The setback of Jet Airways pulling out flights was only temporary as Vistara and IndiGo commencing operations from key Indian gateway cities had yet again bolstered the connectivity quotient between India and Singapore, said Dr Edward Koh, Executive Director, Meetings & Incentive Travel Experience Development Group and G B Srithar, Regional Director – India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board. They suggested that the growth story from India was intact and only expected to grow further. Excerpts from an exclusive interaction on trends in the MICE segment:

(Left) G B Srithar, Regional Director – India, Middle East & South Asia and Edward Koh, Executive Director, Conventions, Meetings & Incentive Travel Experience Development Group, Singapore Tourism Board

No impact of the so-called slowdown. Not yet

The so-called slowdown in the Indian economy has not had any visible impact on visitations to Singapore, Mr Srithar said. At least not yet. While he conceded that a multitude of other factors –the general elections in April and May, grounding of Jet Airways and Boeing 737-Max flights – has had “some repercussions” on numbers in 2019, especially in the past six months. “Jet Airways had a good number of flights going into Singapore from multiple cities in India,” he noted. He was, however, quick to add that the situation remained positive. He reflected that amidst murmurs of a so-called slowdown in the economy, Indian corporates’ incentive trips to Singapore continued unabated. “Budgets may have been slightly reduced but MICE is a very vibrant sector,” he said.

Mentioning third-party data, quoting a report by the Business Travel Association, he said that Indian business travel spend was growing at 11.4 per annum – which was the largest rise in one of the top 15 business markets globally. “India is now a USD 30 billion business travel market, as per the consultancy firm KPMG. The summary is that it is on a growth trajectory. While there may be some permutations of adjustment, as the impact of the (so-called) economy (situation) becomes more evident, but MICE from India will keep on growing and that is our expectation,” Mr Srithar said, exuding confidence. The Indian market had been on a consistent growth trajectory for the last few years, he added, describing it as “very healthy.” There had been a 13 per cent increase in visitation from Indian shores, compared to the previous year, with the overall visitor count standing at an impressive 1.4 million. A similar trajectory was visible in the MICE segment, Mr Srithar insisted. “MICE numbers from India to Singapore mirror the growth in overall Indian visitor numbers to Singapore. From 9.35 lakh in 2013, Indian visitorship to Singapore has grown to 14 lakh in 2018,” he informed, noting that there had been double-digit growth in the past few years.

Destination familiarity a strength and not weakness

Singapore’s long-standing presence in the Indian market and its familiarity among the domestic audience was a strength yet changing times and yearning for new, untapped destinations could impede further growth. “Familiarity is a strength and sometimes travellers want to go to a place over and over again; being a short-haul destination is an inherent advantage too,” Dr Koh said, contesting the assertion. He backed his claim by noting that the number of repeat visitation from India was “quite significant.” “They know what to expect from the destination and its offerings,” he said. He maintained that Singapore was constantly rejuvenating its leisure and business offerings.  “Our PM, just a few days ago, on the National Day, outlined several new developments. The waterfront development plan is in place with over 30 kilometres of coastline, going all the way to the southern-most region, comprising over 2000 hectares of land,” he told us, adding that these were long-term plans.

Dr Koh called trends from the Indian market a “very rosy picture”, sharing the country had an already secured a “healthy pipeline of events” till 2020. The venues and hotels were recording healthy occupancy rates and continue to seek more events and group movements, he said. He remarked that the growth was visible across the board and it was difficult for him to pick a particular segment, when asked whether any specific segment in MICE stood out. He told us that professional services, such as the insurance sector, was reflecting a very promising increase. Lifestyle was yet another segment exhibiting good prospects, Dr Koh described. “We have a government perspective of which industries are important to us, in terms of contributing to the GDP and employment for our people. It has been reflected through the events we have been able to attract to help Singapore grow,” he argued. Logistics, financial technology, advanced manufacturing and innovation were other notable sectors driving footfalls, he shared. Pharmaceuticals, infrastructure and cement were also significantly contributing to incentive numbers, G B Srithar supplemented, adding that the country was witnessing a steady growth from lifestyle and retail segments too. 

The trajectory for continued growth

Singapore was well-connected from 15 cities across India but more flights from newer touch-points were only going to boost footfalls, Mr Srithar said. He suggested that the Jet Airways episode did have a short-term impact, however, Vistara commencing operations from Mumbai and Delhi, and IndiGo’s operation between Mumbai and Singapore had quickly filled in the void. “The good news is that IndiGo is shortly going to operate on the Delhi-Singapore route too,” he exclaimed.

The road ahead was to pre-empt ways of facilitating an easy visa regime for travellers, as growing air connectivity opened up untapped tier-2 and tier-3 cities for MICE travel to Singapore. Mr Srithar further remarked that the visa regime was “relatively easy” for Indian travellers.

Enhancing engagement with corporates through travel intermediaries for making Singapore accessible for MICE travel was yet another piece in the puzzle. “A lot of time corporates do not realise the schemes we have put in place. Whether it is the Singapore MICE Advantage Program (SMAP) or others. The challenge is to make them aware (of these offerings) and make it more convenient for them to come to Singapore,” Mr Srithar concluded.