Updated: 23 March 2021
As countries kickstart their national vaccination programmes, discussions on vaccination certificates for travel are heating up. International Air Transport Association (IATA) chief Alexandre de Juniac recently stated that travel will likely return in Q3 2021 — spurring hope that regional meetings and events may also be possible before year-end.
If, like us, you’re eagerly anticipating when, and where, you can hold meetings across Asia Pacific, here’s a summary of the latest developments to keep you well informed:
Following a series of hybrid event pilots and the launch of [email protected], a bubble facility for short-term business travellers and meetings, Singapore’s approach is focused on managing risk rather than eliminating it.
The Lion City is taking calibrated steps to reopen both its economy and its borders, and is currently investigating a system of mutual recognition of vaccine certification based on HealthCerts, a set of digital standards for issuing digital COVID-19 test result certificates.
At the bilateral level, Singapore announced on 14 March that it is discussing the possibility of an air travel bubble that will allow residents of Singapore and Australia to travel between both countries without the need for quarantine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Currently, all travellers must submit a health declaration on arrival and serve a 14-day quarantine at dedicated facilities. Those from higher-risk areas will need to take a PCR test 72 hours before departing for Singapore and be tested at the end of quarantine.
Practice makes perfect
Plenty of groundwork has been laid for hybrid events to gradually take place, with the Singapore Tourism Board accepting applications from event businesses to pilot COVID-safe meetings and events for up to 250 pax.
Safety protocols such as on-site antigen rapid tests and crowd control are being tested, where floor plans and zoning are key. Currently, events with 250 attendees must be divided into 5 zones of 50, then each zone must be further divided into cohorts of 20 people to minimise the risk of infection.
Smaller meetings and business-related events of up to 50 pax can take place (with mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing of 1 metre), however social events are not permitted and dining is restricted to a maximum of 8 people per table.
During January’s PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) Convening Leaders event, attendees were split into seven zones, each with dedicated entry/exit points and areas for antigen rapid testing and networking.
Come August, Singapore will put its convening powers to the test again when it hosts the World Economic Forum.
While its borders are still largely closed, the country is working on a bi-lateral travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand. The government is also planning to increase caps on overseas arrivals and is mulling ways to expand quarantine capacity. Talks of a travel bubble with Singapore have also emerged, with a tentative start date for July.
Prime minister Scott Morrison was quoted as saying that airlines will be closely involved with vaccine passport plans, and that the type of vaccine may be relevant.
Domestic meetings return, but protocols vary
With international borders remaining shut, Business Events Australia (BEA) has renewed its call to “event here this year”, in a domestic campaign that encourages planners to host events in the country.
While the 1 person per 2 sqm guideline is largely practiced, specific meeting and event restrictions vary by state and territory. For instance, events in Tasmania are limited to 250 pax indoors; while major facilities in cities like Sydney and Melbourne can accommodate up to 75% of seated capacity.
Thailand has plans to ease restrictions for vaccinated travellers, including shortening mandatory quarantine for all arrivals, or dropping it completely, according to Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
Currently, travellers from about 45 countries including the US and UK are eligible to travel to Thailand visa-free, but a 14-day hotel quarantine awaits. However, this is set to change as the country has announced an “Area Hotel Quarantine” proposal to allow foreign visitors to leave their hotel rooms and roam around the property after the first three days of their mandatory 14-day period. The proposal will initially be considered for five top tourist destinations, such as Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Krabi, Phuket and Surat Thani.
On the meetings and events front, organisers of large-scale events for over 300 attendees must submit the execution plan and disease control measures to the district office where the event will be held. Event-goers must use the ‘Thai Chana’ or ‘Mor Chana’ contact-tracing apps before and after the events, according to a Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) update on 4 March.
Hotel meetings rooms, convention centres and banquet halls must limit the number of attendees to 300 and execute safe distancing and enhanced sanitation measures.
During February 24-25, TCEB also held the country’s first virtual MICE event, the Thailand MICE Virtual Expo, bringing together around 3,000 participants globally.
