Creating Memorable Experiences
After almost four decades of working in Singapore, Destination Asia CEO Robert Guy talks about how the meetings and incentives (M&I) sector here has grown over the years.
What are the activities of Destination Asia Singapore?
We are a full service Destination Management Company (DMC) and meeting planner, part of the regional Destination Asia group of companies with operations in 11 countries in Southeast and North Asia. Meetings and events is one of our leading business sectors although we also serve luxury FIT (fully independent traveller) and cruise line customers for turnarounds and shore excursions. We also serve a number of overseas travel intermediaries for meeting planning services for customers in Singapore and the region.
What were some of the more memorable events you have organised in Singapore?
In 2003, we organised a gala party at Singapore Turf Club in Kranji on the final night of SWIFT SIBOS conference. There were over 4,000 attendees and the party started from 8pm and extended till 4am! The event took place at eight locations at the venue, which included three ‘live’ horse races where attendees could wager for small prizes. Singapore delicacies and international favourites were provided for dinner at four locations. Entertainment was provided on two stages, including a dance area at two specially built stages. The event concluded at 3:45am when the remaining 500 attendees were transported back to hotels. Certainly a night to remember!
Another event of note was an evening trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express for the board of directors of an international company that convened in Singapore. This was really a costume party and commemoration dinner where the centenary of the company was celebrated together with the retirement of one of the leading members of the board. Prior to departure, the guests enjoyed a ‘platform party’ at Tanjong Pagar Station. A local celebrity and performers dressed in period costumes welcomed the guests. The 70 participants enjoyed a five-star dining experience on the dining carriages on board the train, and each couple had a compartment to relax in as the train journeyed north from Singapore to Johor.
What are some of the more recent projects you have worked on?
In the past year, we have served customers ranging a couple of high-touch programmes for around 20 people for a Board of Directors meeting, another luxury programme for 60 guests of a leading international banking group, and a multilevel marketing company where we provided meeting and ground services in Singapore for more than 1,200 guests.
Most of the projects we work on require specialised, custom-designed services that take advantage of Singapore’s new experience-oriented destination components such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the National Gallery Singapore. We use Singapore’s best guides to deliver these services and manage the group’s experiences.
How has the meetings and incentives (M&I) industry changed in Singapore over the years?
It has been my privilege to work in Singapore since 1979. When I arrived, the M&I industry was in the earliest formative stages and there were only a handful of hotel properties that met customers' expectations. At that time, Singapore was kind of an exotic backwater where the tours and experiences were quite basic and venues were sparse, almost non-existent.
It was difficult to put together a five-day itinerary without running out of things to do. Gradually, Singapore has transformed itself into one of the leading destinations worldwide that offers an abundance of venue choices, outstanding noteworthy hotels, exceptional experiences and terrific food complementing a wonderful outdoor lifestyle.
What are some of the challenges facing the industry?
Alongside Singapore, regional competitors have developed at the same pace, with the same intensity and results. By comparison, Singapore can be a more expensive place to operate, with high hotel rates and costly beverages compared to locations nearby like Malaysia and Thailand. Fortunately, there are customers willing to pay for exceptional service but the lower prices of regional destinations are often too attractive for those customers who are budget-sensitive. The good news is that hotel rates here are softening and more properties are opening, which means that prices should moderate over the course of 2016.
What is your company doing to overcome them?
Destination Asia Singapore has designed a range of experiences, services and activities that take advantage of the local scene where guests can enjoy local food or activities, which are often conducted by walking tours to take advantage of the exceptional cityscape and riverside attractions. Many guests are also looking for outdoor experiences such as cycling and adventure activities in Sentosa Island or even Pulau Ubin.
How can Singapore retain its edge in the region in this sector?
Singapore's competitors include not only destinations in Asia but also those in North America and Europe. Singapore has a strong product development pipeline and a government that is eager to invest in high-value projects not only for the people of Singapore but also for international tourists. However, there can be no resting on laurels and improvements must be made every year, otherwise competitors will overtake Singapore as an attractive destination.