The exhibition industry is maturing in Singapore. EW explores how it's capitalising on its reputation as an international business hub for global exhibitions.
The exhibition industry is maturing in Singapore. More and more established events are consolidating their positions in Asia while newer events are entering, catering to the niche segments. At the same time, international organisers such as UBM and ITE are using Singapore as a base to reach out directly to places such as Malaysia and Indonesia, both registering strong economic growth and development in recent years.
Singapore attracts organisers from all over the world. Facilities and services aside, it provides access to a common market of 600 million across the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. It is known for its pro-business environment and knowledge economy, supported by reliability, quality, productivity and enforcement of IP rights, making it a preferred location for innovation and research.
But how is it capitalising on its reputation as an international business hub for global exhibitions?
Singapore has capitalised on its early entry into the exhibition industry with several well-established exhibitions such as Food & Hotel Asia, Communic Asia and the Singapore Airshow. These reflect the current strong economic performances and contributions from the three sectors. As a home for meetings and conventions, Singapore is known for its financial and medical services, hosting several regular international congresses.
“Singapore can be described as a strategic, safe and a regional market venue for global exhibitions. It ticks like clockwork and there are few surprises. We organise and talk business in Singapore,” says Edward Liu, group MD of Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS).
The company runs the Singapore International Jewelry Expo series, which it holds annually in July. This event is being held at the Sands Expo Centre, Marina Bay Sands and occupies some 10,000 gross square metres with 130 local and global exhibitors from 15 to 20 countries. Early last year CEMS launched the Café Asia and International Coffee & Tea (ICT) Industry Expo series, which it repeated in March this year. In addition, it added the Sweets & Bakes Asia event last month; and launched a new exhibition – ArchXpo 2014 – to be staged in September/October 2014 in partnership with the Singapore Institute of Architects.
For the next two years, CEMS will focus on expanding our slew of tourism exhibitions in China; opening an office in Kuala Lumpur by July 2014; and to add a few more lifestyle events to its portfolio in the Asian region.
Michelle Lim, organiser Reed’s MD of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, says it has a competitive advantage over the rest of the region in a variety of sectors.
“Singapore is known to be a strong Maritime hub, champions the green built environment, and these have worked well for APM and BEX Asia,” she says. “Its small country size and neutrality for media content development means it would not be seen as overshadowing the market on content rights and culture development issues. Singapore’s strong IP rights has also helped in events such as Maison and Objet.”
Reed’s portfolio of events include Asia Pacific Maritime, Asia Television Forum/Screen Singapore, Build Eco Xpo Asia and Singapore Toys Games & Comic Convention. Its internationally established brand Maison&Objet from Paris made its debut into Singapore recently.
Of course operating in Singapore is not all straightforward, even for Reed.
“With Singapore being ranked most expensive city for expatriates recently in one of the reports, it does provide challenges to attract exhibitors and visitors as the overall participation cost are perceived to be a lot higher than that of our neighbouring countries,” says Lim. “As such, Singapore needs to continue to improvise and provide differentiation and value-added experience. There is also a shortage of MICE talent that needs to be addressed.”
There is also a need for Singapore to bring more of the ASEAN region to its events, she adds. “As customers and industries increasingly operate on a global scale, there are expectations for Singapore events to deliver more regional visitors to the events. Singapore’s status as a business events hub supported by regional connectivity, overall efficiency, quality hotels and MICE facilities and multi-lingual populace will remain relevant and competitive. Singapore will need to enhance its total offering to improve on visitor experience.”
Creating business clusters
Singapore’s digital media industry is seeing rapid expansion. Businesses from the media and digital industry can look forward to events such as Digital Matters and Music Matters, CommunicAsia, Broadcast Asia as well as Asia Television Forum and Market and ScreenSingapore. These events serve as platforms for sourcing quality and innovative products, and exploring possible partnerships, as well as learning from some of the leading names in the media and digital industry.
Now Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has recognised this and several other related event groups, and is targeting business through a cluster marketing approach. “Business travellers are often strapped for time when attending overseas exhibitions and conferences. Clustering or co-locating complementary business events allows them to optimise their business trips and maximise networking opportunities across the different events, within the same eco-system,” says Andrew Phua, director of exhibitions and conferences at STB.
