The small but smart island has been ranked on several occasions as Asia’s top convention city over the past 10 years; and Indian and Chinese MICE organisers continue to opt for Singapore over every other destination. What’s the secret?
“India is one of our top five markets for both leisure and MICE. Work on this started many years ago and India is actually the first market where we launched our MICE programmes. We saw the rise of incentive travels from India and it inspired us to promote the destination in China and subsequently in Europe and Americas as well,” says Jeannie Lim, executive director of conventions, meetings & incentive travel at Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
But how does a country renew itself every year when competition starts hitting from neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka or Indonesia proposing cheaper options with a blend of cultural attractions? Well, Singapore’s genius is definitely its marketing strategy. Finely rounded, Singapore Tourism Board, together with Singapore Economic Development Board have unveiled a unified brand – ‘Singapore: Passion Made Possible’. “The new brand position aims at highlighting the nation’s spirit and connect with its people. This is where people with vision and drive turn their passion for growth into fresh opportunities to connect, collaborate and innovate. It’s where progressors – pioneers, professionals, leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators – meet, and new possibilities are created every day,’’ explains Adrian Kong, South Asia director at STB . But more than that, “It’s about pushing the limits and discover oneself. It’s about being inspired and motivated to do more,” he adds.
To sustain this vision, last November, the STB organised a high-level trip focused on MICE professionals from India, Dubai and Sri Lanka, including all the major tour operators, as well as event planning companies and executives from large domestic and multinational companies.
To understand the MICE trends in Singapore one should ask the experts, in other words the event planners. “The USPs of Singapore are the accessibility and connectivity from India with a choice of multiple carriers, making it a popular choice for MICE,” says Kavita Bhalla, head of MICE at Cox & Kings India, a leading travel company.
Let’s indeed start with how close Singapore is from a distance point of view, facility of reaching there but also for visa ease. Almost all Indian and Singaporean carriers, including Air India, Jet, Indigo, Singapore Airlines, Silk Air and Scoot that fly directly daily from nearly a dozen airports all over India to Singapore. Indian visitors to Singapore in 2016 numbered well over 1.1 million, just behind the Chinese as the primary source market for the Lion City.
“Singapore has everything stitched together. For me one of the biggest USPs of the island is that all the places are well placed around each other; that saves us time, which is essential for any corporate,” says Rahul Lal, national head of infrastructure & facilities at Dalmia Bharat Group, a large Indian conglomerate.
Recently, Changi Airport also inaugurated a terminal for special guests and VIP reception to make the experience more personal, right from when you set foot in the country. Jeannie Lim of STB says, “We just opened Terminal 4 at Changi Airport, but soon we will have one of largest integrated complexes with lifestyle and retail offering and hotels within the airport. The complex is finely digned with a lot of green elements, a must see!”
What makes Singapore a preferred MICE destination is also its unique corporate nature. “Its orderly environment, strict rules and general decorum, create an atmosphere for doing business. Singapore is a financial hub and home to many of the world’s leading corporations and financial entities. It is, therefore, a natural selection for a business meeting, an incentive, a conference or an event like a product launch,” says Anup Nair, managing director at Inspiration India, a tour operator based in New Delhi.
Modern equipment & multi-cuisine
“This constantly evolving destination has much to offer the corporate MICE groups with a range of hotels at various price points to chose from, along with excellent banquet spaces for meetings and events,” adds Bhalla. Indeed, Singapore has got numerous stunning venues located at the Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Turf Club, Universal Studios, Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa, to name just a few.
“For us, the accessibility and infrastructure is very important, we work with our hotels to upgrade their facilities. Beyond the traditional venues, we also often work with nontraditional venues. We are trying to introduce new concept from around the world, bring new and personalised experience for our visitors, like a night safari experience with a dinner in a tipi tent and a fire dancers’ show,” added Jeannie Lim.
