Coronavirus: More business events with large Chinese participation getting cancelled in Singapore

SINGAPORE - Economist Song Seng Wun was all set to take part in a panel discussion at the Singapore Exchange (SGX) annual Active Traders Fair on Feb 22 until the coronavirus stepped in and led to the event being cancelled.

"I dont blame them. They have to take precautionary measures," noted Mr Song.

At least he is not alone. There have been a growing number of postponements or cancellations of corporate events here, particularly those with large mainland Chinese participation, as more countries impose border controls and other containment measures.

The SGX is cancelling or postponing all mass events to be held at its premises except for its weekly securities market opening and listing ceremonies.

The Reit Association of Singapore (Reitas) announced on Feb 4 that it is cancelling all its February events "involving large groups of people" because of uncertainty over the virus situation.

"This includes the Maybank-Reitas-SGX S-Reit Day in Kuala Lumpur (Feb 19), Annual Networking luncheon (Feb 21) and Reit Management course (Feb 25 and 27). We will try to re-schedule... when the virus situation clears," Reitas said, adding that it has not decided on its March events.

Mr Alvin Lim, executive director, brand and customer experience at SingEx Holdings, told The Straits Times yesterday that it expects events with larger Chinese participation to be postponed or even cancelled.

"We are seeing increasing travel restrictions from companies and countries that have suspected cases, which will definitely have an impact on the number of event attendees," he noted.

"We expect smaller groups of visitors to the events held not just at Singapore Expo & Max Atria, but across Singapore."

SingEx Holdings, the parent company of SingEx Venues, which operates Singapore's largest Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) venue Singapore Expo and the MAX Atria convention wing, declined to say how many cancellations and postponements there have been.

Singapore Expo and MAX Atria host over 600 events and six million visitors annually.

 
 
 

Healthcare event CAREhab 2020 that was scheduled for Feb 14 and 15 at MAX Atria has been postponed to July 10 and 11. It had been expecting 1,500 industry professionals with 40 exhibitors.

SingEx declined to comment on whether border controls would impact events like the 9th Shanghai Fair 2020 on March 12 and 13, noting that discussions are ongoing.

The Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (Saceos) also did not provide the number of cancellations and postponements of events.

But it said: "As the travel restrictions for Chinese nationals intensified, delegations and exhibitors to events have been affected. As a result, Chinese tour groups who are coming into Singapore for incentive travel have naturally been cancelled or postponed to a later date."

DBS Equity Research warned on Monday that major conference events like Food & Hotel Asia, slated for April 2020, and smaller conferences with a larger Chinese participation "may carry a larger risk of cancellation".

A financial analyst who declined to be named told the ST that at least one investment expo slated for early March here, and which her firm was supposed to have sponsored, has been postponed as its organisers are from China and subject to travel restrictions.

But some corporate events will continue as scheduled, including, the 6th annual Mining Investment Asia conference being organised by Spire Events for March 17 to 20.

"The coronavirus outbreak in Singapore has raised concerns among some of our overseas attendees. At this moment, it is still too early to tell if there will be a significant drop or last-minute cancellations," a Spire Events spokesman said.

 
 
 

"We are expecting around 400 attendees and seven to eight sponsors and exhibitors to attend."

Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye expects more losses to be sustained by the Mice industry as tourism now contributes a bigger chunk to Singapore's GDP.

Tourism receipts from Mice amounted to $3.4 billion in the first nine months of 2019.

"With the overall tourism sector contributing 4 per cent to Singapore's GDP, I would guesstimate that the Mice industry accounts for around 1 per cent of GDP," Ms Lee said.

"During the 2003 Sars period, total tourism receipts for Singapore, which accounted for 4.1 per cent of GDP in 2003, plunged by around 20 per cent.

"Today, tourism receipts account for 5.5 per cent of GDP, and Singapore has grown in importance as a regional Mice centre. Hence, a similar decline could result in more losses."