The cluster event Singapore Design Week, which took place from 10 to 16 March 2014, featured local and international design trade shows (International Furniture Fair Singapore and Maison & Object Asia), conferences, showcases, exhibitions and workshops spanning various design disciplines.
Another cluster event, TravelRave, brings together travel business events such as the Asia Travel Leaders Summit and ITB Asia every October. The travel trade festival has been created by STB to provide a platform for thought leaders in the travel and tourism industry to come together, exchange insights and explore opportunities offered by the growth of tourism in Asia.
“In the past, our focus was more volume-driven, with the aim of attracting a high number of events. In recent years, we started to take a more visitor-centric approach, and our focus is now more quality-driven,” says Phua. “Today, a deeper understanding of delegate needs and strengthening the industry capabilities to meet those needs, form the basis of proposing the right products and services to international organisers.”
The Singapore Exhibitions and Convention Bureau (SECB), a group of the STB that champions the business events industry in Singapore, also recognises selected trade fairs with proven international and commercial appeal. These events are conferred the ‘Approved International Fair’ status.
The rise of Asia has also provided further opportunities, given its global trade and communications networks and ability to provide market access and trade flows between Asia Pacific and the rest of the world. Strategically positioned in this fast growing region, Singapore is a strong launch pad to access the emerging markets of ASEAN, China and India. By drawing established industry players, opinion leaders and decision makers from around the globe, these events augment Singapore’s position as a thought leader and knowledge hub in the region.
“Singapore has built strengths in industries such as biomedical and healthcare, banking and finance, science & technology, design, travel, media & digital content and urban solutions. Our focus is therefore on attracting MICE events that complement these industries,” says Phua.
“At the same time, our MICE hardware has also been evolving. Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Centre was recently refurbished while Singapore Expo had a new adjoining Max Atria convention centre. Alongside with the newer Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, and Resorts World Convention Centre, we have a whole spectrum of venues for international event organisers.
Taking a partnership approach, we believe in building long term relationships with all our clients,” says Singex Holdings CEO Aloysius Arlando. “We don’t believe in offering just a space for events but in offering a customisable suite of support services and integrated solutions. We are committed to help ensure our clients’ events are a success, and are dedicated to help grow their events to greater heights.
Together with its convention wing MAX Atria, the Singapore EXPO Convention and Exhibition Centre is able to offer versatility, catering to not just large-scale global events but is also well-poised to attract smaller, niche conferences and exhibitions selecting to work with the venue for the first time, including events such as MRO Asia Conference & Exhibition, SenseAsia 2014 and InterMET Asia 2014.
The business is also looking beyond Singapore’s borders in search of new business. “We are focused on growing the events that we create and own, as well as to consult and/or manage other MICE venues around the region.We aim to become a leading MICE player in Asia that contributes significantly to the markets, in which we operate,” says Arlando.
But Singapore EXPO still faces stiff competition at home. There is more quality exhibition space in this small city state than in the whole India.
With all this space in such a small destination, is there an argument for there being too many venues in Singapore? Marc Bakker, Suntec Singapore’s marketing director says no. Suntec Singapore underwent a SGD184m modernisation programme in June 2013 and today offers 42,000sqm of customisable spacen designed to minimise turnaround times and seamlessly transition from exhibition hall to conference space to ballroom.
“The MICE industry in Asia has always operated in a competitive business climate. As such, having a wider choice of venues in Singapore, combined with the country’s natural vibrancy and attractions, has raised the profile of Singapore as an appealing MICE destination overall,” says Bakker. “In other words, there is a halo effect from the presence of more venues in Singapore that the whole industry is benefitting from. Furthermore each venue is sufficiently different to facilitate a certain degree of specialisation allowing each venue to carve out its own niche in this growing and lucrative market.”
As a thriving financial centre and an important information exchange and trading hub, Singapore provides the essential conditions for businesses looking to establish a foothold in the Asian marketplace. “With increasing competition from the region including South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand, Singapore needs to continuously evolve and be more diligent in attracting international event organisers,” says Arlando.
“It needs to pull the entire MICE industry together to see how we can add more value, and address the exacting needs of international organisers.”
Singapore is an appealing destination to exhibition and meeting organisers due to its combination of a vibrant business ecosystem, robust economic sectors and knowledge networks, diverse leisure activities, and for some organisers, the most strategic location in a resurgent Asia.
This was first published in issue 2/4 of Exhibition World. Any comments? Email Annie Byrne