SINGAPORE - Event organisers and venue operators have started preparing for bigger groups, following the announcement last week that capacity limits will be raised for weddings, pilot live performances and spectator sports from April 24.
The Star Performing Arts Centre is in talks with venue hirers, including concert promoters, to see how they can have up to 750 people at their events safely, said its spokesman, Ms Azlina Ahmad.
The centre has been holding live concerts featuring local bands for up to 250 people in collaboration with Holland Village bar Wala Wala in the last few months.
"We are certainly ready to accommodate bigger groups once the restrictions ease," said Ms Azlina, adding that staff from The Star are deployed to act as safe distancing ambassadors at these events to ensure patrons do not flout the rules.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre is hopeful that it can have more than 750 people - the new capacity limit from April 24 - at its upcoming Sing.Lang2021 pop concert in June.
Its director of programmes, Mr Lee Ee Wurn, said it is planning to stage the concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and is working closely with the Singapore Sports Hub, of which the stadium is part, to get the largest permissible audience capacity for the event.
However, the requirement of pre-event testing at bigger events for those who have not been vaccinated could deter some people from attending.
It is unclear if event organisers or attendees would be willing to bear the additional cost of pre-event testing, said Ms Azlina, noting that The Star is still struggling to break even for its curated concert series with Wala Wala, despite having full houses for the maximum 250 people allowed.
In January, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said the cost of rapid Covid-19 testing has dropped from $80 per person to under $50, and it is likely to come down further.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) has also received mixed feedback from attendees of a pilot trial of pre-event testing at last year's SSO Christmas Concert.
While some lauded the SSO for taking part in pre-event testing, others decided not to attend because they did not wish to take the test, which they feared would be uncomfortable, said SSO. The testing costs were paid for by the Government then.
Concert organiser CK Star Entertainment Singapore said a majority of people it had gathered feedback from would rather not attend an event if they have to be tested. Others said they may buy tickets in cheaper price categories if the cost of testing is passed on to them.
Mr Sahil Rahat, director of sales, marketing and revenue management at Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, said most couples who had enquired about the increase in capacity limits for weddings cited worries about the cost of the antigen rapid tests.
He said the hotel is unlikely to absorb any part of the testing costs for weddings, as package prices have already been reduced.
Still, the operators say they are prepared to comply with the necessary measures, once more details are released.
Most venue operators and event organisers like Cross Ratio Entertainment said they hope there will be flexibility in allowing attendees to get tested either on-site or at external clinics.
Mr Garth Simmons, chief executive officer of hotel operator Accor for South-east Asia, Japan and South Korea, hopes there can be some funding support from the Government for pre-event testing.
He added that Accor is in discussions with Fullerton Healthcare, which provides vaccination and swabbing services, on how to collaborate on pre-event testing.
The healthcare group is running a vaccination and swab testing centre at Fairmont Singapore, which is an Accor hotel. "We can hopefully extend this service to wedding couples and events," he said.
Mr Michael Foo, vice-president of assets and facilities at the Singapore Badminton Association, suggested that "express" entrances and audience zones for vaccinated individuals be created for larger events. "Once inside this venue, vaccinated individuals would be interacting only with people in the 'vaccinated' zone, helping to boost safety," said Mr Foo.
Ms Jolene Ghui, 31, said she will be increasing the capacity for her wedding at The Outpost Hotel in Sentosa in November.
"I am willing to bear the cost for the attendees as I believe most will be vaccinated by my wedding date and I would have to fork out money for only a few," said Ms Ghui, who works in the media industry.
What are the changes in capacity limits for events from April 24?
From April 24, up to 250 people can attend marriage solemnisations and wedding receptions if pre-event testing requirements are met, up from the current limit of 100.
At solemnisation-only weddings involving more than 100 attendees, the bride and groom will have to take a pre-event test if they are not vaccinated, while others are not required to do so.
Due to the higher risk with people being unmasked while eating and in close and prolonged contact with one another, pre-event testing will be required for everyone at receptions with more than 100 attendees.
Live performances at designated venues, pilot business-to-business events and pilot spectator sports events can have up to 750 attendees if they implement pre-event testing, or 250 attendees without testing.
Those who have completed the full vaccination regimen and have had time to develop sufficient protection will be exempted from pre-event testing from April 24.
Additional reporting by Adeline Tan