The Constellar Story: Pioneering MICE in Singapore
Did you know that exhibitions and fairs in Singapore used to be held in make-shift booths, set up at places such as hotel car parks and the halls beneath the National Stadium?
The exhibitions industry reached its first milestone infrastructure boost when the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB, known as Singapore Tourist Promotion Board then) converted two warehouses into exhibition halls. These warehouses formed the first official exhibition complex – World Trade Centre (WTC) Exhibition Complex – commonly regarded as the predecessor of the Singapore EXPO & Max Atria.
Pioneering Singapore’s MICE connections
In 1978, the exhibition division in PSA began managing the WTC. Situated just opposite the resort island of Sentosa, the purpose of the WTC was to link Singapore with the international network of world trade centres. In particular, the Centre was to serve as the location of choice for trading firms, banks, foreign trade commissions, and government bodies involved in trade and industry. Besides facilitating international trade, the centre aimed to combine commercial, recreational and marine terminal facilities under one roof.
This was the beginning of a nascent MICE scene in Singapore. What was known as the Expo Gateway and WTC then saw the likes of trade conferences from the medical, economic, and cultural sectors that brought together partners from the region for collaboration. These shows include CommunicAsia, one of the largest events for the region’s ICT industry; Machineasia, a machinery and engineering equipment show for South East Asia; Security Asia, an international security equipment exhibition and conference; and City Trans Asia, one of the first events in an exhibition and seminar format showcasing technology and developments in urban planning and transportation.
Paving the way for expansion opportunities
By 1997, the exhibition space at the WTC was slated for redevelopment and a hunt for a replacement venue that could exceed the 34,000 square metres of indoor space began. A location was confirmed in the East, and the venue was named Singapore EXPO. The divestment of the exhibitions arm from PSA Corp led to the establishment of SingEx Venues in 1999, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings. SingEx Venues subsequently won the bid to manage Singapore EXPO’s first six exhibition halls built in the East. As a testament to the demand for such spaces, Singapore EXPO hosted over 90 trade and consumer exhibitions in 2000, of which 75 were international. These events attracted an estimated total of over 1 million visitors
Singapore EXPO is the largest purpose-built MICE facility in Singapore, offering limitless possibilities for exhibitors with all available spaces interconnected, column-free and on the ground level. By the end of its first decade, the venue hosted 400 events catering to 6 million visitors, while SingEx continued to expand with the formation of the SingEx Exhibitions arm in 2003 to handle a growing portfolio of partnerships in both the B2B and B2C markets. Over the next few years, SingEx launched more than 20 new-to-market events spanning industries including Industry 4.0, FinTech and Healthcare. These events include CAREhab, Industrial Transformation ASIA-PACIFIC and Singapore Fintech Festival.
As Singapore continued to grow its reputation as a regional hub capitalising on the strength of South East Asian economies, the demand for regional and international trade conferences and business meetings rose rapidly. To cater to the influx, the MAX Atria arm of Singapore EXPO was launched, featuring 32 column-free, configurable rooms with spacious foyers, a garden courtyard, and ample space for diverse event formats.
Singapore’s MICE industry continues to expand
In 2008, Singapore’s MICE scene continued to expand with the incorporation of Sphere Exhibits, a MICE subsidiary of Singapore Press Holdings. Sphere Exhibits acquired Eastern Directories’ B2C events such as COMEX, IT Show, World Food Fair and Food and Beverage Fair. The company also acquired BizLink Services Pte Ltd and hosted the Singapore Gifts and Premiums Fair, and Franchising and Licensing Asia.
Sphere moved swiftly into the consumer exhibition space, vouching to bring entertainment, enrichment and fun to its events and the event participants. The company launched and organised other gourmet and lifestyle events such as Asian Masters, Gourmet Japan, Gusto Italiano and Beerfest Asia - one of the region's biggest beer festivals. Consumer exhibitions such as the food shows, Health Fiesta, The Kidz Academy and Baby Baby were great attractions, specially curated to meet the needs of parents and families.
Solidifying firm footholds
From 2010 SingEx and Sphere continued to expand their reach in parallel, establishing themselves as MICE strategic partners for businesses to explore market expansion. Collaborating with diverse trade associations and industry partners, the two companies conceptualised and developed trade shows catering to key economic and growth sectors.
