- STB optimistic about the pace of recovery from China
- Outbound bookings from China have surged, but so have airfares
- Event organisers anticipate return of Chinese business travellers
Singapore has been preparing to welcome the surge in business travel from China given the strong pent-up demand.
“Mainland China remains a key and strategic market for Singapore and is an important source of business visitors. Prior to the pandemic, China was among our top 10 MICE source markets,” Poh Chi Chuan, executive director, exhibitions & conferences, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) told TTGmice.
Poh pointed out that the Chinese continued to travel to Singapore for business and attend business events such as Singapore FinTech Festival and Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific in 4H2022, even though border restrictions were still in place.
But more Chinese visitors are set to step foot in Singapore this year, with China’s Machinery and Electronics Show and Vinexpo Asia set to be held in the city-state for the first time, marking the launch of their Asia-Pacific editions. Other 2023 tradeshows with high records of Chinese visitors in past editions include BuildTech Asia (March 28-30), Food & Hotel Asia – Food & Beverage (April 25-28), and Asia Tech x Singapore (June 6-9).
According to a global survey by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), companies in the exhibition industry are projecting revenues to reach about 87 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in 1H2023.
To tap into this potential, STB has intensified efforts to educate local stakeholders on the preferences of Chinese travellers, refresh their knowledge of Chinese consumer behaviour, and ensure their staff are equipped to meet evolving needs.
For example, in October 2022, STB facilitated a sharing by WeChat Pay to over 100 tourism stakeholders, ensuring they remain familiar with mobile payments systems that are widely used by Chinese travellers.
This was followed by a December launch of a tourism alliance between close to 80 tourism stakeholders from Singapore and almost 100 tourism stakeholders from Western China. “A communications channel on WeChat was established, facilitating networking and business opportunities between members from both countries,” Poh added.
To further assist Chinese event organisers and business travellers, STB will be releasing an information guide in the coming weeks with essential information on Singapore’s immigration and health protocols. It will also highlight Covid-19 test locations near business event venues where Chinese business travellers can take their pre-departure tests before returning home.
Bookings have surged
Since the reopening was announced, bookings processed in China shot up by more than 150 per cent during the first week of January versus the previous week, according to CWT. This was a huge incline in comparison to the 15 to 20 per cent week-on-week increase that the TMC saw in the second half of December.
Albert Zhong, general manager, China, CWT, stated: “Singapore has been among the top five destinations booked by our clients in China following the reopening, and this doesn’t come as a surprise given the strong business ties between the two countries, as well as Singapore’s status as regional hub in Asia Pacific for many multinationals.”
He added that although airlines have started increasing flights to and from China, capacity is still “significantly below pre-pandemic levels”.
Hence, the growth in China’s outbound travel will likely be a “well-paced one, considering air capacity will be rebuilt gradually”, as opposed to an immediate surge, noted Poh.
Because of the limitation in flights, airfares have also skyrocketed, and this will likely continue until more capacity is restored.
Zhong noted: “The Average Ticket Price (ATP) of flights to Singapore booked by our customers in China during the first week of January this year nearly doubled compared to the same period in 2019. Business class fares to Singapore increased even more sharply, with ATPs up by 125 per cent compared to the first week of January 2019.”
Eager efforts from organisers
Event organisers such as RX (Reed Exhibitions) and Clarion Events are upbeat about the greater interest from Chinese exhibitors and buyers, and have intensified efforts to woo them for their upcoming Singapore tradeshows.
Yip Je Choong, senior vice president commercial – Asia Pacific and managing director of Singapore and Indonesia, RX Global, said: “With borders now open, we are ramping up that avenue of communication, with some of our team members heading over to China to connect and meet with our Chinese partners in person. There are also plans for us to conduct roadshows in China in due time.”
Within China itself, RX hosts more than 70 trade fairs across 12 sectors in China annually. Meanwhile, for its Singapore-based tradeshow, Inter Airport Southeast Asia (March 1-3, 2023), RX is also confident of positive attendance rates from Chinese delegates.
Yip further noted that the reopening of the world’s second-largest economy holds “immense opportunities for businesses in Singapore and the region”.
“China accounted for 19 per cent of tourist arrivals in Singapore before the pandemic. With inbound travel from China to make a gradual return, China’s opening is also expected to offset the effects of the slowdown on Singapore’s economy. This bodes well with the progress needed for Singapore’s MICE industry to make a full recovery in two to three years,” he added.
Meanwhile, Clarion Events, which organises Insurtech Connect Asia, has similarly kept busy laying the groundwork for the re-emergence of Chinese business travellers amid the pandemic.
Richard Ireland, Clarion Events’ CEO Asia, elaborated: “As the world’s second-largest insurance market, China plays a vital role in shaping the global insur-tech industry. In November 2022, we held a virtual event specifically tailored to the Chinese market as part of our efforts to bridge the gap and promote collaborations between China and the global insur-tech community.
“We have also been working closely with our local Chinese partner INSLAB to bring in delegations from China to participate in our InsureTech Connect Asia event taking place from May 30 to June 1, 2023 in Singapore.”