SINGAPORE: The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will start accepting applications to pilot large-scale meetings of up to 250 people from Oct 1, as part of plans to gradually resume economic activities in the country.
Organisers of such Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) events must demonstrate their ability to implement safe management measures.
STB and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will review all MICE event proposals, and organisers may proceed only on MTI’s approval.
Announcing the move on Monday (Sep 7), Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that industries in the MICE, aviation and tourism sectors are some of the hardest hit by COVID-19.
"Our sense is that we will have to take this opportunity to re-shape our industries, take on new skills, build up new capabilities for us to emerge stronger through the COVID situation," he said.
There will be pilot events taking place under this arrangement, such as the Singapore International Energy Week Conference, in October.
As more insights and data are obtained through these pilot events, STB will work with the MICE industry to adapt and adjust the protocols for safe business events, the agency said.
“This move to start accepting applications to pilot events of up to 250 attendees also takes into account the importance of the MICE industry as well as the strong industry interest in and demand for business events,” STB said.
The MICE industry supported more than 34,000 jobs with an economic value-add of S$3.8 billion, or nearly 1 per cent of Singapore’s GDP, according to a study commissioned by STB last year. Business travellers also spend almost double that of leisure travellers, making them high-yield visitors.
"Our determination is that we want Singapore to remain as the top business hub in Asia. We want to continue to strengthen our position as the MICE location of choice," said Mr Chan.
"It is significant not just for the tangible monetary benefits to the economy, not only about the jobs, but it is also about the exchange of ideas - where people come to Singapore to interact with people from all over the world."
An Event Industry Resilience Roadmap, developed with industry input, will be launched later this month to give guidance on safety measures and best practices.
Mr Keith Tan, STB's chief executive, said: “The MICE sector is a strategic one for the Singapore economy, and its safe and gradual resumption will safeguard jobs and core capabilities. It will also help those in related sectors such as hospitality and aviation.
“Public health and safety remain our utmost priority, and we have worked closely with the industry to create strict protocols and develop new ways of organising events.
"These pilot events and solutions will help Singapore lead the way as a safe, trusted and innovative destination for MICE events.”
GLOBAL MICE INDUSTRY
Mr Chan said at the event held at Marina Bay Sands on Monday that there is an important distinction between the MICE industry in Singapore and elsewhere: The MICE sector in larger countries can rely on domestic demand, while Singapore has a limited domestic market.
"We have to take into consideration how we bring international travellers safely into Singapore (to) conduct the meeting safely, and then even provide them the assurance, as they depart Singapore, back to their home country. So we have to reimagine the whole industry end-to-end," he said.
But the minister added that this has the potential to be Singapore's competitive advantage: "If we do this capability properly; in fact, it will distinguish us even more compared to many other competitors in this MICE space."
On why the limit for the number of people at the pilot events is 250, he said that this number will be the "building block" which authorities will then use to scale up to larger events.
"We are working with overseas partners ... to see how we can learn from the experience of other countries, scaling this up from the hundreds to the thousands in a safe and sustainable manner," he said.
Mr Chan also said that Singapore is opening up to the rest of the world in stages - the first stage of which is talking to countries with similar prevalence rates of COVID-19 infection on reciprocal travel arrangements.
"We will be progressively doing more and more of this, and progressively you will hear the announcements from either MTI, (Ministry of Transport) and also (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) on our efforts to widen the number of countries that we can work with."
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Singapore will also need to work out a different set of protocols that will allow the country to receive visitors from countries with a higher infection rate.
"We are working towards having differentiated protocols, depending on the risk level," he said. "If we can do this well, then we will be able to bring in different people from different countries with different risk profiles to still meet in Singapore."
"And that is a very unique proposition for Singapore, for us to be able to do that."
NEW MICE VISITOR EXPERIENCES
To give business travellers coming to Singapore peace of mind, the industry and government agencies are devising new protocols and ways to hold the events, and for visitors to tour Singapore, STB said.
For example, a travel insurance product is being developed for inbound travellers to cover critical COVID-19-related expenses, and it is expected to be ready by the fourth quarter of this year.
Foreign delegates of the pilot events will also be required to use TraceTogether to facilitate contact tracing.
A prototype for safe trade shows and exhibitions, developed in partnership with the private sector, has been designed to let delegates interact at the trade show, but in a safer way which minimises infection risks.
For example, delegates will be grouped into smaller cohorts and visitor flow will be carefully designed to minimise intermingling. During meals or other scenarios where individuals are permitted to remove their masks, the number in each group must not exceed five, and the groups of five should not mix.
The organisers will also have to develop and implement response plans for handling attendees or staff with COVID-19 symptoms.
This will be tested at a few trade shows, starting with a new event in November called TravelRevive, which is organised by ITB Asia and supported by STB.
At the event, international delegates and businesses will come together to exchange ideas and reimagine the future of travel, STB said.
The new trade show and exhibition protocols were developed by the Alliance for Action on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences, co-led by Mr Lee Seow Hiang of Changi Airport Group and Ms Kwee Wei-Lin of Singapore Hotel Association, and working closely with industry stakeholders such as the National Association of Travel Agents.
It has also explored ways to facilitate safe and innovative visitor experiences in Singapore amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Safe itineraries designed by the alliance will be trialled with the MICE delegates of TravelRevive.
For instance, private group tours, with a dedicated tourist guide offering concierge-like services, could be on the cards.
“In preparation for TravelRevive, the Alliance is working with relevant Government agencies and industry stakeholders to deploy digital enablers to facilitate a seamless and safe visitor experience from arrival to departure,” STB said.