For the first time since the start of the pandemic, four of the major exhibition industry associations met in-person at the Joint Leadership Summit (JLS). Exhibition industry leaders, Society of Independent Show Organisers (SISO), the Global Association of Exhibition Industry (UFI), Association of Event Organisers (AEO) and the Singapore Association for Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), met with ASEAN leaders at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore, 5-7 October.
Aloysius Arlando, president of SACEOS, said: “The JLS is a strategic pilot event supported by the Singapore government where for the first time we are testing out a ‘free-to-roam’ itinerary for international participants subject to the necessary protocols.”
Protocols for the event included stringent testing and tracing requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers. Supported by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), JLS convened regional government representatives, major global organisers and trade association leaders to discuss action plans for the safe reopening of the business events industry in the ASEAN region.
The independent and association leaders discussed the critical need to reopen inter- and intra-regional travel routes while ensuring the health and safety of business travellers as core policy measures. The executives called on the authorities to put into place clear policy initiatives and common operating protocols across the region to be calibrated for a Covid-endemic environment.
Arlando added: “As we continue on our journey towards an endemic Covid-19 world, it is now time for us to bring back the core purpose of business events — driving commerce. We are delighted that regional leaders and global industry partners have come together to chart a practical roadmap towards the reopening of business events.”
Covid infections in Singapore were at their peak on the week starting 4 October, with 3,703 infections reported on 9 October. Testing has ramped up as part of the country’s Covid mitigation strategy. According to Reuters, there have been 132,205 infections and 183 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began. By comparison, in the US, there have been 44.6m cases and 719,251 deaths. Singapore has administered at least 9.6 million doses of Covid vaccines so far, which amounts to 84.8% of the country’s population.
Across the ASEAN region, borders largely remained closed and travel was highly restricted in 2020. Singapore reopened its borders to tourists through Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) in September. All vaccinated travellers are permitted to and from VTL countries on VTL designated flights. When the JLS opened last week, the VTL arrangement was only with Germany and Brunei.
Two days after JLS wrapped, Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the country’s reopening efforts and pushed for a revised strategy of living with Covid. Starting 19 October, vaccinated travellers from eight countries including the US, UK, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain will be able to enter Singapore without quarantining and only needing two Covid-19 PCR tests, down from the current four. South Korea will be added to the VTL scheme 15 November.
Asia CEO Summit
During JLS, leaders from SISO, UFI, AEO and SACEOS signed a three-year agreement to launch the Asia CEO Summit, which is hoping to attract 150 CEOs from across the globe looking to do business in the region. The inaugural event will take place 4-6 October, 2022, at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore.
Alvin Tan, Singaporean minister of State for Trade and Industry (MTI) and Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), said: “We are on the road to an endemic world, but we aren’t there yet. We are still dealing with Covid. We are very focused on reopening, but on the road to an endemic world there are always bumps. There’s been a lot of different movements over the last 18 months. Sometimes you get happy too soon, and sometimes you may get too sad too soon. I don’t think that’s helpful. What we are trying to do is look at the long game. Sometimes we’ve had to tap the breaks on the reopening.”
The uncertainty that comes from ‘tapping the breaks’ can be particularly challenging for the events industry. Carina Bauer. CEO of IMEX Group, believed: “We are all planners, and planners are the best in the business to ensure the production of safe events. That’s why we are pushing through with key MICE events, to pave the way for the resumption of MICE activities in Singapore, for the region and the world.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, the MICE industry generated nearly $230bn in revenue in 2017 and is expected to reach more than $440bn by 2025, according to market research company Allied Market Research.
Words about the Summit
Hervé Sedky, SISO chair, president and CEO of Emerald, said "We have always recognised the importance of the Asia event market, and how we need a forum to bring together global leaders in the industry, to share and exchange ideas about opportunities in the ASEAN market. AEO, SISO, and UFI all run annual CEO summits, and these are key meeting and these are key meeting places for us as an industry, and a fixture in all of our calendars but we were missing a critical gathering in Asia."
David Audrain, CEO of SISO, added: “From the start more than two years ago, we saw Singapore as an excellent host and location for this type of event. We look forward to bringing back a larger delegation of SISO members to the new Asia CEO Summit.”
Mary Larkin, UFI Immediate past president and president of Diversified Communications USA, said: “Most critically, what was abundantly clear from this week’s dialogue is that our customers need events. Businesses, especially SMEs, rely on events. The economy is bolstered by events. There are no other channels where businesses are able to accomplish so much, so quickly, and we have seen time and again in regions where events are restarting that business is recovering faster and innovation is pushing forward.”
Sedky believed: “We need to continue to take our responsibility seriously around reopening the economy for small businesses. The majority of our customers are small businesses, the vast majority in the US, north of 80%. It's difficult for them to get back to business without the work that we do every single day, and that’s why I’m here.”
Doug Emslie, CEO of Tarsus Group, concluded: “Dubai has put in place protocols, which are more stringent than what we're seeing in the West around testing and mask wearing. It's actually business friendly, and they recognise and have a risk management follow-up in terms of the people coming through. The impact on business is transformational because you can see that the country is open. My company will run the first major air show in the world, the Dubai Air Show, in six weeks. It will not be as big as the 2019 event. In actuality, it's going to be bigger. That is because there is a huge pent-up demand for companies to come back together.”