out and attraction capacities are subject to change.

Barely two months before the already-deferred Speciality & Fine Food Asia and co-located shows in December, Montgomery Asia decided to postpone them to June 2022.

“Despite Singapore’s high vaccination rates and the nation transitioning towards an endemic approach, the current measures for tradeshows remain extremely restrictive and without confirmation on whether food and drink sampling will be allowed onsite, we feel that it is only fair to all our partners and participants to defer the shows until 2Q next year,” the PEO said.

Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS) has three upcoming events: Café Asia, Architecture & Building Services (ABS) and Singapore International Jewelry Expo, all at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

CEMS’ managing director Edward Liu said: “Our tradeshows attract certain categories of trade visitors and buyers. Most businesspeople make plans in advance when they choose to visit trade exhibitions and conferences. We are not seeing inquiries to participate in or visit our events, notwithstanding the recent relaxation of travel restrictions.

“Due to the prolonged period of uncertainties over the Covid-19 situation and staggered reopening in Singapore, most of our past exhibitors and trade visitors have adopted a wait-and-see attitude as they monitor the situation in Singapore and worldwide. Consequently, most of them have decided not to take part in our events for this year.”

Nonetheless, CEMS is transmitting the latest information to past exhibitors and trade visitors from abroad, to shore up business for 2022.

For Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific at Singapore EXPO from November 22-24, organiser Constellar will get the latest updates on safe travel lane arrangements from STB and work with travel partners to offer comprehensive packages to facilitate participants’ needs, such as bookings for Covid-19 tests, accommodation, transfers and optional visits to leisure attractions.

“We aim to maximise meaningful participation, including tours to key Industry 4.0 innovation centres and smart factories, and piloting new formats and initiatives, such as removing zoning for participants at the exhibition hall and automated cleaning solutions at regular timings,” said James Boey, executive director (markets), Constellar.

Corporate events look promising. The Milken Institute Asia Summit will convene at MBS on November 15-16, targeting 250 in-person attendees from around the world. It is a partner event of the Singapore Fintech Festival.

More than 300 delegates from 51 countries are also expected to attend the Bloomberg New Economy Forum at Capella Singapore on November 16-19, including present and past global political and business leaders.

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