In late 2020, the government reissued a ban on foreign visitors, temporarily putting a stop to a ‘Reciprocal Green Lane’ for travel with Singapore (expect in certain cases such as diplomats and expatriates).
That said, the central government is drawing up a plan that could allow vaccinated foreign tourists to return to Bali as soon as June 2021 under a travel corridor programme to revive the local economy. The island's major spots, Ubud, Sanur and Nusa Dua, are likely to be included in the pilot project under strict health protocols, according to latest media reports.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said the travel corridor arrangement will be offered to countries that are deemed successful in their vaccination programmes. However, some two million Bali residents will first have to be vaccinated before the pilot can begin.
Another possible travel corridor: Singapore-Batam-Bintan. Uno announced a proposed 21 April start date, but later added that the travel corridor will only allow Singaporeans to enter Indonesia — and not vice versa.
Meetings remain muted
While government meetings are driving recovery of Indonesia's domestic MICE sector, the country's Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (MoTCE) also hosted a number of event simulations and mini exhibitions in 2020 to help local stakeholders implement new protocols, said Ibu Rizki Handayani, deputy minister for tourism product and events.
These event simulations have been carried out in Jakarta, Bandung, Bali and Bintan, and rapid testing is being used in these instances as part of heightened health and safety standards.
As of 22 March 2021, foreigners can now enter the Special Administrative Region provided they had been in mainland China in the previous 21 days, according to a new Executive Order that came into effect on 16 Mar.
For those arriving from Hong Kong, the mandatory quarantine period has also been shortened from 21 days to 14 days from 20 Mar. After serving the 14 days quarantine in a hotel, individuals are required to do a 7-day self-health management period at home.
Transport between Macau and Hong Kong is also restricted to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
New tech trade show on the way
Macau is gearing up to host a two-day technology expo in June loosely modelled on the massive CES trade show in Las Vegas, in June.
Set to take place at The Venetian Macao Convention & Exhibition Centre, the BEYOND International Technology Innovation Expo aims to attract over 10,000 delegates globally. It will be supported by local government and non-government entities – such as Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) – and will be backed by the Guangdong provincial government.
Tech giants Alibaba, ByteDance, CP Group, Foxconn, BMW, Huawei, Mi, ZTE, AliCloud, and SenseTime.t are some of the groups expected to be represented in the event.
Japan has lifted its Covid-19 state of emergency as of midnight on Sunday, 22 March in Greater Tokyo, the last remaining area in the country that had been under the restriction since early January.
Attendance at large-scale events such as concerts and sports games will also be gradually eased following the lifting of the emergency. Numbers had been capped at half capacity up to a limit of 5,000, but this will be increased to 10,000.
That said, the country has announced that foreign spectators will not be allowed at the Olympics, to avoid the risk of large crowds forming amid the pandemic.
Slow and steady
Events have largely pivoted to hybrid and virtual, with the exception of the Tourism EXPO Japan Okinawa Business Meetings & Exhibition 2020, which took place from 29 October to 1 November. The show followed the strict industry regulations for hosting safe events, including limiting attendees in morning/afternoon shifts, and electronic gates that enabled participants to self-check-in.
Malaysia’s Recovery Movement Control was extended to 31 March, prohibiting foreign nationals from entering the country even if they’ve been vaccinated.
While it has a Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement with Singapore, this has currently been suspended for three months (from 1 Feb) due to the resurgence of cases worldwide.
Cautious steps towards recovery
Since 5 March, business events have resumed in Movement Control Order (MCO) regions. The eight states and territories previously under the MCO — Melaka, Johor, Penang, Selangor and Sabah, as well as in the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya — will now be placed under conditional MCO with eased restrictions, until 18 March.
This means venue capacity limits will be increased from 25% to 50%, and inter-district travel will be able to recommence, with the exception of Sabah.
Travel restrictions between Kuala Lumpur and Selangor will also be lifted, which is especially helpful for events in the Klang Valley.