SINGAPORE - Short-term business travellers from all countries will now be able to stay and have in-person meetings at a dedicated facility at the Singapore Expo without the need for prior quarantine.
The first phase of Connect @ Changi was launched on Thursday (Feb 18) with 150 guest rooms, in a move to resume international business meetings in Singapore amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The facility, which has been billed as the first of its kind in the world, has 40 meeting rooms of different sizes - the smallest can take four people and the largest, 22.
When fully operational later this year, it will be able to host up to 1,300 business travellers at any one time.
The facility's opening marks the start of the Connect @ Singapore scheme that will open Singapore's borders to business, official and high economic value travellers.
Under the scheme, travellers can meet in Singapore at designated facilities, but have to remain within the facilities throughout their stay. They also have to regularly take Covid-19 tests in lieu of quarantine.
Room rates for the four-star Connect @ Changi facility start at $384, which is inclusive of three meals, mini-bar, toiletries, Wi-Fi, two-way airport transfer as well as the Covid-19 tests required during the course of the stay.
Those who opt to stay there will be transported from the airport to the Singapore Expo directly after they take a Covid-19 test at the airport.
They will have to stay in the room while waiting for their initial test result, which will take about six hours to process.
Those who test negative can then have meetings through floor-to-ceiling air-tight glass panels with local businessmen and businessmen from other countries, with safe distancing measures in place.
The areas that local residents and business travellers can access are physically separated, and have different ventilation systems.
During the travellers' stay, meals and requested amenities will be placed on shelves outside their rooms to reduce physical interaction between them and the staff.
As a safety precaution, cleaners will not enter rooms that travellers are staying in. When the traveller checks out, the cleaner will clean the room while donning full personal protective equipment.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who launched Connect @ Changi on Thursday, noted that while many businesses have shifted to virtual meetings amid the pandemic, these cannot fully replace face-to-face interactions.
"For some, physical meetings are still important for securing and closing business deals, and making important decisions," he said.
"Face-to-face interactions are important for growing relationships, strengthening partnerships, and exploring new business opportunities."
Singapore was a popular destination for business meetings prior to Covid-19, and companies are turning to the Republic to safely resume such meetings, he added.
Connect @ Singapore scheme was started to meet these business needs, he said.
"As the pandemic evolves, we must make the best use of technology and innovate. We must take this chance to reinvent ourselves and reimagine the future, for there is no going back to before," said Mr Heng, pointing to the Expo facility as a good example of how to do so.
The project is developed by a Singapore consortium led by Temasek, and includes The Ascott Limited, Changi Airport Group, Sheares Healthcare Group, SingEx-Sphere Holdings and Surbana Jurong.
Temasek International joint head of strategic development Alan Thompson said the consortium is confident that there will be demand for Connect @ Changi, based on the number of inquiries it has received so far and its analysis of pre-Covid-19 business travel data.
The consortium is in discussions with several parties, he added.
It expects to receive its first guests in March.
One confirmed client is Advanced MedTech Holdings, a global medical technology firm focusing on urology devices and service.
The Singapore-headquartered firm plans to hold its first in-person global senior leadership meeting at the facility - its first since the pandemic began early last year.
Advanced MedTech senior director of business development Lee Weikang said in-person meetings allow the staff to better connect with one another.
"The smiles on each other's faces, the passion in our demeanours, the steely determination etched in our eyes, even the energy emanating from our physical presence - all these are hard to experience over virtual meetings," he said.
"We are looking forward to our physical meetings at Connect @ Changi."
Rooms are now open for bookings at this website, or through the Connect @ Changi mobile app.