To better meet the needs of those emerging markets, both companies expanded their regional footprint with offices in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. Shows such as Beerfest Asia, BuildTech Asia and Internet of Things (IoT) Asia had regional editions to better cater to the needs of the region. Industry-focused tradeshows such as Industrial Transformation ASIA-PACIFIC and Singapore FinTech Festival launched regional roadshows and activities to better understand their domestic markets and cater to their needs.
At the same time both companies identified tremendous potential in the consumer technology market. This resulted in the organisation of IT shows that became widely popular with the Singapore public – COMEX, IT Show, SITEX. The food & beverage market also continued to grow, with the food shows and Beerfest Asia consistently drawing in the crowds.
A Global Reset
At the start of 2020 the MICE industry was flourishing. The Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria was also geared up for another eventful year with new infrastructure offerings and client solutions. When Covid-19 hit and physical events halted, SingEx and Sphere were forced to adapt and redesign their event experiences.
With digital and hybrid events becoming the new normal the priority became developing capabilities and resources to organise these safely, effectively and innovatively.
The pandemic also underscored the importance of themes that annual events were already organised around, such as industrial transformation. Sphere held a digital series - The BuildTech Asia Digital Series - to support the industry in uncovering ways to survive and thrive. Similarly, SingEx’s Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific and Singapore FinTech Festival conducted regional roadshows, web seminars and launched digital formats to cater to industry developments and needs for a COVID-ready world.
Sphere’s gourmet and lifestyle events also took a different spin. Beerfest Asia 2020 was virtual and featured a partnership with e-commerce platform Shopee for a special Beerfest Asia "Party at Home" kit. The virtual edition featured interviews with brewers as well live music performances that attendees could view from the comfort of their homes.
With more consumers going online during the pandemic, the food shows launched their own e-shop where users could discover the latest product launches from Asia’s booming F&B Scene as well as make purchases. FaceBook live segments where influencers such as Leslie Koh hosted food product launches and demonstrations were also popular engagement features.
Supporting National Resilience
Amidst rising cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, SingEx was able to repurpose its spaces to concurrently support national resilience efforts as a Community Care Facility for recovering COVID-19 patients from Halls 1-10 in phases, while organising hybrid pilot events in a completely separate wing – MAX Atria – from October 2020.
As government measures on safe distancing management were announced later in the year, SingEx marked two firsts for its Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (ITAP) series: one in its new hybrid format, and also as the first in-person event held at Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria after the venue was repurposed as a Covid-19 Community Care Facility. It is one of the events signalling the safe restart of Singapore's business events industry, with hybridisation and reinforced safe event management measures in place. With the hybridised event format the new normal, SFF x SWITCH featured a unique week-long hybrid format that combined a 24-hour online platform with satellite events around the world.
Transforming business meetings for a COVID-ready world
As Singapore transitions to living with Covid-19 in the new normal, Connect@Changi was launched at Halls 7 & 8 of Singapore EXPO and MAX Atria, as a national resilience project to support the broader, evolving efforts to rejuvenate Singapore’s economy, and to facilitate business activities in and around the region during the course of the pandemic. Developed by a Singapore consortium led by Temasek Holdings, Connect@Changi allows business travellers to stay and conduct meetings without having to serve quarantine on arrival, Meetings are held in specially-designed meeting rooms with air-tight glass panels to reduce the risk of transmission. Measures and systems are also implemented to ensure minimal transmission risk between travellers and local visitors. These include self-service food and drink kiosks, separate entrances and exits, as well as different ventilation systems.
Connect@Changi is now actively supporting Singapore’s pandemic efforts operating as a Community Care Facility (CCF), with the necessary precautions taken to ensure it remains a separate zone from the rest of Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria.
Meanwhile at the other zones of Singapore EXPO & MAX Atria, a host of safe, new lifestyle offerings will open in phases, to provide a platform for local businesses to reopen in a COVID-resilient world, as well as a safe and vibrant lifestyle hub for the community.
Coming together as One
With the collective experience harnessed over the five decades since their beginnings, SingEx and Sphere merged in February 2021 in a pivot strategy led by shareholders Temasek and Singapore Press Holdings to become one of Asia-Pacific’s MICE industry champions.
Unveiled as Constellar in June, the company will embark on a brand new journey to create a new agile path for growth through reinvention and collaboration in an industry that is fast becoming a digitally enabled intellectual property business.
Like a constellation of stars in the galaxy, Constellar will anchor its efforts to build global relevance as a star player and create a nexus between industry giants, government agencies and relevant key partners, actively connecting a constellation of global marketplaces and networks.