Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the launch of Connect@Changi on 18 February 2021.
Mr Dilhan Pillay, CEO, Temasek International,
Mr Robin Hu, Head of International Policy and Governance, Temasek International, Minister Maliki and fellow East Coast grassroots advisers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join everyone today at the Singapore EXPO to officially open Connect@Changi.
Living with COVID-19
COVID-19 has been around for more than a year, and will likely be around for some time yet. Vaccines provide a ray of hope, but the future depends on many unknowns – including how the virus mutates, vaccine production and distribution, and how long immunity lasts.
The movement of people across borders has been severely curtailed, and will remain so until the world eventually overcomes the virus. COVID-19 will certainly be with us in the next few quarters, and if the pandemic takes a new course, the fight against the virus may be prolonged.
Many businesses have adapted by shifting to virtual meetings. While this is valuable, virtual discussions cannot fully replace face-to-face interactions. For some, physical meetings are still important for securing and closing business deals, and making important decisions. Face-to-face interactions are important for growing relationships, strengthening partnerships, and exploring new business opportunities. To strengthen resilience, we have to learn to live with the virus – and innovate to overcome the constraints.
Singapore is exploring how international conferences and business meetings can take place physically in a safe way. The resumption of business travel and international meetings is important for catalysing economic recovery, in Singapore and the region. Doing so will also help to speed up the recovery of our MICE and hospitality sectors, which have been hard-hit, and preserve our role as a global business hub.
Over the last few months, we have also started various initiatives to resume these international activities safely. For example, we are piloting innovative ways to hold large scale events safely. This includes the Travel Revive trade show last November, with close to 1,000 local and foreign participants attending in person. Robust measures such as cohorting and testing were in place to ensure the safety of the event.
The industry has also pivoted to offering hybrid formats, with an immersive and interactive virtual experience. For example, I took part in SFF and SWITCH last December, which is a major FinTech and innovation event. This week-long hybrid event attracted participants from over 160 countries, and garnered more than 3.5 million views. We are gearing up to host more major events safely, including the World Economic Forum Special Annual Meeting later this year.
Yet another initiative is to look at how we can resume international business meetings in Singapore. A number of companies, here and in the region, have expressed interest in such meetings, which are essential for catalysing new business activities. Prior to COVID-19, Singapore was a popular destination for such business meetings, and companies are turning to Singapore to safely resume these meetings.
In response to this demand, we started the Connect@Singapore scheme to meet these business needs. Business travelers from around the world can meet in Singapore at designated facilities. These visitors will have to remain within the designated facilities for the duration of their stay. Stringent testing measures are in place, in lieu of quarantine.
Connect@Changi is the first facility to be appointed under the Connect@Singapore scheme. With 150 guest rooms and 40 meeting rooms at opening, Connect@Changi hopes to welcome its first guests next month. When fully operational later this year, it will have the capacity to host around 1,300 business travelers concurrently. Participants can engage in various high-value business activities that will help to springboard economic recovery. These include corporate meetings, business negotiations, legal consultations and private banking activities.
The team here has put in place robust safe management measures. Business travelers will undergo regular testing throughout their stay. Separate zones will be designated for business travelers and locals that they might be meeting. Some meeting rooms come with floor-to-ceiling glass panes for separation. This enables different groups to safely meet face-to-face, but with minimal risk of virus transmission.
I commend the consortium of companies behind Connect@Changi for making this project happen. I am glad that you came together, early in the crisis, to brainstorm how we could safely re-open. And you very quickly put your ideas into action. This collaborative approach is our key strength, one that will help us emerge stronger from this crisis. You were prepared to experiment, to try new things, and come up with creative solutions. We were, and we are, in an unprecedented situation, in uncharted waters. There was no standard playbook on how such physical meetings could resume safely.
So I fully agree with Robin that until you try, you don’t know what you can or cannot do. As the global COVID-19 situation evolves, we must continue to adapt and innovate. I encourage Connect@Changi to serve as a “living lab. You must continue to pilot new ways of doing things. This way, we can conduct these meetings safely, while providing an even more seamless and welcoming experience for business travelers. We can scale successful innovations, and accelerate our economic recovery.
The Connect@Changi consortium has embodied the spirit of collaboration, and enterprise, and innovation. These are what we seeking to catalyse through the Alliances for Action. In fact, many of you here are involved in these Alliances, including the one on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences. I encourage all our companies to continue to adapt, innovate and grow.
We will support you in this journey, through the Emerging Stronger Together Budget and the many existing initiatives.
As the pandemic evolves, we must make the best use of technology and innovate. We must take this chance to reinvent ourselves and reimagine the future, for there is no going back to before. Connect@Changi is a good example of how we can do so.
I wish all of you every success in this endeavor.
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