The air travel bubble (ATB) between Singapore and Hong Kong will officially lift off on 22 November, with one flight a day into each city with 200 passengers each way.
The frequency will increase to two flights a day into each city from 7 December, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore announced last week.
The inaugural ATB flight, SQ890, will depart from Singapore on 22 November, while the inaugural ATB flight from Hong Kong, SQ891, will depart on 23 November.
The hotly-anticipated bubble is a welcome sign for event professionals, who expect an uptick in business travel between the two financial hubs.
Even before the launch date was announced, Steven Ler, executive director at UOB Travel, received a surge in enquires.
Based in Singapore, Ler is offering tiered ‘Travel Care Services’ (largely to clients in the premium and corporate sector) to ensure travellers understand all the ‘new norm’ requirements needed to travel via the bubble.
“We are helping clients navigate the entire end-to-end process so they can focus on business,” he says. This includes door-to-door transfers that have been properly sanitised, ensuring the correct ATB-approved flights are booked, assistance with testing requirements and airport check-in services.
“We have the right checklist to help our customers.. and when more borders open, each market may have slightly different requirements in terms of testing and access.”
HKECIA chairman, Stuart Bailey believes the ATB is an encouraging step forward for the sector, particularly after “significant time and effort have been invested in ensuring our events comply with the highest standards of health and safety”.
Speaking to M&C Asia, Bailey insists the industry in Hong Kong is ready to safely welcome the return of regional MICE.
“Hotels and airlines are ready, exhibition and conference halls are ready… we hope the ATB trial with Singapore will act as a blueprint to open access to other markets,” he says.
“It is only by beginning these trials can we really start to see where the stress points are and make improvements to the process to enable more travellers safe access to cross international borders.”
Hong Kong hotels gear up to welcome more MICE
Since the announcement of the travel bubble, Shangri-La group has seen a number of enquiries for its event spaces. “We’ve received enquiries for social events including wedding banquets, association dinners and AGMs”, the spokesperson tells M&C Asia. “The hotels have partnered with multiple key players in the market to ensure we remain top of mind in providing a one-stop service for our MICE event organisers and guests.
“To increase our visibility, we have connected with PCOs and MICE bookers in Singapore to proactively introduce MICE offers and updates on our venues following the announcement, with exclusive offers and value-add promotions available across all hotel venues”.
Likewise, Four Seasons Hong Kong’s regional director of marketing, Irene Tan, says the hotel has been “actively in touch with clients in Singapore, hosting virtual site inspections for key partners, and we have developed a virtual 360 tour of our function space”.
“We foresee the trend for micro meetings and the hotel is equipped to host hybrid meetings with upgrades to our video conferencing system,” says Tang.
The Grounds at AIA Vitality Park, launched in early November, is Hong Kong’s first socially-distanced outdoor event space, which caters for up to 420 guests. Facilities include private pods, contactless food ordering, and AV programming support.
Venues and facilities at the West Kowloon Cultural District are also open for hire, and its vibrant calendar of public events reinstated. A spokesperson from cultural quarter said it is also working closely with partners, such as Hong Kong Tourism Board and hotels, to explore opportunities for collaboration.
Health and safety in check
Standardised hygiene protocols across the two destinations will also help to boost confidence among event planners. Singapore’s SG Clean programme, launched in March, and Hong Kong’s Quality Tourism Services (QTS) Scheme provide the much-needed ‘mark of assurance’ that planners will look for when booking venues and accommodation.
Launched in October, Hong Kong’s QTS Scheme is currently focused on hotels, attractions and inbound tour operators, while phase two will include MICE venues and cross-boundary coach companies. Nevertheless, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) has already implemented new health and safety for a number of events, while Asia World-Expo implemented the world’s first ‘CLeanTech’ disinfection and air purification technology to ensure visitors are safe.
In Singapore, all major business hotels have achieved the SG Clean accreditation, and Max Atria @ Singapore Expo, the venue’s conference facility, recently reopened and held its first in-person event in October.
Public events, like the Hong Kong Literary Festival and the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, have returned and after months of difficulties in hosting large-scale MICE. Last week HKCEC hosted four concurrent trade shows organised by Informa Markets.
HKECIA’s Bailey says there is a “pent-up demand from the local market who are keen to meet and restart the economy after a difficult nine months”.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s MICE industry has seen a cautious recovery with trial events of up to 250 pax. The Singapore Tourism Board’s upcoming TravelRevive event will trial a new hybrid trade show format and test green lane travel protocols for international MICE delegates.