It is sometimes easy to forget that the success that is modern Singapore was achieved only about 30 years after the former British colony broke away from Malaysia in 1965. Indeed, the Lion City – often referred to as “the little red dot” – will only reach middle age in human terms when it turns 50 years old at the end of 2015.
As a regional business and financial hub, many of the world’s leading multinational companies have made Singapore their Asian headquarters – unsurprisingly it has also developed into a premier business events destination as global movers and shakers make frequent stops in the city to conduct meetings and attend corporate functions.
“Our MICE industry has moved from strength to strength. It has always been vibrant. The number of events that we hosted last year jumped by 46 per cent over 2010,” says Jeannie Lim, executive director of Conventions & Meetings and Exhibitions & Conferences at the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau, during an interview with Mix at TravelRave and ITB Asia in October.
Based on 2011 figures, 3.2 million international visitors to the Lion City – about 24 per cent of the year’s total – came to attend meetings, events and conferences. They contributed an estimated S$5.6 billion (US$4.6 billion) to the total tourism revenue.
“Today, we are focused on the quality and content of business events being held in Singapore,” says Lim. “We are working closely not only with people from the MICE industry but also people from other industry associations, in order to bring relevant content that enables us to build upon being a knowledge hub. We have to keep growing our network of people who can give in-depth Asian insights.”
To do this, the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau is focusing on attracting international meetings and conferences around the city’s key industry clusters – ICT, media, design, banking and finance, biomedical, healthcare and urban solutions. As a major destination for meetings, conferences and exhibitions, Singapore’s leading position is beyond doubt. It ranked number one among international meeting cities in 2011 in the annual list compiled by the Union of International Associations. Likewise, it ranked fifth in the 2011 global list of meetings cities in the annual survey conducted by the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association).
“Our challenge is that we are small and we don’t have the space and the resources to cater to everybody,” adds Lim. “So we have to be targeted and focused on the yield.”
Healthy pipeline of new attractions
With a total area covering only 710sq km, the Lion City is very accomplished at utilising space, and one of its greatest feats has been the ability to come up with new attractions every few years to keep the destination fresh.
Just a couple of years after the opening of the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) and Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complexes, the city is already unveiling new places of interest, such as the 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay, The Star Performing Arts Centre and the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore, which will enhance Singapore’s position as an Asian hub for cruise ships. In the early part of 2013, the River Safari will come online and the new National Stadium in Kallang is set for completion in 2014.
The Star Performing Arts Centre
Furthermore, existing properties such as RWS continue to add to their portfolios of must-see attractions. RWS will open the Marine Life Park, claimed to be the world’s largest oceanarium, in early December. Others are flexing their muscles beyond their core business: the Singapore Flyer is not content to be simply a giant observation wheel, and companies are not limited to holding small group cocktails aboard its private capsule. There are now a raft of special venues – from the semicircular Greek Theatre to the private Singapore Flyer Jetty – underneath the massive structure, which can be used to stage a variety of corporate events.
“Consumer demands are always changing. They want to see continuous innovations. Therefore, we need to keep our ear close to the ground to accommodate these demands,” Lim says.
However, even as Singapore’s landscape continues to morph and be filled with marvels of architecture and engineering, people within and outside the city’s business events industry have mixed views of its allure as an incentives destination.
“We are a very cosmopolitan city, and for groups from the Western markets who are looking for beautiful and varied landscapes, deep history and cultural heritage, they don’t see Singapore as an incentive destination,” says Janet Tan-Collis, chief executive of East West Executive Planners, whose corporate clients are mostly from Eastern and Western Europe, the Mediterranean region and North America, particularly Americans.
“For them, attractions hold no appeal unless it is a regional attraction with an original concept like the Singapore Night Zoo. Still, they might find the word ‘zoo’ off-putting and it would take a little bit of hard selling,” she notes, adding that “they much prefer something cultural… something that is inherent in the land. They are looking for experiences that have a rustic or eco-feel to them. Indochina is a much-sought incentive destination for them.”
