CMW meets Dr Edward Koh, Executive Director of Conventions, Meetings and Incentive Travel at Singapore Tourism Board.
Dr Edward Koh was appointed Executive Director, Conventions, Meetings and Incentive Travel, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in June 2019, having served as Executive Director of Southeast Asia for the past five years.
“My first major event was the bid for the 25th World Congress of Dermatology, which happened during my first month on the job,” he notes. “I recall giving a welcome speech with Professor Roy Chan, President of the 25th World Congress of Dermatology. That was the easy part, as the current bidding team and past generations of STB officers and trade partners had put in years of hard work preparing for the bid. The best part was that we won, and now we can expect 15,000 local and foreign dermatologists and professionals in this field to attend this event in 2023.”
Dr Koh believes people in the MICE industry are easy to approach for advice and he says the point was made many times to him that the business is not ‘rocket science’. “This was poignant advice, as I initially placed pressure on myself to know all the industry verticals from which the industry associations we met came from.
“Another good piece of advice to receive was ‘to build your knowledge outwards from the core knowledge you already have and no one can take that away from you’. That core knowledge, to me, would include 11 years of experience living and working in China, and five years overseeing the Southeast Asian markets engaging and interacting with interesting people and trade in the region.”
Dr Koh’s advice to young meetings professionals starting out their career today in Singapore? “If you enjoy meeting people and doing meaningful work, you’re in the right place. If you care about the environment and advocating for sustainability, join us right away as we continue to rally industry partners to do their part.
“There are many warm and generous individuals in this industry – which is more like a community – happy to chat with you and share their career (or even life) stories.”
Singapore is ranked as the number 1 MICE destination in Asia. What needs to be done to maintain this position?
“Singapore has a vibrant and innovative business environment, with a stellar track record of delivering high-quality business events. To capitalise on our strengths as a business events hub, we collaborate with relevant government agencies to programme a strong suite of business events that amplify Singapore’s economic strengths, such as in Urban Solutions, Medical, FinTech, Advanced Manufacturing, Media & Digital Services, Design, and Hospitality.
“To ensure that Singapore maintains its competitive edge as a business events hub, we plan ahead to meet several challenges such as space limitations, evolving ways of organising events and intensifying regional competition. For example, we have recently announced expansion plans for Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, both of which will build more MICE facilities.
“SingEx Holdings, the operator of the Singapore Expo, has also committed to refreshing their venue offerings and strengthening their programming.”
Dr Koh also flags leisure developments in the pipeline, including:
– The transformation of Orchard Road into a lifestyle destination;
– A new integrated tourism development with attractions, hotel and complementary lifestyle offerings at Jurong Lake District
– An upcoming integrated nature and wildlife destination in Mandai.
“But,” he adds, “even as we plan ahead, technology and data analytics will continue to disrupt the MICE industry. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual and augmented reality have the potential to be game-changers for the industry. For example, AI could make event management more efficient and strengthen customer engagement. Augmented and virtual reality applications like Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens could change the way we convene and share ideas.”
And Dr Koh notes there is encouragement for the Singapore MICE industry to adopt technology through various levers including the Business Improvement Fund, which encourages technology innovation and adoption, as well as the redesign of business models and processes in the tourism sector.
Singapore recently launched globally its In Singapore Incentives & Rewards (INSPIRE) programme at IMEX America. What is the idea behind this?
Dr Koh explains that the INSPIRE programme was previously available in America, Europe, China, India, Middle East and Southeast Asia and that a positive response has meant the incentive scheme was rolled out globally to include more markets in September 2019.
It is an incentive programme that offers meetings and incentive groups a selection of 60 complimentary experiences covering four categories: dining, entertaining and lifestyle; thematic and learning tours; attraction-based experiences and team-building activities.
Examples include a private after-hours Garden Rhapsody show at Gardens by the Bay or a tour of the one-north research and business park, including fireside sharing sessions by successful business owners.
“By collaborating with tourism industry partners to develop curated experiences,” says Dr Koh, “we aim to shine the spotlight on the breadth and depth of tourism experiences available in Singapore, as well as enable business travellers to learn more about Singapore.”
More information on INSPIRE can be found at www.visitsingapore.com/mice/inspire.
