Singapore: WEF cancellation highlights hard task for organisers

The scale of the challenge facing event organisers was once again laid bare this week when the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced it was cancelling its Special Annual Meeting in Singapore.

Amid a spike in local cases of Covid-19, WEF cited an uncertain travel outlook and ‘differing speeds of vaccination rollout’ among factors that, ‘make it impossible to realise a global meeting at such scale’.

“It was a difficult decision, particularly in view of the great interest of our partners to come together not just virtually but in person, and to contribute to a more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable world,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of WEF. “But ultimately the health and safety of everyone concerned is our highest priority.”

Singapore has trialled innovative solutions to make meeting in-person safe, including Connect@Changi, the world’s first ‘bubble facility’ for business travels, which included 160 meeting rooms with air-tight glass panels and separate ventilation systems.

But while global infection rates remain so high guaranteeing delegate safety is an onerous task for organisers. The WEF’s decision come amid yet another delay in the proposed Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble, which was set to launch next week, on 26 May.

Other organisers are having to cancel events in the city-state, too.

The high-profile Shangri-La Dialogue scheduled in early June is now off.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which organises the security summit, said in a statement: “Unfortunately the global Covid-19 situation has recently deteriorated, in part because of the rise of infectious new COVID variants. In Singapore there has been a rise in local cases, recently introduced new restrictions, and the prospect of further tightening cannot be ruled out — all of which creates uncertainty. Taken together, all of these various factors mean that holding an in-person Shangri-La Dialogue this year has become unviable.

“The IISS has worked hard with the Government of Singapore, and in particular acted in close consultation with Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, to ensure a successful Dialogue this year, despite the challenges of the pandemic. Even during Covid-19, the IISS believes in the role of face-to-face diplomacy to solve global problems. We continue to hold successful face-to-face events, including the IISS Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, which was convened in 2020, and will take place again on 19–21 November 2021.”

However the Global Esports Federation also looks likely to continue with plans to host its inaugural Global Esports Games in Singapore in December 2021. The event will see more than 400 international esports athletes from 80 countries and territories compete in the multi-titled world championship.

As well as competitions, the event will include GEFcon, a global convention of thought leaders; and GEFestival, a celebration of esports and youth culture.

Meanwhile, the next WEF Annual Meeting will take place in the first half of 2022, with a location and date yet to be the determined.

*Reporting by Lauren Arena, M&C Asia.

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