However, Tan-Collis observes that Singapore’s status as a highly modern city is a major draw for certain Asian countries such as Indonesia, India, the Philippines as well as China, particularly groups from the secondary cities. “I’d say the answer to whether the city is an incentive destination really depends on the groups’ country of origin."
As a place for meetings, however, Singapore is unmatched. “If time is money then Singapore is a good destination,” affirms Tan-Collis. “It is safe, predictable and accountable. It is a very compact city that delivers high-impact interaction for people who are always racing against the clock.”
Even for meeting groups, Tan-Collis is seeing a change in their programme agenda. “We see companies having regional meetings here put a lot of ‘layering’ into their itinerary. Together with the intense meeting schedule, they would add some R&R and incentive-type components into the programme to maximise the impact of their spend.”
For example, East West Executive Planners conducted a couple of outside activities for a group of 20 boardroom executives. One was a batik painting session with a CSR element. The materials made by the participants plus some monetary donations were given to a local orphanage to make clothes and to buy essential staples respectively.
Meanwhile, for a retail company that was in town to strategise its global plan for the next six years, East West Executive Planners had a more elaborate post-meeting experience. “We designed a programme called ‘Unlock Singapore’ where we divided the group of 300 people into 30 separate teams and dispatched each one to a different precinct. The objective was for them to discover a part of the city that they wouldn’t otherwise have explored,” recalls Tan-Collis.
"Unlock Singapore" activity
“We asked them to perform a few tasks but the key parts were engaging the local community and networking with each other. We videotaped each team and showed the film during the final dinner.”
Master of reinvention
Robert Guy, managing director for Singapore and Malaysia at Destination Asia, believes there is another reason why the city doesn’t get picked for corporate incentive trips. “Decision makers including CEOs and CMOs of some MNCs who make their home in Singapore, do not want to use the destination, however viable, for regional events. And we might be talking about groups where 40 staff of a potential of 400 attendees live here.”
He points out, however, that the city has great prospects in attracting this sub-segment of the business events market. “We are bidding in and winning incentive programme RFPs every day. Singapore fulfils the first premise of developing an incentive programme – destination allure.”
He defines “destination allure” as “a place where there is a broad interest and attraction to visit, see, experience and enjoy as a group and where an individual aspires to be part of the group that wins a trip to an unforgettable experience. Singapore continues to reinvent itself as a destination for sparkling incentive programmes. It has learned its lessons in the crucible of great challenges by developing many faces that appeal to different markets – colonial era, ethnic town, upscale shopping and gaming, to name a few.”
Guy also notes that corporate groups have plenty of unique experiences to choose from in the city – from breakfast with the orangutan at the Singapore Zoo to BMX bike riding in the remote jungles of Pulau Ubin. Furthermore, getting a good venue is not a problem as the city has a range of spaces that keeps growing every year. It also helps that getting a permit to stage an event in a special public venue takes only between two days and eight weeks.
“Know the budget. This should be at the top of the list of an incentive programme. Then, know the demographics and which countries the participants are from. There is always some special experience that can be tailored and delivered for every budget,” Guy says.
Judy Lum, executive vice-president for sales and marketing at Tour East Singapore, finds that budget is the main challenge in getting incentive groups to come to the city. “Corporates are under pressure to cut back on expenses. They want the best for less and for Singapore it is a real challenge as nothing comes cheap here. We tend to lose out on the first phase of a ‘budget–destination’ selection process.”
But all things being equal, Lum says the Lion City delivers an inspiring and exciting destination that keeps transforming itself. Tour East handles groups between 30 and 800 people, mostly from Europe, although it has now begun to target companies from China.
While the city is never short of good venues and attractions, Lum says it’s the experiential elements that are added to the programme that really make an impact on an incentive trip. “We organised a car rally for 200 delegates – 50 vehicles were involved but the drivers were local. The delegates helped to navigate the roads and participated in quizzes pertaining to the destination.”
She adds: “We make sure that the delegates are hands-on, interactive and involved… even for a simple sightseeing tour, we make it fun and interactive. It is the only way that they can experience and remember what they went through.”
