Returning to a handshake

After two years of connecting with Asian travel partners online, Switzerland Tourism resumes its annual trade engagement in a face-to-face format in Singapore. By Karen Yue

Event brief
Pre-pandemic, Switzerland Tourism – Switzerland’s national tourism promotion agency ¬– would conduct seven or eight events every year in various South-east Asian cities where Asian travel trade buyers could meet and do business with top Swiss destination representatives and suppliers. Such events were part of the Switzerland Travel Experience (STE) series.

However, against a backdrop of Covid-19 and travel restrictions, the annual STE had to be conducted virtually for the past two years.

The twice-yearly virtual STE events were able to generate thousands of one-on-one business meetings. While this format was a practical way for the destination to stay connected with Asian travel trade buyers, Batiste Pilet, Switzerland Tourism’s director for South-east Asia, told TTGmice that the team was always looking forward to resuming face-to-face events.

As more Asian governments begin to ease their strict border closures, Switzerland Tourism saw an opportune moment to revive STE as an in-person event.

“Since October 2021, travel restrictions have been gradually easing up on all sides and the need to catch up with trade partners became even stronger,” said Pilet.

“Electing Singapore as the event’s central location was a pragmatic decision, as Singapore had established Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) with all the countries (that needed to be) involved, including Switzerland, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia,” he recalled.

The VTL with South Korea was essential, as some Swiss partners had to use it as a transit to access South-east Asia.

At the end of January 2022, when Omicron fears were settled and Singapore moved to lift the Omicron-induced freeze on the VTL scheme, Pilet’s team made a swift decision to begin planning for a March gathering.

Event highlights
STE 2022 was envisioned to fulfil an additional objective – and that is to “reconnect and show our confidence in and support to South-east Asia’s outbound travel recovery”, said Pilet.

As the event progressed, Switzerland Tourism discovered that STE fulfilled another important but unexpected objective.

“Most of the travel trade (buyers) from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia took their first international trip in two years to attend STE. We are proud that Switzerland triggered this opportunity,” remarked Pilet.

The event was also momentous for Switzerland Tourism’s South-east Asia team, as it was also their first gathering since the pandemic.

STE 2022 featured 24 important Swiss tourism organisations, such as Jungfrau Region Tourism, Matterhorn Region, Schilthorn Cableway, Swiss Travel System and The Dolder Grand. A total of 30 representatives met with 233 buyers from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The programme featured two days of meetings and workshops at Fairmont Singapore’s function rooms, as well as a dinner event at the hotel’s ballroom.

According to Dominique Oi, MICE manager, South-east Asia at Switzerland Tourism, the programme was focused on facilitating critical meetings and destination workshops, and had to be planned as such to comply with Singapore’s Safe Management Measures (SMM) for events.

Challenges
Batiste identified three main challenges his team faced in designing and delivering STE 2022.

The first was the short timeframe of just five weeks to conceptualise and execute the event. To resolve this, Switzerland Tourism chose to host all events in a single venue. Supervised antigen rapid tests were conducted by Fullerton Health at Raffles City Shopping Centre, which is physically connected to Fairmont Hotel, where delegates were accommodated and business activities were held.

At the same time, overseas buyers were asked to organise their own travel to Singapore. This took the pressure off the organisers and helped to speed up the preparation process.

The second issue was the need to understand and comply with the SMM.

Pilet said the event needed the approval of the Singapore Tourism Board to allow it to be run under the MICE Pilot Event scheme.

The only solution for this was to “read, read and read” the many requirements and then be ready to revise the event should the need arise, said Pilet.

The approval process took 21 working days and came with some five rounds of amendments.

“Thanks to Singapore Tourism Board’s careful review, our event was executed smoothly in accordance with SMM,” he said.

A third challenge was the number of last minute changes.

“We faced more than the usual number of last minute changes that came with cancellations as well as new registrations,” he said, explaining that some attendees had to drop out due to Covid-19 infections and be replaced by others. There were also cases of incomplete travel documents that must be resolved quickly.

In resolving the pressures of last minute changes, Pilet learnt that a flexible venue was critical and that digital documentation – instead of printed materials – allowed for quicker changes.

Both Pilet and Oi are proud of STE 2022’s accomplishment.

“One must be willing to take up challenges with a positive mindset,” said Oi, as she recalled the process of delivering STE 2022.

“It’s good to be busy again for tangible projects that make our suppliers and our trade partners happy. This positive energy is only possible with offline events,” concluded Pilet.

Event Switzerland Travel Experience 2022
Organisers Switzerland Tourism
Venue Fairmont Singapore
Date March 7-9, 2022
Attendance 269

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