And to those who say Singapore is expensive, Dr Koh raises the power of the country’s knowledge economy, which he puts at the front of marketing efforts now for MICE business.
“With a strong reputation as a knowledge-based economy, Singapore has always been a choice destination for premier business events. We have a vibrant and innovative business environment, with a flawless track record in delivering high quality events.” He adds that international businesses in Singapore have easy access to fast-growing Asian markets. “Today, Singapore hosts about 37,000 international companies, including 7,000 multinational companies. Examples include GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble and Apple,” Dr Koh notes and points out Singapore offers the world’s most affordable Michelin-starred meal, as well as some of the Best Bars in Asia, and rich cultural precincts such as Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India.
Other world class attractions he lists include JEWEL Changi Airport and Singapore Botanic Gardens (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Set in Singapore, the movie Crazy Rich Asians showcased Singapore’s culture, food and attractions, Dr Koh adds. “It also profiled Singapore’s talents, including the huge cast and crew who were involved in the production. We believe this will augment STB’s efforts in driving destination awareness.”
“Since the movie’s launch, we have seen a spike in searches of Singapore online. While we may not be able to quantify returns from the movie, we expect the exposure to bring greater global awareness of our destination,” he adds.
Notable events to be held in Singapore from 2020 onwards include:
• For the first time, Singapore will welcome an expected 8,000 participants attending International Trademark Association’s 142nd Annual Meeting, the world’s largest gathering of intellectual property professionals.
• SAP Field Kick-Off Meeting makes its return to Singapore with two successive years of meetings scheduled in 2020 and 2021.
• Sibos, a global financial services event by SWIFT, is also returning to Singapore in 2021. Last held in Singapore in 2015, the event saw over 8,000 delegates in its largest Asia Pacific edition to date then.
• Other events to be held in 2021: Asia Pacific Life Insurance Congress and Million Dollar Round Table Global Conference. In 2022, Singapore and Southeast Asia will host for the first time, the International Conference on Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention (MICCAI), earmarked as the world’s largest gathering of professionals in its field. Singapore was recently selected to host the 25th World Congress of Dermatology in 2023, which will be the largest medical convention to take place in the city, with an estimated 15,000 participants.
CMW asked Dr Koh whether the tense situation in Hong Kong benefitted Singapore in terms of transferring business?
“Hong Kong is a key tourism source market for Singapore, ranking among Singapore’s top 15 visitor arrival markets in the last six years. In 2018, Hong Kong generated 473,124 visitor arrivals and was ranked 13th in terms of visitor arrivals. In the first eight months of 2019, we received 331,703 visitors from Hong Kong, which held steady from the same period in 2018.
“However, at this point, it is still too early to attribute any increase in Singapore’s visitor arrival numbers to one issue, such as the situation in Hong Kong. This could be due to many factors including the slowing Hong Kong economy, the US-China trade tensions and uncertain global economic outlook.
“We note that some business events have moved from Hong Kong to Singapore. We will of course provide assistance and solutions to our partners who may find themselves in a difficult position arising from Hong Kong’s situation. But we take a long-term view of Singapore’s tourism sector and would prefer to pursue a more sustainable growth from all our source markets.”
CMW asked Dr Koh to choose three major trends he is expecting to grow stronger in the next 3-5 years.
“More associations are organising regional meetings in an effort to address specific challenges being faced at a regional level. While these meetings are usually smaller than their internationally rotating counterparts, this means regional engagement is higher.
“We expect two other trends for corporate meetings to continue – shorter booking lead times and growing demand for stronger destination experiences.”
Dr Koh adds that, to remain competitive, it is critical for the Singapore MICE industry to embrace change, and continually collaborate and innovate.
As part of STB, the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau, with 40 years of experience, is a non-member based city convention bureau, and continues to provide advice and support for meeting organisers, Dr Koh underlines. “The bureau is able to assist to respond to Requests for Proposals, venue recommendations, visa facilitation, site inspections, social programme recommendations, city-wide marketing and supplier contacts, and we have schemes that support events to be hosted in Singapore.”
Finally, how does the Executive Director unwind after a hard day’s work?
“I enjoy a long run outdoors in the park near my home, to help relieve stress. The highlight of my week would be a quiet omakase meal with my wife at our favourite joint.”