Lum is optimistic that as multinational companies increasingly move their decision-making process in choosing an offsite destination away from the head office, Singapore will be able to secure more incentives business. “The corporate head office will decentralise expenses for such events to the offices that generate the giant share of the revenues. In this situation, the budget can be stretched a little more and destinations like Singapore get a better chance.”
SUNTEC SINGAPORE’S RENOVATION
The new Suntec Singapore will offer event organisers a more flexible space when it reopens in May 2013, according to Arun Madhok, chief executive of Suntec International. “We’ve looked at the design from ground up to see how we can do it in such a way that it is highly flexible, highly customisable so that we can give you the space in the shape and size that you need.”
Madhok continues: “You will only be one escalator ride away from your next location – we have got all our flexibility built through moving walls, creating different kinds of spaces, different sizes. We can contain one event to one side of our building, so you get an almost exclusive feel once your clients come in. That ability to combine and create isolated space for clients is inherent now in our design.”
The six-month renovation that started in September at a cost of S$180 million (US$147.3 million) also involves the installation of new air-conditioning systems and new-generation LED lighting that are both eco-friendly and power-saving.
Technology is a huge part of the renovation, accounting for about 15 per cent or more of the budget. “We will have a control room where an operator can automatically adjust the lighting, sound system and temperature from a control panel. Remember that once you have moving walls, your projectors and speakers wouldn’t work because they will be in the wrong place, so we have to have the ability to easily reconfigure the systems in the back end.”
Suntec Singapore is also creating a customer portal that will allow companies to go in, interact and make changes in the way their events will look – from designing the room layout, to choosing the menu for the event down to designing the table set for the coffee and lunch breaks. “We now allow people to build their expectations and then deliver to those expectations,” Madhok says.
Furthermore, Suntec Singapore is aiming to connect its CRM programmes to the building system, which means linking together 28 subsystems. This would allow the venue operator to give the event organisers more control of their events. For example, when a VIP car drives through the car park, the video camera will scan the number plate and will trigger a text alert to the relevant people. The security guard will open up the exclusive parking reserved for the delegate and the event organisers can start to make their way to the main entrance on level three to welcome the guests.
“There will be VIP cards that will be able to track the delegates as they make their way through the premises, allowing us, for example, to push customised welcome messages to our interactive digital screen as they move up the escalator.”
By end of March, Suntec International expects that the convention centre will be ready and the company is planning to run dummy events that simulate the ones set for May and June next year, to ensure that things will run smoothly.
Access: Unless you are coming from Peninsular Malaysia, in which case the Causeway is your point of entry by road and rail, then Changi Airport will be your arrival point (www.changiairport.com). One of Asia’s largest air hubs, it serves a long list of airlines, and is home to Singapore Airlines. Efficient and easy to navigate, it is split into three main terminals plus a budget terminal for low-cost carriers – though figuring out which one your flight arrives at or departs from can sometimes be confusing.
Climate: Located almost on the Equator, Singapore has a year-round hot-humid climate, with temperatures constant at 32-33?C during the day and 25-26?C at night. It is predominantly sunny but rain falls almost every day, usually sudden heavy downpours lasting an hour or so.
Visa: Most nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa, usually for periods of 14 to 30 days, though US citizens can stay 90 days. Visit www.ica.gov.sg for more information.
Language: Singapore is a multiracial country and although Malay is the official language, English is spoken most widely, and to an excellent level. The Chinese ethnic majority originate from many different regions of China with different dialects, so Mandarin is the lingua franca among themselves.