Another aspect that one would think of is the food! With a vibrant Indian diaspora, particularly coming from South India, Singapore has plenty of Indian food options available at various restaurants. But what makes it interesting is the multi-cuisine options. “Yes, Indian food is still a key component when we book a MICE tour, but more and more Indians are also willing to taste local cuisines as they also have more and more options in India itself,” says Vijay Dadhich, managing director of Blue Moon Travels, a tour operator and MICE specialist, based in New Delhi.
In Singapore, cuisine can also become an activity, as it is a trend in the West and cooking classes for corporates have become an ideal way to do some team building. “I found it really original and fun to cook with all. The host was dynamic, we cooked a cake and vegetarian and non-vegetarian noodles. We also got a chef’s apron, with our names on it! A personalised experience really,’’ adds Dadhich, who participated in a cooking session at CulinaryOn in Singapore.
For corporates, pricing is always one of the key factors, if not the biggest criteria when booking an event. “For MICE groups, costing is very important in order to get a big market share in India. Singapore used to be value for money, however, of late, it has become expensive,’’ adds Dadhich. As a normal economical evolution of the destination and with better infrastructure and more options as far as activities are concerned, the prices have irremediably increased and if the price factor is key, Singapore soon realised that it was a lost battle to even try competing with some other Asian destinations on pricing. Also, Indians, being traditionally strong and avid negotiators, the task is not easy.
“We don’t compete on prices, because it is a never-ending fight. We try to provide value. If you come to Singapore, you will have consistent value and services quality. It’s not only about the price, it’s the quality of the service, the security and safety and at the end, it is about the people that make it work; and it is not about the hardware or the software, it is about bringing people, the surety that you get here is unique,” says Jeannie Lim.
“The only way for STB to succeed is to understand the personalised experience for each group. We also have financial schemes to upgrade our MICE industry, the private companies to increase productivity, to use new technologies. We push productivity and innovations because its the people and the companies that make the destinations,” she adds.
Passion Made Possible
What all agree to when choosing a destination for an event is the shared values of the country or the hotel with their company. “For any corporate event, the first and foremost thing an organisation looks for is whether the chosen venue resonates with the company’s reputation and values. For us, Singapore comes across as a perfect blend of luxury and comfort. Luxury, because of the offerings and value in context to time; it is a deal breaker if one has to waste time in moving around from one place to another. It is impossible to pick one thing over another,” says Rahul Lal.
For Anup Nair from Inspiration India, “There are two critical factors that influence the selection of a MICE destination: the earnestness of the invitation and the passion that goes into the actual delivery. The STB’s new logo ‘Passion Made Possible’ rings the right note as an invitation and my experience during the STB familiarisation trip clearly showed that a lot of heart goes into their delivery. Singapore may not be a land of ‘magical fairytales’ nor a ‘historical goldmine’ but its strength as a MICE destination is incomparable and enviable.”
Singapore indeed sparks passion within people but also through its people – the Singaporeans. During our five-day visit to Singapore, one thing that was evident was how many success stories were recounted. When Singapore Tourism presented its new campaign, it was not just another power-point but a personal touch given through these stories of passion made possible. After a few days exploring new activities and venues in Singapore and talking much about passion, GB Srithar, regional director, South Asia, Middle-East & Africa (SAMEA) at Singapore Tourism shared with us his own passion during a dinner organised at one of the venue in Sentosa where STB even got a local Indian group to sing Hindi songs.
“My passion is building, growing business relationships into rewarding friendships. I am continuously enthused by the candour and trust with which we have been able to work with multiple airline and travel trade partners in India, delivering good business ideas, creative campaigns and sound results,” says Srithar.
“In the incentive travel segment, we have been fortunate to have established friendly business partnerships with various corporates and travel intermediaries across India. Leveraging the different support schemes we have for promoting incentive travel to Singapore, these partners have helped us grow this segment,” he adds, before concluding,”We will close 2017 strong in travel from India into Singapore. I am hopeful that with our passion for deepening business-friendships, we will forge new possibilities for mutually benefiting results in 2018.”