April 20 2021By Gerardine Donough-Tan

While economies sputter as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, Singapore has kickstarted its business events segment through careful calibration. The MICE industry contributes almost one percent of Singapore’s GDP, with value-add of $3.8 billion. It also supports more than 34,000 jobs.

Since the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched the Safe Business Events framework in July 2020, some 60 events hosting almost 9,000 local and foreign attendees have been held in the city-state, with no reported cases of COVID-19 infection. From 50 on-site participants last August, capacity scaled up to 250 in October and increased to 750 from April 24 with pre-event testing and safety protocols in place.

Singapore’s public-private sector partnership model – sometimes labelled “Singapore Inc” – is proving its effectiveness in the ongoing health/economic crisis. MICE events have progressively resumed in a safe, innovative way through cohesive collaboration.

Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) launched the Event Industry Resilience Roadmap in October with support from STB and Enterprise Singapore. It details best practices, hybrid events and workforce development and has been applied to various events.

“Pilot events such as TravelRevive and Geo Connect Asia 2021 allow us to study the findings and data to progressively refine safe management measures (SMM) and best practices as we scale up to host larger MICE events,” says Andrew Phua, Executive Director of Exhibitions & Conferences, STB. “These pilots are also test-beds for innovative solutions that facilitate SMM, contact tracing, and enhance the quality of the event experience for both physical and virtual attendees.

“We have encouraged companies to transform their business models and event formats. Many have adopted digital solutions and virtual engagements to augment face-to-face events; others have used this downtime for training and upgrading.”

Singapore International Energy Week Conference in October 2020 was the first pilot event to use antigen rapid testing for all attendees. TravelRevive in November prototyped safe event itineraries and digital enablers created by a public-private alliance under the Emerging Stronger Taskforce.

A very spread out exhibition at TravelRevive in November 2020

In January, PCMA Convening Leaders 2021 summit was the first event with live performance and networking lounges in zones of up to 50 people. It was also the first time the PCMA’s flagship event has been staged outside North America in 64 years. Geo Connect Asia 2021 saw geospatial technology tracking delegates on site in March.

Architecture & Building Services 2021, taking place June 30 to July 2, is projecting up to 2,500 attendees, spread across exhibition halls and ballrooms, with robotic terminals integrating temperature screening, facial recognition and visitor registration through embedded QR codes for authentication.

“Even as we pilot more MICE events, we will ensure this is done with health and safety as our topmost priority, while closely monitoring how SMMs are implemented at these events,” says Phua. STB wants business events to provide a safe and fruitful experience for event organisers and delegates while minimising the risks of transmission.

Meanwhile, STB’s SingapoReimagine MICE Virtual Show in March helped to connect Singapore MICE suppliers with international buyers. The keynotes, panel discussions and experiential tours drew more than 1,000 attendees and 40 international media.

In describing its hybrid, 11-city employee meeting, Align Technology showed corporate events can transition too, not just trade conferences and exhibitions.

A detailed look: Geo Connect Asia (GCA) 2021

A meeting pod at Geo Connect Asia 2021 | Photo: Geo Connect Asia

The inaugural GCA 2021, featuring geospatial and location intelligence technology, had 500 in-person and 700 online attendees from 55 countries in late March 2021. Larger meeting pods held four people – up from two at TravelRevive in November – and meeting rooms at Sands Expo & Convention Centre were turned into exhibition space. Bluetooth-enabled dongles tracked attendees’ location and duration of interaction with other attendees Daily virus testing provided better risk management.

Rupert Owen, GCA co-founder, acknowledged the strong support from the public and private spheres, including Singapore Land Authority and STB, sponsors and partners across many industries. “There has been significant clamour for the safe resumption of face-to-face meetings after a very long interval, and a dual-platform approach brings the best of both worlds,” he says.

Sean Wiid, CEO of UP42, which is already engaging with companies in Australia, said they would like to grow such engagement. “Our presence at GCA 2021 is a key part of our overall strategy of becoming more known in the region and meeting potential customers and partners,” he says.

Smaller business meetings have also been taking place. At Singapore EXPO, since mid-February, one exhibition hall is now a ‘test-stay-work-meet’ facility for inbound business travellers. Through Connect@Changi, foreign visitors take a polymerase chain reaction test on arrival. Once cleared, they can meet people from Singapore and other countries in specially designed meeting rooms separated by air-tight glass panels. Up to 30 global senior executives from Advanced MedTech Holdings will meet this way.

A meeting room at Connect@Changi with physical dividers separating international visitors from Singapore residents | Photo: Connect@Changi

Upcoming regional events at approved venues include Insurtech Connect Asia in June and Web in Travel (WiT) Experience Week Singapore, Alternative Ownership Conference Asia Pacific and Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific, all in October. In addition, the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in June and World Economic Forum, rescheduled to August, will be the most high-profile events yet.

SACEOS President Aloysius Arlando says, “The local MICE industry has remained resilient and agile during these uncertain times. We will continue to work closely with the industry, STB and Enterprise Singapore to set safe operating standards for the industry and help our businesses chart a new path in a COVID-19-safe environment.”