Suntec Lays Off Its Workers

Almost half of the staff at the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Center (SICEC) will be made redundant.

Suntec Singapore jointly announced the news with the Construction and Timber Industries Employees Union (BATU) yesterday (August 28).

The convention center currently employs 178 people. After the downsizing exercise, 85 jobs will be lost in all areas, including 60 local and 25 non-local.

Suntec partners with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and BATU to provide those affected with financial and professional support. The date of the notice will be served from next Tuesday.

General ban on events at S’pore

Singapore’s Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) industry has been decimated by Covid-19.

In February, the third person from the UK diagnosed with Covid-19 reportedly contracted the disease in Singapore after attending a business conference at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Since then, all large-scale trade events have been quickly postponed or canceled, and the blanket ban was made mandatory in March.

While the government reopened the economy in Phase 2, large-scale gatherings are limited to major live events like weddings and funerals, and are limited to 50 people.

The ban on mass gatherings means that the source of income for the events has dried up. The cost reduction policies have been felt at all levels in the MICE industry.

suntec event location
Suntec Venue / Image Credit: Suntec

In a survey by the Professional Convention Management Association in Asia-Pacific, more than half of respondents said the drop in income will exceed 75% for the remainder of 2020.

Singaporean events companies reported revenues fell nearly zero percent as social distancing and travel restrictions crushed plans.

The fallout from the event industry has the potential to harm an entire ecosystem, including “venues, travel, entertainment, media, creative production and design, foodservice, merchandising”.

Events cut costs, go digital

The events are a major draw to other sectors as well, encouraging intercultural tourism, educational and professional exchanges, and business opportunities – but all of this has died since the onset of Covid-19.

Right now, the MICE industry is in damage control mode.

Since February, Suntec and BATU have worked together to implement cost containment measures.

This includes hiring freezes, shorter work weeks and temporary pay cuts on leave without pay, with management taking up to 40 percent of pay cuts.

Other event companies have adapted to the new normal by changing their business model and taking advantage of technology.

As Clarke Quay is silent, clubs have turned their spaces into F & Bs in an attempt to capture revenue.

Clarke Quay empty
Clarke Quay empty and dark / Image credit: Globe Southeast Asia

Zouk for his part, transformed his Capital Lounge at Clarke Quay into a pop-up restaurant called Capital Kitchen about two months ago, while Ce La Vi’s SkyBar at Marina Bay Sands was transformed into a restaurant concept called Bao.

Likewise, the group Timbre began to broadcast their concerts live. Other major musical events are turning to online concerts to replace physical raves.

PouchNATION, originally a provider of event solutions, is turning to digital hybrid events and launching temperature wristbands.

For hackathon event organizer Startup Weekend Singapore (SWSG), they were forced to launch a digital hackathon in just 16 days, which saw a record turnout in April.

Fall of a MICE giant?

Support for the MICE industry is important, and SICEC’s inability to retain workers is symptomatic of a failed industry.

The Employment Support Program (JSS) has provided MICE industry workers with Level 1 support, where the government will subsidize up to 75 percent of the first $ 4,600 of workers’ wages.

In addition to the new property tax breaks, MICE properties like SICEC can receive up to 100 percent property tax reductions.

However, without any income to speak of, there is little relief to be had.

Suntec shopping center
Suntec Mall / Image Credit: SQFeed

SICEC was built to be the premier convention and exhibition center in the Asia-Pacific region and has lived up to its name.

The convention center has won awards year after year and hosted everything from the 2010 Youth Olympic Games to the Asian Anime Festival to COMEX and IT Show events in 2017.

It is one of the largest and most modern convention halls in the Asia-Pacific region, spanning over 42,000 square meters. Between 2012 and 2014, the convention center even underwent a S $ 410 million facelift.

Sadly, the Suntec Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) reported a 3.1 percent drop in gross revenue year-over-year, primarily due to lower event commitments in SICEC. .

For a leading convention center, cutting more than half of its workforce means that there may be a limit to the extent to which the MICE industry can “pivot”.

The human touch can be scanned, but it cannot be replaced. This could mean that until a vaccine for the virus is found, the MICE industry will have to tread shark infested waters.

Featured Image Credit: Goody Feed

Also Read: The Show Must Go On: How These S’pore Event Companies Are Using Technology To Survive Covid-19

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Jothi Venkat

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