MBS, Sentosa viewed as potential venues for WEF 2021 in Singapore

Sentosa (above) could be part of a "hub-and-spoke" concept for the meeting. ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa Island have been earmarked by observers as potential venues for Singapore to stage the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in May next year.

The gathering of global political and business leaders typically attracts around 3,000 to its usual location in the ritzy Alpine ski resort of Davos in Switzerland.

The 2021 edition will, for the first time, include a virtual component to allow greater participation amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked for potential venues being considered, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said such information and further details would be provided at a later date.

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said the venue must be large and modular enough to provide meeting rooms and spaces to accommodate participants - with safe distancing.

"In the past, many people could congregate in a big hall. With the pandemic, participants will likely be spread across the venue space in various rooms," he suggested.

With a plethora of key, main meetings accompanied by an even greater number of smaller interactions on the side, it would not be possible for one single hotel to hold the entire event, said Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) business school.

He pointed to Marina Bay Sands, with its hotel and convention centre capabilities, as most equipped to handle at least the bulk of key gatherings.

Another possibility, said Prof Loh, would be a "hub-and-spoke" concept with a central meeting location such as Singapore Expo or the Resorts World Convention Centre on Sentosa, supplemented with hotels scattered around the island.

"Lodging is more flexible and can be decentralised. But we don't want people to waste time hopping around for meetings," he said, adding that organisers would probably also have to overestimate capacity given what he anticipated as high demand to attend.

Dr Chong Ja Ian from NUS' political science department noted that Sentosa could also be sealed off easily for security reasons. "Another might be the Shangri-La Hotel that previously hosted other large-scale, high profile events," he said. "Its location is more convenient than Sentosa."

The hotel near Orchard Road has hosted the Shangri-La Dialogue, a top-level regional security forum, since 2002. It was called off for the first time this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Prof Loh said that above all, safety should be the organisers' fundamental consideration when settling on the venue. "And the most important factor is the safety of our own residents in Singapore," he added.

Agreeing, Dr Jeremy Lim from NUS' Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said: "What's important is that the delegates, and everyone who's involved in hosting the WEF meeting, don't have unfettered circulation amongst the general public."

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