Event business shifts under Singapore's 'endemic' Covid policy

Event professionals share sentiments from the floor: bookings, pandemic pains, and opportunities towards 2022.

Living with Covid... (from left) Tall Ship Adventures CEO Peter Pela, Fairmont Singapore's Jessie Lim, and Marriott's Peter Foreman.

Following Singapore's announcement to ‘live with’ Covid-19, the country has had to balance sudden spikes in infection rates without enforcing a full shutdown of economic activities — a decision that has invariably had a domino effect on the events industry.

While the latest restrictions do not affect MICE pilots, a number of local industry players have indicated either strains to the business, cancellations, sudden drops for in-person conversions, and/or struggles to manage unhappy clients.

"F&B is a tough and frustrating business to be in at the moment," said Peter L. Pela, CEO of Tall Ship Adventures, which runs superyacht Royal Albatross. "Please understand we strictly adhere to the government guidelines in order to provide you and all other guests with the required protection. Unfortunately, not all guests see it this way."

For event entrepreneur Neo Yong Aik of Neo.TM — an AV supplier turned co-working space and virtual events studio — these uncertainties have implications for the entire industry. 

Neo points to Singapore losing Gastech 2021 to Dubai, which welcomed 30,000 in-person attendees on 21-23 September. "In the client's words, 'there is no restriction there', so if November's Bloomberg New Economy Forum goes away too, it just shows the sentiments of clients towards Singapore," he said.

Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel, including travel's gradual restart through the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), which Peter Foreman, Marriott International's Area Director of Sales and Distribution for Singapore, Malaysia and Maldives expects will lead to more hybrid meetings and events in the coming months.

Here are some other projections for Q4 and beyond.

2022 is still the year of hybrid

Lockdown or not, Jessie Lim, Director of Conference & Event Services at Fairmont Singapore noted that whenever restrictions were lifted for 2021, about 70% returned to in-person events, albeit with growing interest in the hotel's virtual studio and facilities for virtual/hybrid events.

But with tech vendors and hybrid venues multiplying by the day, and at low cost too, "events people will need to crack their head to add revenue," said Neo. His sentiments echoed those of Oscar Cerezales, Chief Strategy Officer at MCI Group, who at a recent APAC Marriott event challenged "we all get access to the same technology, so that's no longer a competitive advantage — our mind is".

Small is the new big

The popular number for events seem to be 50 — though that's really down to practicality's sake.

"Organisers prefer to keep events small due to various considerations: avoid the potential hassle for STB applications; the stress of having to deal with unknown or changing restrictions; and any last minute changes or rush of having to re-plan an event," said Fairmont's Lim.

Some examples include VIP or high-net-worth clients "who might go face-to-face, but bigger conferences might still not happen," said Neo, who noted as well that these smaller shows and conferences are being split into "bite sizes" but at more regular frequencies.

Keep finding new ways to engage

Technology is no longer a good-to-have but a must-have in the event management and hospitality world. As such, "brands and businesses are definitely more open to new and innovative ideas and are also striving to look for newer, non-conventional emotional touch points to connect with their guests, associate and clients," said Foreman.

JW Marriott Singapore South Beach for instance has organised hybrid conferences at the hotel’s Grand Ballroom concurrent with a virtual set up for global meetings, or where luxury brands have showcased private events in a stand-alone building to engage stakeholders whilst adhering to the social distancing / gathering regulations.

Fairmont Singapore recommends being "nimble and responsive rather than purely reactive". The team launched TrueTours and Group360, "where we showcase our venue offerings and capabilities virtually but in as authentic and experiential a way as possible. Technology has certainly helped to narrow the gap when face to face meetings were totally not permissible," said Lim.

Engagement is sometimes also an industry effort, where Royal Albatross pointed to how they received a much-needed publicity boost from Singapore Tourism Board, Sentosa and Resorts World Sentosa through virtual trade shows and promotions.

"We understand that it’s tough for corporate events to commit especially with cases on the rise...We are fortunate to have [them] help us through this," said Tall Ship Adventures' Pela. 

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