Singapore’s continued success in the business events sector is testament to the hard work of those behind the scenes.

By Kristie Thong

Earlier this May, the global rankings by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) named Singapore as the only Asian city listed among the top 10 convention cities in the world. This recognition was made based on the destination’s record hosting of 150 ICCA events in 2012, a 5.6 per cent increase from 2011. Also ranked Asia’s top convention city for 11 consecutive years with 18 world congresses hosted and 2.5 million MICE visitors recorded between January to September 2012, such statistics highlight Singapore’s ability to remain competitive.
The diverse infrastructure and facilities in Singapore has proven the government’s commitment to business events, with many locally-based hotels and venues keen and ready to host large-scale events and incentives. Despite its comparatively small size, Singapore offers buyers a diverse and unique product offering that can only be found in the garden city.
Marina Bay Sands has become the first events venue outside the US to be certified under a new international sustainability standard within the MICE industry, achieving Level One Certification to the ASTM Standard for sustainability, introduced by the global MICE industry last year.

Suntec Singapore recently re-opened after a major overhaul to immediately welcome 96 events in three months, while Resorts World Sentosa has established a spectacular platform of MICE offerings, including Universal Studios Singapore and Marine Life Park, to attract special events and incentive travel groups.
The newest stand-alone meetings and events facility in Singapore, the Ballrooms at PARKROYAL on Beach Road, also recently opened its doors. The venue spans more than 576 square metres for events of up to 860 guests, comprising a spacious reception area, private boardroom and two pillar-less ballrooms which can be divided into six smaller rooms. Accessible with direct street access and also from the hotel via a skywalk, the facility comes with seven-metre-high ceilings and double height floor-to-ceiling windows with a nature-inspired design.
Singapore’s portfolio of more than 150 hotels and over 50,000 rooms is also getting larger: the garden city is expected to see the return of Westin Singapore in the Marina Bay Precinct, as well as the launch of Accor’s Sofitel So Singapore in the central business district by 2014.

While Singapore has proven its capabilities on the world stage, talent shortage problems and a lack of innovation are among challenges local players believe are keeping the destination from achieving even greater results. But if the resilience of local players is any indication, a move this year with the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibitors Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) proves the city’s readiness to address the issues.
The association saw a freshly-appointed president, and for the first time, two full-time positions at SACEOS. Many saw the appointment of destination and events management company EAST WEST Planners CEO Janet Tan-Collis as a significant step towards change, as she is the first president in SACEOS’ history with a non-exhibitions background.
Singapore Tourism Board’s assistant director of capability and innovation, Lilian Kuan, joining SACEOS as executive director, is proof of the board’s commitment to cultivate a renewed focus in talent development, industry relations and business development.

Meanwhile, communications veteran Yeow Mei Sin joined as marketing communications director to drive media relations, brand strategies and industry partnerships to enable SACEOS to engage more effectively with local and international communities.
The new SACEOS team behind the Singapore MICE Forum showed its conviction that issues needed to be addressed, most significantly through an inaugural MICE Open House which saw more than 500 tertiary students interact with MICE companies and professionals.

The event gave SACEOS a platform to “raise awareness for the industry’s prospects and career development opportunities”, as Ms Tan-Collis said, adding that it is a much-needed step to relieve the talent shortage the industry is facing.
Apart from reaching out to younger generations via career roadshows and experiential workshops, new and relevant professional courses are also in the pipeline to help retain and provide training for current MICE professionals.

Laws of attraction

Industry leaders are working tirelessly to ensure business continues to grow. Expectations of corporates, now heightened with regional and global experience brought about by increased travel and globalisation, is also driving venues and service providers to continually engage Singapore-based buyers.
Between April to August, most international hotel chains held showcase events in a bid to strengthen relationships with Singapore-based buyers.
Sydney-based The Star held an exclusive event at Fullerton Bay’s Lantern Bar for 60-odd local buyers. In an attempt to introduce its multi-faceted offerings to the Singaporean crowd, everyone in attendance took home a two-night complimentary stay at The Star.

Swiss Garden International organises annual client appreciation events in Singapore as a way to emphasise its dedication to the market, with one recently held in Clarke Quay’s ChinaOne bar.
Citing Singapore as a key source market, especially for its Kuala Lumpur properties, corporate marketing communications manager, Linda Evelyn Wong says these events are a great way to maintain rapport and provide updates on property developments, new hotels, and product offerings.
“There are new changes every year, and this is a perfect avenue to gather new business partners. It is also a good way to get a clear understanding of what [Singapore customers] are looking for, and spot new trends in hospitality,” she says.

Ms Wong says while Singapore-based buyers continue to look for special touches, such as themed parties and dinners and new product offerings, the demand for excellent service standards and competitive prices is just as important.
“Through such events, we try to change our strategies in reaching out to the Singapore market.”
Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a travel and event management company, ensures it’s client events are reflective of the company’s capabilities.
“While there are many global and local tradeshows and forums where clients can meet with suppliers and talk about the services they provide, clients rarely get the opportunity to experience first-hand the capabilities and expertise of an event management company,” says CWT regional business development director, meetings and events Asia Pacific, Neera Gupta.
“Through staging an event, we are able to showcase our event management capabilities as well as our supplier relationships to deliver events that go beyond the ordinary, not the budget.
“It also provides a great platform for buyers to network and exchange ideas/challenges with peers from across industries and build stronger relationships with their partners and suppliers,” she says.
Contrary to innovation issues highlighted across the country, Ms Gupta believes there is a greater emphasis on creative ideas and exclusivity in Singapore.
“[We are] still experiencing growth in the meetings and events space, and companies understand the benefits these activities have on brand awareness and loyalty.” m