Buzz is back in Singapore convention and expo business

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The Independent Online

The buzz is back in Singapore's convention and exhibition industry as Asia-Pacific economies rebound and new casinos attract more visitors to one of the region's favourite meeting destinations.

From telecom and hotel trade shows to Christian prayer meetings and home-decor fairs, conference centres are enjoying robust demand from event organisers along with rising attendance numbers.

Convention centres have already sealed contracts for events in 2011 and 2012, with Singapore Expo, located close to Changi Airport, hosting a tenth of all business-related events.

"The big conventions and exhibitions sector is starting to bounce back," said its deputy general manager Chandran Nair. "A significant number of associations and organisations have stopped playing a wait-and-see game."

Singapore hosts some 6,000 business events annually, accounting for a quarter of such meetings held in Asia in 2008, according to official figures, but the global recession hit the industry in 2009.

In 2008, Singapore welcomed three million business travellers including convention participants, said Melissa Ow, assistant chief executive at the Singapore Tourism Board in charge of business travel and conventions.

The segment contributed six billion Singapore dollars (4.4 billion US) or about 40 percent of total tourism revenues in 2008, Ow said.

Total visitor arrivals including tourists and business travellers slipped 4.3 percent to 9.7 million in 2009, but the STB forecasts visitor arrivals for 2010 could range from 11.5 to 12.5 million.

The target is 17 million arrivals by 2015 - more than three times the current population of Singapore.

The turnaround of the local economy despite lingering US weaknesses and the recent financial shocks in Europe is also boosting demand for meetings and display space at convention centres.

Economists expect Singapore's output to expand 9.0 percent in 2010 after contracting 1.3 percent last year, and the government has been pushing service industries to reduce dependence on manufacturing in the long term.

Chua Chor Hoon, the head of research for Southeast Asia at realty consultancy DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, told AFP that growing the convention industry is key to achieving the target.

"With the global economies recovering from last year's recession, the outlook for (the business meetings industry) in 2010 is good as companies are more willing to spend again," Chua said.

For conventioneers, Singapore offers a central location and extensive airline connections as well as a safe, business-friendly and English-speaking environment.

All convention centres are connected to the mass transit system, and many offer integrated hotel, entertainment and dining facilities, with accommodation generally cheaper than in Hong Kong, its arch rival.

"What is unique to Singapore is our user-centricity, which means that experiences are built around the visitor, with the visitor's needs and preferences in mind," said the tourism board's Ow.

The addition of two massive casino complexes earlier this year - one on Sentosa island, the other right next to the banking district - is another incentive to hold regional and world conferences in Singapore

Both properties began operations earlier this year and have already signed close to 200 events contracts each, according to company officials.