SINGAPORE – The business events sector here will rebound to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, according to the industry’s peak body.
Saceos – or the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers – cited the string of high-profile international conferences last month, and noted that it is “confident that 2022 should be a year of stabilisation, and 2023 a year of normalcy”.
Its renewed confidence comes with the industry’s new capabilities for staging hybrid meetings and a list of tentpole events already in the bag.
Mr Dylan Sharma, Saceos’ vice-president of advocacy and communications, called the past 21 months a “long winter”, but he noted that the sector – where 60 per cent of operators suffered “severe” revenue falls – is a different one from what it was in 2019.
Firms are now learning to do more with less as the sting of recent layoffs remains fresh and new capabilities in broadcasting, data management and cyber security are now requisite, he said.
Even if the Omicron variant threatens to take the life out of the industry a second time, the quick embrace of hybrid meetings, adoption of sustainability and health and safety measures have made the sector more resilient, and Singapore an even more attractive destination.
The pandemic made the industry realise that though Singapore might be one of the top business cities in the world, there was a lot more to be done, said Mr Sharma, adding: “We have always been known for being clean, we have always been known for being safe. But the pandemic has actually strengthened our value proposition.”
The recovery will not happen overnight but if fears cast by Omicron fade, a pipeline of marquee events next year and beyond lies in wait, he noted.
The Government, which frequently talks about the strategic role Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) plays in Singapore’s share of the global voice, is unwavering in its confidence in the “long-term prospects” of the industry.
Mr Poh Chi Chuan, the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) executive director for exhibitions and conferences, said: “Mice events bring about significant spillover benefits to our economy, including bringing in business for our lifestyle and hospitality sectors.
“Business events such as the World Cities Summit, Singapore Fintech Festival and the inaugural Singapore International Agri-Food Week are good examples of events that can advance our local industries.”
Earlier this year, STB opened a new office in Brussels in Belgium to tap the growing European market, which sent 2.13 million visitors to Singapore in 2019.
The Brussels office helped secure the Asian satellite event of the St Gallen Symposium, which took place in Singapore in May. It also won the annual congress for the Association Internationale des Jeunes Avocats – a global association for lawyers and in-house counsel aged 45 and below – to be held next August.
A calendar of events stretching to 2028 is already taking shape.
Mr Akshay Kapoor, regional head of sales at business travel management firm CWT, said a poll of its customers in March found that widespread vaccine distribution and reduced case numbers are the “most important enablers to see them return to business travel”.
While 80 per cent of attendance was virtual last year, the ratios are more evened out between the physical and virtual worlds this year, said Mr Sharma. The number of warm-body attendees will rise if travel restrictions continue to ease globally.
He added: “We hope to see this become more of a case of 80 per cent attending physical events, and 20 per cent who are unable to join us or choose not to travel, join virtually.”
But with hybrid events bringing fewer visitors into the country, while costs of events soar with additional health and safety requirements, are these new meeting formats even sustainable?
Yes, said Mr Sharma. “The cost has gradually gone down with new entrants, new players, new solutions, but the value proposition, the engagement levels have actually gone up with customisation of virtual platforms.”
PMG Asia Pacific chief executive Kong Man Haw agreed: “With the ability to live-stream to audiences overseas, our opinion is that hybrid events can definitely sustain our local events industry.”
For now, the local Mice industry is taking a stoic approach.
Mr Kong added: “2020 has demonstrated to us how unpredictable the future is. The outlook is still positive as we continue to receive inquiries about organising physical events in 2022.”