A Chat with GB Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board

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Charting The Path Ahead For Singapore MICE In India

Singapore’s Handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
Singapore is fortunate that we have the capacity and resources to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in a robust manner and we have made good progress. Majority of the economy has re-opened since Singapore entered into the second phase of “A Safe Singapore” on 19 June 2020. Singapore is ranked by Deep Knowledge Centre, an independent think tank body as the 4th safest country in the world for Covid-19. This is a mark of assurance that Singapore is doing things right. Under a domestic tourism campaign, “SingapoRediscovers”, our attractions have started welcoming Singaporeans and local residents, with safe distancing measures put in place. The recovery for tourism will take time and Singapore is adopting a measured and cautious re-opening of its borders for international travel that is based on data and evidence. We have progressively put in place fast / green lane arrangements with more countries and regions and will adjust our measures for inbound travellers according to risk of importation.

Impact on MICE
It will take a while for global travel sentiments to return and for borders to re-open and we have to be prepared for recovery to be a slow, deliberate process. The resumption of MICE events is to be done in a careful and calibrated manner, with limits on the size and capacity of events to ensure safety of on-site participants and allow for wider interactions through virtual platforms. Safe distancing will shape how various aspects of social and business activities will be conducted. The MICE industry is rethinking how business events will be organised and how it can deliver new value. Various alternative meeting formats that allow people to meet and interact remotely have emerged. Covid-19 has certainly pushed the fast-forward button and accelerated digital transformation and adoption across the world. Today, consumers use screens and live virtual experiences more than ever, and that’s how the MICE space will be redefined – a consumer-centric offering that is digital-enabled and data-empowered.

Public spaces are being re-designed so as to provide safe distancing, touch-less solutions and hygiene practices for delegates and employees. Virtual spaces are being transformed to replace physical meetings. One such recent event in Singapore was the International Dental Exhibition and Meeting (IDEM), which converted its physical trade show and conference into a fully virtual event in June 2020. Featuring a digital conference and exhibition, it had attracted close to 4,000 participants, with over 300 exhibiting brands from over 50 countries, demonstrating how virtual engagements can augment face-to-face events safely and effectively.

Hybrid event formats have become increasingly significant, where content is delivered virtually, while retaining the live aspect for limited, small groups of attendees that fulfils participants’ needs to connect. These hybrid event formats ensure that the digital aspects complement in-person events. Marina Bay Sands in Singapore has recently launched a hybrid event broadcast studio with hologram functionalities at its Sands Expo and Convention Centre. This state-of-the-art studio is designed to accommodate a live studio audience with a maximum capacity of 50 persons at any one time, enabling it to be versatile in hosting meetings in a hybrid format and offer opportunities to wow the participants through immersive content. We will certainly see more of such innovations as the industry landscape and experience evolve.

Maunik Thacker, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Marina Bay Sands says “The MICE industry is currently experiencing an accelerated digital transformation, and traditional event set-ups may no longer serve the needs of event planners in this new environment. Digitisation, flexibility of venue spaces as well as health and safety protocols will be event planners’ key priorities following the resumption of the industry. Marina Bay Sands is investing in the future and has further expanded our in-house capabilities to meet the demands of the evolving landscape. Our new state-of-the-art hybrid broadcast studio was conceptualised as a first-of-its-kind offering both in its design system and set-up as well as overall operating model. We will continue to bring forth technological innovation to the business event industry by offering AR, VR, XR and holographic telepresence capabilities to co-create a unified experience for both in-person and virtual audiences. Having an operationally safe venue and sanitised operations is the new baseline for us. The integrated resort has implemented an even more rigorous suite of hygiene and precautionary measures to safeguard the health and safety of our communities.”

Singapore MICE Industry Gearing Up
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) had on 22 July announced the calibrated and safe resumption of business events which is supported by a risk management framework for business events of up to 50 attendees, based on strict safe management measures. STB would trial this framework with two pilot events before gradually scaling up to other events. Building upon the successful trial of this framework in a pilot hybrid event in August, it was further announced on 7 September that STB would start accepting applications for organisers to pilot MICE events with up to 250 attendees. This augurs well for the MICE industry as it prepares itself to safely open the doors to holding events at an even larger scale and subsequently welcoming foreign delegates’ participation. To provide further guidance for our MICE businesses, STB and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) are collaborating with the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) to formulate an Event Industry Resilience Roadmap (IRR). This roadmap is the result of a public-private partnership focused on three strategic objectives: establishing best-in-class standards for new event safety measures, creating agile business models with a focus on digital capabilities, and developing pathways for professional development. The Event IRR will provide timely guidance on safety measures and best practices in line with the gradual resumption of business events.

On the hygiene and sanitisation front, Singapore has taken a number of measures. One of them is the SG Clean quality mark, our national mark of excellence for environmental public hygiene and the government’s effort to rally businesses and the public to uphold good sanitisation standards and hygiene practices. To date, more than 20,000 premises including MICE venues and facilities such as Sands Expo & Convention Centre, Singapore Expo, Resorts World Convention Centre, and Suntec Singapore Convention Centre have been certified. We are heartened to see some momentum building up with two recent successful bids secured in August 2020 for the rights to host the Worldchefs Congress and Expo in 2024 and the 110th Lions Clubs International Convention in 2028. The Lions Clubs International Convention is expected to attract around 20,000 foreign delegates. These successes build upon Singapore’s track record as Asia Pacific’s top meeting city for 18 consecutive years and the confidence in Singapore’s robust and transparent handling of the Covid-19 situation.

