Vaccinated travel lanes give Singapore Mice sector a boost

The Netherlands is one of the countries included in the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme.
The Netherlands is one of the countries included in the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The expanded Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme here has given the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) sector a boost, with industry players noting growing interest among their clients.

Mr Mathias Posch, president of International Conference Services, told The Straits Times that several large-scale conferences are now considering Singapore as a destination, including discussions about relocating conferences from other Asian destinations to the Republic.

He said: "The VTLs are an important signal to our industry that Singapore is opening up to international travel, and that helps with booking hesitancy that we have experienced in recent months. It is a good start and shows the commitment of the Government to having international travel resume."

Asia-Pacific managing director for BCD Meetings and Events, Mr Sanjay Seth, said its Singapore office alone has received a dozen new inquiries since Oct 9, when the first major expansion of the VTL scheme was announced.

The scheme, which allows quarantine-free travel between Singapore and several countries, is a significant step for the industry here, which relies heavily on foreign attendees and in-person networking.

The countries include the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Britain, Germany, Brunei and South Korea, as well as Australia and Switzerland, which were added to the list on Oct 26.

Managing director of Koelnmesse Singapore, Mr Mathias Kuepper, said the promising news on the VTL expansion has resulted in an uptick in inquiries from exhibitors originating from VTL countries for one of its events next year.

While welcoming the expanded VTL scheme, some industry players feel it is not enough on its own to help the sector recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Other factors, such as easing of domestic health restrictions and a clear road map, need to fall into place before the sector is primed for full recovery, they said.

Ms Sarah Chew, executive director of design and production company Kingsmen Exhibits, does not expect a huge impact with the current list of VTL countries.

"With international events in Singapore previously, we rely on Asian regional attendees," she said, noting that many Asian countries are not on the current VTL list.

For one thing, domestic restrictions on the Mice sector need to be eased, said some industry players.

Currently, there can be up to 1,000 participants per session for Mice events here if all are fully vaccinated.

But a bugbear for organisers is having to split participants into zones of 50 people each, with no intermingling allowed.

Mr Dylan Sharma, vice-president of advocacy and communications at the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers, said the VTLs are a "huge leap forward" in the safe reopening of Mice events.

But what is equally important is a clear road map for the reopening.

He said: "While the increase in event capacity... is a vital step... it remains a far cry from what we hope to achieve, which include, among other things, a liberalisation and lifting of current zoning requirements."

Agreeing, Mr Seth said a clear road map would go a long way, as a large-scale Mice event can take a year or more from planning to execution, making it vulnerable to sudden changes.

There must be consistent protocols so business owners can plan ahead confidently, as a cancelled event can mean time and money lost. The protocols, with some already in place, can help Singapore stand out from other markets with inconsistent standards, he added.

One example is the SG SafeEvent certification that venue operators and event organisers can attain if they uphold hygiene benchmarks.

The Singapore Tourism Board has also developed a Safe Business Events framework to help event organisers conduct events safely, from implementing infection control measures to a plan for emergencies relating to Covid-19.

More than 160 Mice events have been held under the framework.

Before the pandemic, the Mice sector supported more than 34,000 direct and indirect jobs with a value-add of $3.8 billion, or 0.8 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

Without further easing on capacity curbs and the shows allowed to be held, the industry will continue to struggle, said Mr Jean-Francois Quentin, chief executive of event management company Constellar.

He said: "The current cost of organising events is prohibitive when you consider mandatory safe management measures. Exhibitors are also unlikely to participate with the limited number of attendees as they will not see a reasonable return on their investment."

At some Mice events, activities such as dinner parties after the event are an important part of networking.

Vice-president of Informa Markets in Asia, Mr Ian Roberts, said: "We have been working with the Singapore Government and they have been very helpful... But there are still a lot of restrictions around dining out and meeting people."

The Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF) later this month was cast into the spotlight after groups of five, including non-NEF delegates, were allowed to dine together at NEF venues and other designated restaurants.

The Milken Institute Asia Summit and the Singapore International Agri-Food Week are among other high-profile events taking place this month.

Mr Posch said the return of such events is encouraging, given the risk in holding international events due to the uncertainty with Singapore borders and meeting sizes.

He said: "I would caution to keep a long-term view on the industry and judge success not just by events in the next few months, but also by future bookings."

Covid-19 measures for events in Singapore

The capacity for Mice events where fully vaccinated participants are mostly seated or standing at a fixed position is 1,000 per session, and 500 if they are not seated and are moving around.

They must be split into zones of up to 50 people, with no intermingling between the zones.

Other restrictions include not having buffets for meals, having safe distancing at all times and showing proof of a valid negative Covid-19 test result for some participants.

Recent and upcoming events in Singapore

Singapore International Energy Week (Oct 25 to 29)

- Annual event to share best practices and solutions within the global energy space

- 3,000 on-site and more than 20,000 online attendees from over 80 countries

Milken Institute Asia Summit (Nov 15 and 16)

- Global leaders to share solutions for more equitable and inclusive societies

- Hybrid event, with about 250 in-person attendees expected from about 10 countries

Singapore International Agri-Food Week (Nov 15 to 18)

- Industry leaders, among others, to discuss supply chain resilience, urban food systems, alternative proteins and affordable nutrition

- Over 1,000 guests expected virtually and in person

Bloomberg New Economy Forum (Nov 16 to 19)

- Elite forum for top businessmen and government leaders to discuss global challenges

- About 300 in-person attendees expected from 51 countries

Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (Nov 22 to 24)

- Hybrid event showcasing cutting-edge Industry 4.0 solutions to help businesses

- 15,000 in-person and online attendees expected across three days