Destinations“We will continue to experiment and learn,” says STB chief Keith Tan.

From 50 to 250, Singapore tests its convening power in travel

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Singapore's success could boil down, most importantly, to the island-nation’s willingness to experiment.
Singapore's success could boil down, most importantly, to the island-nation’s willingness to experiment. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The convening power of Singapore has come into sharp focus in recent months. While the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across Asia — with start-stop lockdowns and growing uncertainty about the future of events — Singapore has been beavering away, trialling and testing new ways to travel and meet safely and future-proofing itself (and its MICE industry) against future crises.

Why has Singapore been so successful?

Firstly, size matters — the city-state is home to 5.7 million people and small enough to get the virus spread swiftly under control.

More importantly, however, is the island-nation’s willingness to experiment. Since October, a series of test events have been rolled out, trialling everything from green lane entry protocols for international visitors, to on-site rapid testing, and crowd control measures for social distancing.

This month, at PCMA’s Convening Leaders, Singapore Tourism Board chief executive, Keith Tan, said this steady approach has allowed the destination to keep taking forward steps in the right direction.

“Each time I attend a physical event, group sizes have gradually increased. First [the limit] was 50 people, then 2x 50, then 5x 50, and at Convening Leaders we have more than 300,” he said. “We need to continue to experiment so that we can create alternative meeting models for future pandemics.”

The model is involves dividing a large group of people into smaller zones, cohorts and groups to limit opportunities for close contact. Therefore, mitigating risk against creating a “super-spreader event”.

A zone refers to attendees in one event space, while a cohort refers to a portion of attendees in a zone that are allowed to intermingle with one another. Group size refers to meals or any other scenario where people are permitted to remove masks.

At Convening Leaders, attendees were split into seven zones, each with dedicated entry/exit points and areas for antigen rapid testing and networking.

For Tan, the continual process of experimenting and learning, is key to recovery. He said “the assurance that we are learning from this pandemic in preparation for future crises” will differentiate Singapore.

This is where resilience plays a crucial role — and a factor that Tan does not take for granted.

“When Covid-19 started, our first instinct was to tap onto the learnings from those who went through SARS,” he explained. “We noted that the hotels with the best responses were those which had staff who were around during SARS and who were able to advise hotel management on the mechanics and processes that needed to be put in place.”

He added: “It would be remiss of us not to use Covid-19 as an opportunity to prepare for the future… We need to experiment with new methods of interaction, both digital and physical.”

Risky business

It’s clear that Singapore understands the realities surrounding the need to manage risk, instead of trying to eliminate it.

Speaking on a panel about the evolution of associations, industry stalwart, Martin Sirk, noted the changing relationship we have with risk.

“There’s existential risk (the need for survival) and then there’s essential risk — the need for constant experimentation and willingness to try new things,” he said. Despite a “legacy of the old school”, he said “Covid-19 has forced people’s hand and now they’ve had to try new ways of doing things.”

This new way doesn’t just apply to those of us who plan meetings, but to all stakeholders in the lengthy supply chain. Singapore made MICE a priority and has now become a ‘living lab’ to investigate the future of meetings.

Come May, the world will be watching as the Lion City flexes its meeting muscle yet again for the World Economic Forum. Notepads at the ready.

Source: M&C Asia

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