Hit by Covid-19 early on, Singapore set about surviving the pandemic and recovering afterwards with its usual good sense and efficiency. The city-state only opened its borders to international travellers regardless of their vaccination status on August 29 but spent the intervening period working assiduously to ensure business events could be held safely while hosting virtual and hybrid events.
“Singapore was able to maintain its status as a leading MICE hub during the pandemic due to two main factors: trust and safety as well as innovation,” says Dr Edward Koh, executive director, conventions, meetings and incentive travel, Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
In January last year, some 3,000 delegates participated digitally in PCMA (Professional Convention Managers Association) Convening Leaders 2021 in the event’s global broadcast centre in Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, with another 300 joining in two half-day programmes in person.
That was followed by the World Cities Summit 2021 in June with 4,700 delegates from 556 cities participating remotely, Singapore International Energy Week in October and Architecture and Building Services 2021 in November, both in hybrid format in Marina Bay Sands.
Many more significant events have taken place this year. “We welcomed more than 150 events attended by over 37,000 delegates in the first three months of 2022 and we expected to see about 25 events attended by close to 90,000 delegates in the month of September,” says Koh. “These are indications that industry recovery is picking up pace.”
He explains how the STB was able to reassure organisers that events could be held safely. In February 2020 it launched the SG Clean Quality Mark, awarded to businesses that met high standards of environmental public hygiene. They include meetings venues such as Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Raffles City Convention Centre and Singapore EXPO and its convention wing MAX Atria. By 31 August this year more than 1,600 tourism-related premises had received SG Clean certificates.
In July 2020, STB developed the Safe Business Events Framework, a set of measures that organisers had to be able to implement before being allowed to resume their events. These guidelines were applied to hundreds of events but with the easing of the government’s very strict Safe Management Measures at the end of August, organisers are no longer required to seek STB’s approval for their events under the framework.
In addition, the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) launched the SG SafeEvents Certification in April 2021 as a mark of assurance for organisers to show delegates they have upheld the highest standards of hygiene and safe management practices.
By pivoting to hybrid and virtual events during the pandemic and developing sustainable and innovative solutions to appeal to business event travellers, Koh believes Singapore has made great strides in reimagining the future of meetings and events.
“Hybrid will remain as an accessible format for organisers keen to reach delegates unable to attend the event physically but, while hybrid events retain the ‘live’ aspect that fulfils the need to connect and network, the ability to network in person remains an integral part of MICE events. Those of us who have encountered the limitations of screen-to-screen gatherings will agree that face-to-face connections cannot be fully replaced.”
A sentiment endorsed by the International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA) which welcomed about 500 delegates to Marina Bay Sands for its 60th congress in August. The theme was transformation of the legal framework and the new normality we are living in. The congress also featured an extensive social and recreational programme including a football match involving key members of the AIJA, Singapore’s Law Society and Ministry of Law.
“Singapore is a city focused on future-proofing its economy and doing so with bravery and innovation to remain relevant to the needs of the future, an ambition very aligned with the congress topics,” says the event’s co-chair Xavier Costa. “We chose Singapore because it is excellent and it is easy to do business there. The resourcefulness of the people, location as a gateway to the region and the city’s state-of-the-art infrastructure – it is like a well-oiled machine. Things work well and we are taken care of.”
“Singapore is a city focused on future-proofing its economy and doing so with bravery and innovation..."
Xavier Costa, co-chair AIJA 60th Congress
Similarly, this month’s International Dental Exhibition & Meeting (IDEM) has reverted to in-person only at its new home, Marina Bay Sands.
In its mission to stay ahead of the competition and tempt more business travellers back to its shores, the STB is reimagining Singapore as a sustainable urban destination where visitors can do business, rest and recharge. In response to emerging trends such as wellness and sustainability, the city is investing in new products and environmentally friendly experiences.
It is pressing ahead with key infrastructure projects such as the Mandai Nature Precinct, the rejuvenation of the famous Orchard Road with its upmarket shops, hotels and restaurants and the expansion of Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, both integrated resorts with convention centres, casinos and other attractions. And, having been cancelled for two years, the F1 Singapore Grand Prix is back on the spectacular Marina Bay street circuit.
Suntec Singpore, in the city’s central business district, has hosted thousands of events since 1995 and won many awards. Arun Madhok, now CEO, managed its renovation in 2012 and continued to transform the 42,000 sqm convention centre to a venue delivering “memorable occasions” for its customers.
The centre is about to launch a new initiative that will “upgrade the conference experience for organisers, presents and delegates”, according to Madhok, but he is keeping the details very close to his chest until the announcement in mid-November.
This month, about 2,500 delegates were expected to attend the 14th World Stroke Congress (WDC) at Suntec. Local organising chair Deirdre Anne De Silva said, “This is the first time the WSC is being held in south-east Asia where over 8.5 per cent of the world’s population reside. Singapore is a vibrant city-nation which is an exciting tourist destination known as a food and shopping haven and is a transport hub with many travel connections.”
Future landmark events
2023: Gastech Exhibition & Conference, SILMO Singapore
2024: Worldchefs Congress and Expo, World Congress of Anaesthesiologists, Rotary International Convention
2028: 110th Lions Clubs International Convention