Since co-founding events company Kingsmen Creatives 40 years ago with his partner Simon Ong, Mr Benedict Soh has tackled some of the most challenging projects in the MICE industry in Singapore and abroad. The industry veteran shares some of his experiences with us.
What were some of the high points of your career?
One high point was when Kingsmen was tasked to organise the first Orchard Road Light-up that took place in 1984. It was a project that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) initiated to liven up the shopping belt. The project was difficult as power sources were inadequate, and the infrastructure for stringing the garlands over the street was also lacking. Technically and logistically, it was a big challenge. However, having overcome these difficulties after more than a month of preparation, the accolades that Kingsmen received more than made up for the hard work. When all the lights were switched on, it felt truly magical, as the whole street was transformed into a fairyland.
What were some of the notable challenges?
The most unforgettable one was during the period when SARS hit Singapore. At that time, the advice from the health authorities was for everyone to refrain from personal contact, including shaking hands, and to avoid crowded places where possible. We were in the business of face-to-face marketing communication. So, while Kingsmen was planning for its IPO, it was obviously deemed to be in the wrong business during that stressful period. In the end, we overcame the challenges of those harrowing six months, and we listed on the Singapore Exchange in October 2003 to overwhelming support from the investing public.
In what areas has the Singapore MICE industry done well?
The Singapore MICE industry is a fine example of the collaboration between the public and private sectors. Trade shows generate economic spin-offs amounting to 10 times for every dollar spent on buying the exhibition space. Therefore, the support of the public sector led by the STB has been instrumental in providing the infrastructure and business climate necessary for the MICE industry to flourish.
What are the challenges facing the sector here?
Neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have all gotten into the act of staging their own large events. With a smaller domestic market, Singapore faces competition from these neighbours and would therefore need to step up its offerings for both event participants and visitors from overseas. These can be in the form of subsidies or generous spending to directly or indirectly impact the visitors.
Looking ahead, how can Singapore maintain its edge as a destination?
The city-state can become a highly sophisticated nation of connectivity – in terms of IT infrastructure, practical transportation and communication. These game changers should enable visitors and event participants to experience seamless convenience and quality offerings. We will also need to upgrade our related services sectors, which currently lack sophistication for a truly great visitor experience.