Ms. Lynette Ang, Chief Marketing Officer, Sentosa Development Corporation says “As an island-in-the-city that offers an array of novel leisure experiences all in one place, Sentosa has been popular amongst MICE groups from India, among other markets, and we look forward to retaining this appeal post-COVID-19. We have therefore continued to engage our partners regularly through platforms such as virtual tradeshows and webinars to keep in touch with our trade partners, despite the inability to meet face-to-face during this period,”

She added: “As travel restrictions start to gradually ease, such as through the establishment of “green lanes” for travel, we have begun to study what we can do for MICE delegates while assuring their safety and well-being. This includes working closely with STB to pilot trial MICE events to test the newly launched Safe Business Events framework and the safe management measures in place. We have also been studying new ways to bring Sentosa’s offerings safely to delegates, by offering hybrid “phygital” experiences that integrate the virtual and physical. As part of the SingapoRediscovers domestic tourism campaign, we have curated fresh and authentic experiences such as themed itineraries, as well as Fun Deals across F&B, attractions and hotels, which we believe can be adapted for tourists and MICE audiences at a later stage. We will continue to deepen our engagement with stakeholders and position Sentosa for a strong recovery, as we look forward to welcoming our overseas guests again.”

A peek into my work journey
People matter the most. Growing connections within the travel and MICE tourism industry and cultivating relationships with partner-friends in India are important for my team and I. This focus and belief in people before results stem from my earlier human resource professional career in HR management, development, change management and organisation development. This HR grounding, with marketing and business development acumen picked up along my work journey, has helped me lead interesting tourism projects. I enjoy the privilege of leading a great team. By building on their strengths and commitment to quality work and fostering deep travel trade relationships, we bring Singapore even closer to the hearts and minds of Indian consumers. Having spent about a decade in HR functions in STB, I was posted to India as Area Director in April 2010. I had enjoyed my close-to-4 years stint, doing various leisure, enrichment and PR projects and established good networks in the travel trade. After a couple of years in STB HQ’s International Marketing and Brand Campaigns teams, I returned as Regional Director in mid 2016. In the past decade, India has grown in importance for Singapore, moving up from the fifth to third position as a visitor arrival source market for us.

Two areas that we have focused on: strong travel trade engagement and innovative, engaging consumer outreach projects. In line with our “Growing Connections, Achieving Together” trade engagement theme, we have built strong and meaningful relationships with travel trade across India. We have embarked on many travel promotion and consumer outreach projects with them. To present Singapore in different, fresh perspectives to the Indian audiences, we have worked on several unique collaborations with brands like Dharma Productions, Ola, Paytm, Tripoto, VOOT, Vh1, St+art India Foundation and Zomato. These projects have helped showcase the diverse offerings of Singapore and keep the city as a top choice destination. In the important MICE and Cruise sectors, we work closely with the trade fraternity to retain Singapore as an ideal destination for meetings and incentive travel and cruise holidays.

Attracting the Indian MICE travellers
India is one of the top source MICE markets for Singapore, particularly for meetings and incentive travel. This is a key sector with quality visitors providing high tourism yield and features prominently in our work in India. We work very closely with corporates, M&I travel intermediaries, event organisers in India and Singapore tourism stakeholders to facilitate the staging of successful and memorable group experiences in Singapore.

STB has developed various support schemes to better equip MICE agents and corporates in their planning for their next business trip to Singapore. These schemes have been customised keeping in mind that group size will be smaller for a start.

  • INSPIRE (In Singapore Incentives & Rewards) is a scheme which supports small groups and offers a choice of pre-curated unique experiences such as dining options, event venues, attractions admission with extra benefits, tours and teambuilding activities.
  • BEiS (Business Events in Singapore) is a financial support scheme to help anchor and grow quality events, and innovate new content
  • SMAP (Singapore MICE Advantage Program) offers a host of privileges and unique experiences for delegates.
  • STARS (Special Travel Agent Rewards Singapore) recognises MICE agents and event planners for securing groups to Singapore.

These schemes are reviewed regularly to meet the changing needs of the corporates, MICE agents and event planners and to keep Singapore competitive as a top-of-mind MICE destination for the Indian market. We welcome interested parties to connect with us and find out more. Heightened concerns of safety and hygiene, demand for clear, hassle-free travel arrangements and strong co-operation among corporates, MICE intermediaries and host country’s stakeholders will determine MICE destinations and experiences. Singapore is well-known for its safety, cleanliness, efficient infrastructure and systems. Together with our industry partners, we will present Singapore as one of the world’s leading destinations for safe, trusted and innovative business events.

Singapore’s business events sector has shown much resilience during this difficult period, and we are grateful for the innovativeness and adaptability shown by our industry. We are confident that Singapore will lead the way in reimagining what safe and high-quality business events could look like. We will continue to extend our hands in partnership in India and work with MICE players and corporates to bring groups to Singapore, when the timing is right.