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VIRUS OUTBREAK

Covid-19 to spawn H2 crunch in venues, dates for MICE industry

Some events have been called off; postponements result in lost H1 revenues and possible clashes with 2021 events

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Last year's IT Show at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre. Even if new venues and dates in the later half of the year are available, organisers say they need to account for similar events lined up around that period when rescheduling.

Singapore

WITH the Covid-19 outbreak and heightened risk alert level forcing organisers to cancel or postpone major meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events in Singapore, the industry is facing a looming shortage of venues and dates in the second half of the year.

Revenues for the first half of the year will take a hit too, although it is still too early to determine the extent, organisers told The Business Times (BT).

Some of the major events, including the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) travel fair and FHA-HoReCa, have already secured alternative dates, but others remain postponed until further notice.

Aloysius Arlando, president of the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), praised event organisers who have taken proactive steps to re-plan their calendar of events for the rest of the year and into 2021.

"This early engagement with venues is a good sign. It helps in better allocation and management of resources," he said.

"Singapore has a good variety of venue spaces and meeting facilities that can support a full spectrum of events' needs and requirements; event organisers will be spoilt for choice if they engage and commit early."

SingEx Holdings, which manages the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre and its convention wing MAX Atria, said that so far, most of the events scheduled for its venues have been postponed instead of cancelled. This "reflects a shared sentiment that the MICE industry is resilient and will bounce back from this predicament," said Alvin Lim, executive director of brand and customer experience at SingEx.

However, Singapore is a popular location for such events, and the latter half of the year is usually packed under normal circumstances, so options for rescheduling will be even more limited this year, said Rupert Owen, event director for cancelled event Geo Connect Asia 2020.

One reason that his company Montgomery Asia decided to cancel the March launch of the inaugural geospatial event, instead of postponing it to later this year, was that alternative dates at suitable venues would not provide enough lead time and tear-down time for the exhibition. The launch will be in March 2021 instead.

"It has to do with the nature of the events business and the attractiveness of Singapore for such events," Mr Owen said. "Under normal circumstances, it is difficult to find venue space of the right size and on the right days of the week in the latter part of the year."

Even if new venues and dates are available, organisers say they need to account for other similar events when rescheduling.

For instance, consumer spending may not be able to support a spate of consumer shows in H2 2020, said Chua Wee Phong, executive chairman of Sphere Exhibits, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT's publisher, Singapore Press Holdings. Exhibitors will also have to choose between shows to attend if two are held in close succession.

For some organisers like the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), which postponed its AmChams of Asia-Pacific Business Summit in March, the Singapore event is just one in a multi-country series, making it harder to reschedule one event without affecting others.

Said Ravi Alfreds, director for government and public affairs at AmCham Singapore: "Hosting the summit later in the year would change the annual cadence, with a trickle-down effect that would disrupt other planned activities for the year across all chambers in the Asia-Pacific. Therefore, we decided to postpone to March/April 2021 so that the scheduling would be consistent and clear."

Luice Hwang, director of consulting services and events at Nielsen Norman Group, said that rescheduling the NN/g UX Singapore Conference 2020, slated for Feb 17-22, was an option, but the available dates would have placed it too close to another event scheduled for Jan 2021.

The costs of cancelling and postponing events, coupled with the lack of income, will drag down H1 profits for companies in the sector.

"Assuming the events were happening in March, we had already started spending a fair bit of money on marketing efforts and booking the venues," said Sphere Exhibits' Mr Chua.

Sphere Exhibits has postponed four March events, including the popular IT show and trade show BuildTech Asia, until further notice. Mr Chua noted that some overseas exhibitors have already shipped their goods into Singapore, and will require help with the costs and logistics of storing them until later.

Meanwhile, organisers of ticketed events would have to provide refunds.

Also, insurance policies have changed since the days before Sars, and respiratory diseases are no longer covered by most event cancellation clauses, said Montgomery Asia's Mr Owen.

"We are assessing (the hit to revenue) at the moment. I'm personally invested in the event, so I am committed to it. There are some bills I've paid that I won't be able to get back, let's put it that way," he said.

Ultimately, uncertainty over when business-as-usual can resume is the main difficulty for organisers. Mr Owen pointed out that organisers have to play it safe because they cannot take the risk of rescheduling more than once.

The Embassy of Sweden in Singapore is attempting to reschedule the Sweden-South-east Asia Business Summit planned for Feb 13-14, but due to the difficulty of confirming a new date, the decision was made to announce it as cancelled, counsellor and deputy head of mission Helena Reitberger told BT.

"In our follow-up interactions with the venue hosts, speakers and participants, we have told them that it's indeed a postponement and that we will revert with a suggested new date in due course," she said.

Mr Chua said Sphere Exhibits would keep in touch with venue owners and exhibitors to ensure everyone rides through this difficult time together, and urged event organisers to communicate with each other so they can reduce competition among themselves in the later part of the year.

Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS), which has postponed its co-located Café Asia 2020, International Coffee & Tea Industry Expo 2020 and Restaurant Asia 2020 events to March 11-13, 2021, said it will use the downtime to identify and curate new shows and concepts.

"That will help us recoup some of the losses we are now facing and hasten recovery," said CEMS group managing director Edward Liu. "We hope to find the window to execute these in the latter half of the year and early next year."

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