Launched in Singapore this week (18 February), [email protected] casts a novel picture of international meetings during pandemic times. Inside the Singapore Expo (a building once synonymous with mega MICE events in the city), floor-to-ceiling glass panels separate meeting participants, one-way doors prevent travellers from leaving the premise, and apps log every visitor interaction.
Extreme as this may sound, it is what these unprecedented times call for, stressed Temasek Holdings, which leads the consortium behind [email protected] (comprising The Ascott Limited, Changi Airport Group, Sheares Healthcare Group, SingEx-Sphere Holdings and Surbana Jurong).
The pilot facility is the first to be appointed under the [email protected] scheme, which exempts approved business travellers from the 14-day quarantine in Singapore by keeping them in a “bubble” where they are regularly tested and safely distanced.
Speaking at the launch of [email protected], Robin Hu, Temasek International’s head of international policy and governance, and also chairman of SingEx-Sphere Holdings, said: “This transformation of the Singapore Expo underscores the urgency of the mission at hand — to progressively reopen our borders and facilitate business activity amid the pandemic in a safe, contained and responsible manner.”
“It could be years before pre-pandemic travel patterns return… A vibrant and thriving Singapore is inseparable from open skies and open borders. [The idea was to create a] safe place for short-staying business executives from around the world to come discuss business with Singaporean counterparts… face-to-face but away from the local community. It takes time to combat the virus, but business must continue unabated. With the fate of Singapore hanging in the balance, there could be no other way."
The guest experience
[email protected] guests can expect to follow a “fixed path”, with business needs, safety and efficiency prioritised over leisure, said Ervin Yeo, managing director, Southeast Asia at The Ascott Limited.
Upon arrival in Singapore, [email protected] guests take their first PCR tests at the airport. They are then transported in a dedicated transfer vehicle to [email protected], a five-minute drive away. Once at the facility, they must remain in their rooms until their test comes back negative, an estimated six-hour wait. Depending on the duration of their stay, they will be tested again on days three and seven, as well as on the day of departure.
Business travellers who test negative for Covid-19 can then utilise meeting facilities, pre-booked via the [email protected] app. They are also required to list all their meetings and interactions. The app keeps a log of this, along with other information such as the Covid test history.
International travellers meeting local counterparts will do so across an “airtight” floor-to-ceiling glass partition. Guests and Singapore-based visitors will use separate entrances, exits and ventilation systems.
Meanwhile, screening will be done in large meeting rooms to keep cohorts separate and ensure that travellers from different countries do not mix “for any extended period of time”, according to Alan Thompson, joint head of strategic development at Temasek International.
The largest meeting room can accommodate 22 pax, with guests grouped in cohorts of five. [email protected] is exploring the use of dividers to keep cohorts separate.
There will be on-site personnel monitoring interactions and managing safe distancing and contact logging requirements, Yeo and Thompson said. Guests will also receive safe distancing reminders via the [email protected] app.
To keep international travellers within the bubble, Yeo explained: “Doors are one-way if you arrive from the airside and two-way when you come from the landside. Travellers can’t leave until someone lets them out.”
Yeo Choon Chong, ASEAN CEO of Surbana Jurong, added that surveillance cameras are installed at the boundaries of the premises to “ensure no one [leaves] without proper authorisation”.
While guests are not permitted to leave the facility, [email protected] provides “the closest approximation to a business hotel experience” given the safe distancing constraints.
Guests have access to two courtyards, a 24/7 “contactless” gym pod, self-service Starbuck kiosks and round-the-clock shopping via the iShop Changi app. In addition to the daily meal deliveries to guest rooms, guests can choose from over 40 Changi Eats F&B brands.
Rates start from S$384 for a minimum stay of 24 hours.
Charting the resumption of international meetings
[email protected] launched with 150 guest rooms and 40 meeting rooms available for booking. Halls 7 and 8 of the Expo are expected to be fully commissioned in May this year, which will bring the [email protected] capacity to 660 guest rooms and 170 meeting rooms.
Halls 9 and 10 remain, leaving room for the space to be adapted as needs evolve. “We could replicate the facility three times over to Hall 10 if that’s what the primary need is. If so, we will have room for 1,300 guests. But the pandemic is still evolving. We are taking a phased approach so we can modify and adapt the way we build out [the remaining halls],” Thompson said.
For now, the facility lends itself to smaller-scale meetings that benefit from the quarantine exemption. This includes senior leadership meetings, legal negotiations, wealth management advisory meetings with private banking advisors, contract negotiations, sales pitches and more.
Advanced MedTech Holdings will be one of the first to use [email protected]’s meeting rooms. The medical technology company will bring together up to 30 executives for its first in-person global senior leadership meeting since the start of the pandemic.
For meeting sizes of more than 22 pax, [email protected] has the AV tools and conferencing technology to handle hybrid meetings with participants in different rooms or locations, Thompson added.
[email protected] is currently taking bookings via a B2C web app, while the consortium is working with industry to educate event planners and travel agents on what the facility can offer.