GREAT INCENTIVE IDEAS
• Experience the view 57 floors above the ground from the Marina Bay Sands’ Skypark
• Savour the food culture with a selection of the world’s finest cuisines prepared by renowned chefs, with a different dining place for every meal: from Makan Sutra-grade local food to Michelin-star chefs
• Enjoy barbecue pork in Chinatown, a Singapore Sling or Tiger Beer at the Raffles Long Bar followed by a visit to clubs at Boat Quay, Clarke Quay or atop one of the tall buildings like One Altitude
• Discover the world-class live orchid collection at the Botanic Gardens and then pay a visit to the newly opened Gardens by the Bay Flower Dome followed by a drink on top of a Supertree at the new Indochine bar
• Play at your choice of world-class golf courses (Tanah Merah, Sentosa, Singapore Island Country Club)
• Celebrate a personal or small group incentive award with a world-class hotel experience at a historic or boutique hotel, like the Capella, Raffles, the Fullerton Bay, Naumi or the funky Wanderlust
• Try unique team-building activities such as: learning to paddle and race a dragon boat, using a zip line or luge, sailing a Hobie Cat or BMX bike riding in the jungles of Pulau Ubin
• Explore the shops for the latest camera or computer, the newest iPad or browse in the world’s largest Louis Vuitton shop, then stop by a flea market to seek out antique Asian treasures
• Travel offshore to Sentosa Island to visit Universal Studios, kick back at the new W Hotel or indulge at “Bob’s Bar” at the luxurious Capella Resort
• Ride in a trishaw, a duck, an open-top bus, a Harley, a water taxi, the world-class subway or walk across the helix bridge
• Experience unique festivals and events like the world’s only Formula One race held at night, local festivals like Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas at the Equator or the year-end countdown
• Join your fellow winners for a one-of-a-kind dinner at a tycoon’s home, in an art museum, in a jungle clearing, in the new Flower Dome or enjoy a private street party in a historic district
Source: Destination Asia
Mix takes a peek at some of the Lion City’s newest venues:
Gardens by the Bay is comprised of three waterfront gardens covering 101 hectares in Marina Bay. First to open is Bay South which has four spaces for events: the indoor Flower Dome that can take up to 1,000 people; the flower-shaped The Meadow that can hold 3,000 for dinner and 30,000 for cocktails; Supertree Grove, an area composed of 12 towering Supertrees, which can cater for up to 1,200 people; and the intimate Silver Leaf that overlooks the DragonFly Lake which has a capacity ranging from 320 to 1,500 people.
Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore adds to the Lion City’s berthing capacity for large cruise ships. The 28,000 sqm terminal, whose roofs are designed to look like breaking waves, is the newest landmark in the rapidly developing Marina Bay area. The new cruise terminal has a total capacity to handle 3,800 people simultaneously.
The Star Performing Arts Centre opened in November at the city’s One North precinct in the heart of Vista Exchange. The main theatre seats up to 5,000 but other facilities include outdoor amphitheatre The Star Terrace that can hold 300 people; a multipurpose hall called The Star Gallery with capacity for 490 to 770 people; and a rooftop garden The Star Loft, which is ideal for corporate receptions of up to 144 guests. There are seven ancillary studios that can be booked for seminars and workshops, and a retail and entertainment zone within the complex where groups can enjoy pre- or post-show activities. The Star PAC is close to two MRT lines.
W Singapore – Sentosa Cove is the newest hotel to open on Sentosa Island featuring a 732 sqm Great Room, seven meeting rooms and a flexible outdoor space fitted with adaptable conference furniture and the latest audio-visual equipment. What’s unique is that the hotel has private berthing stations along the shore with direct access to the Great Room for events with a grand entrance.
The Fullerton Bay Hotel in Marina Bay has expanded its events space by recently adding three new floating event pods aptly named Compass, Voyage and Port of Call. The sophisticated pods are well suited for exclusive boardroom meetings, high-fashion soirées and other intimate private occasions. The 44 sqm pods can hold small groups between 15 and 40 people.
Opening in the first quarter of 2013, the 12-hectare River Safari is a river-themed wildlife park that will feature more than 150 plant species, 300 animal species and over 5,000 animals in total. A large part of the park will be designed to profile iconic rivers of the world, which comprise great waterways such as the Amazon River, the Mekong River and the River Nile. Furthermore, it will house a pair of giant pandas which will live in a special climate-controlled exhibit along the “Yangtze River”. Other attractions include the red panda, giant salamander and the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish.