Why the festivalisation trend is sweeping through Singapore


Transforming business events into festivals is one of the innovative steps shaping Singapore, writes Martin Donovan, editor of Mix - Asia's Creative Meetings Magazine.


High on the risk chart when it comes to innovation must be to create a festival out of a business event, giving it all the trappings of a youthful, breezy gathering of tech entrepreneurs while maintaining a core exhibition.

Yet that’s what Singapore has managed to pull off as the city state’s monetary authority puts the final details to the organisation of Singapore Fintech, now in its third year and due to be held November 12-16 at Singapore Expo.

While some welcome the “festivalisation” of business events, others see it as a format more suitable for conferences and not in the realm of exhibitions where revenue from floor space is king.

For industry observers, however, the success of the Fintech Festival, which is organised in partnership with the local banking association and SingEx Holdings, is another sign of Singapore’s standing as a hub in the ASEAN group of nations and as a world leader in business innovation.

Mark Cochrane, Asia Pacific regional manager for Ufi, sees this being brought about thanks to a formula based on partnership between government, Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau and local industry associations.

“Singapore’s exhibition industry is one of the most mature in Asia and it has grown to be the second largest in Southeast Asia – behind only Thailand,” says Cochrane.

Thailand’s dominance in hosting big trade exhibitions is matched by Singapore carving a powerbase in the type of innovation exemplified by the Fintech Festival and pioneering steps in exhibition industry training and education.

“The exhibition industry in Singapore has been evolving in recent years. It is moving away from large-scale events that cover a wide range of categories towards smaller, more focused events,” says Cochrane.

“In the longer-term, Singapore’s future will centre on conference-led exhibitions. Singex’s Fintech Festival is a good example of where the industry is headed.”

Hardly surprising then that Aloysius Arlando, CEO of SingeEX Holdings, which hosts the Fintech Festival, is a strong believer in how Singapore needs to drive the “return on engagement” that exhibitions and other business need to give its stakeholders.

“All experiences are morphing together. Conferences add concerts, meetings add new styles of collaboration, trade shows add consumer elements,” says Arlando. “The shift towards festivalisation also incorporates the strategy of co-locating ancillary events before, during, and after large signature conventions or conferences.”

Others in Singapore’s exhibitions sector feel that the festivalisation trend is being overplayed but still believe the city’s innovation prowess is world class.

Eddie Choi, executive director of Milton Singapore, says: “Tech-driven innovation has been a mantra of the country and it’s an identity that has been established quite successfully.

“However, do we see a connection between this tech and innovation development within the exhibition industry? In my opinion – no. The economic model of the exhibition industry remains very traditional in that it’s built upon physical space,” says Choi.

“We are indeed seeing a lot of FinTech-type events held in Singapore, but they are a conference type of activation, not expo or trade exhibition. “

Where there is less dispute is in Singapore’s pioneering role in training and education for the industry. “Milton sees Singapore as a very promising talent hub. There is a fantastic language skill-set and so ready to communicate with east and west,” says Choi.

Singapore’s commitment to industry education and the harnessing of talent for the exhibitions sector was seen recently with the signing of an MoU between local industry association Saceos and UFI.

Both associations agreed to develop a joint Asia Pacific Executive Development Programme’ with and “industry-first recognised certification” that is set to be unveiled at the ‘UFI Asia Pacific Congress 2019 in Japan.

Kai Hattendorf, Ufi’s managing director, said the collaboration with Saceos will tap into research and nurture more industry professionals in Asia and worldwide.

Andrew Phua, director of exhibitions and conferences with Singapore Tourism Board, said after the signing: “The new programme will strengthen Singapore’s position as the Asia-Pacific hub for MICE training and development.”

Countries and territories in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have some of the most remarkable economic growth rates in the world. Amid this growth, Singapore intends to occupy the higher rungs of the ladder when it comes to business event innovation.

“There is much to admire about Singapore’s exhibition industry,” says Ufi’s Mark Cochrane. “It has an excellent portfolio of venues, world-class supporting infrastructure and strong backing from the government through STB [Singapore Tourism Board].

“The industry there is also driven by a dynamic group of professional event organisers including UBM Asia/Informa, Reed, Kolnmesse and Singex.”

Eddie Choi, whose Milton operation also has its global creative arm Mills based in Singapore, says the city state’s role of a strategic hub is promising. “We don't see Singapore as an independent market but a strategic base and command centre. I believe many companies share the same strategy.”


Martin Donovan is the Editor of MIX – Asia’s Creative Meetings Magazine, based in Hong Kong.