Events industry veteran Janet Tan-Collis weighs in on meeting technology-fueled shifts in attendee expectations.
With more than three decades of experience in Singapore’s meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector, Janet Tan-Collis has witnessed the industry’s profound transformation. “The changes have been phenomenal,” says Tan. Tan-Collis joined the industry at a time when the country was discovering the potential of building its MICE sector and first opened its convention and visitors bureau. Today the MICE sector is operating in a world where middlemen like meeting planners and destination management firms play an evolving role, and often, meeting organizers work directly with venues. “That’s the most dramatic change I see,” she says.
Tan-Collis has lived these changes day to day as founder and chief executive of East West Planners, which she has expanded from a destination management company to a full-service experiential solutions provider with offices in China and Malaysia. She is also president of the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS), a leading trade group.
Tan-Collis spoke with the Associations Now Brand Connection recently about her experiences in Singapore’s tourism industry.
You received the Singapore Tourism Award for Lifetime Achievement for Outstanding Contribution to Tourism and have been instrumental in growing Singapore’s MICE sector. How has the sector changed since you first started out?
Tan-Collis: I’ve been involved in the MICE industry since 1982. From that time to the present, it has changed so much. A lot of it is due to technology. Singapore companies and organizers are always looking for innovative ways they can tap technology to be more efficient and allow time for the eye-to-eye meeting and the good handshake.
Technology has played a growing role in Singapore’s MICE sector. Where do you see the opportunities on this front for Singapore—and what are the challenges?
Tan-Collis: Digital marketing and communications are going to be our next best thing, but there are challenges: We have to be aware of database security and whether we are doing digital marketing correctly.
In general, one has to constantly be on the lookout to see whether there are better technology applications. There are so many different applications on out there in all aspects of the MICE sector, such as registration technology, that sometimes it is very difficult to catch up with what it the latest or best. If there is something else that is better or new out there, sometimes companies will not just dispense what they have invested in.
This is the disruptive side of things. One has got to be aware: If you are embracing technology do you make a big investment? I see that as one of the biggest challenges.
Venues and hotels face this challenge. It would be a bit of a shock if someone goes into a venue and it doesn’t have Wi-Fi or it’s not accessible. Suntec Singapore, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore EXPO Convention & Exhibition Centre, which hold a lot of large conferences and exhibitions, are cutting edge. They place great importance on connectivity for Wi-Fi and the Internet. They take it as a given.
The Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers recently co-organized Asia Business Meet to foster relationships between major MICE representatives in Asia. What outcomes have you seen from all of the networking that took place?
**Tan-Collis: **This platform is for meeting or incentive trip organizers who are interested in Asia for the potential of maybe having their business come over. Some have been bringing their business here already and others have been wondering if they really should be doing it. We just recently did our report on the event, and it has been very encouraging. A lot of credit goes to our partnership with Northstar Travel Group to produce the event. They have done a phenomenal job on this. About 20 of the 30 suppliers from Asia have already signed on to exhibit for next year. The profile of the suppliers is phenomenal. They included convention centers, downtown properties, resorts, hotels and destination management companies.
What do you wish that meetings and convention organizers knew about Singapore that they may not be aware of?
Tan-Collis: When they compare our Singapore dollar with the Malaysia ringgit or Thai baht, they have a tendency of saying what is in Singapore is expensive. I would take a different look at it. There is a huge savings of time when you compare Singapore to more exotic destinations. You can find all of the things you want to do most efficiently and effectively in Singapore. We have all of the components of an event, whether it is a meeting or exhibition. Time savings equals dollars.
What goals are you hoping to achieve, personally and professionally, in the next few years?
**Tan-Collis: **I’ve been the president of the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers for the last five years. I think this association is really primed to be able to assist young talent and talent that is in our industry to progress further – and to be the center of learning and innovation, whether it’s for Singaporeans or the community at large in Asia.
When you’re looking to take a break from work, what are your favorite Singapore destinations to relax?
Tan-Collis: I enjoy walking the streets of Singapore, looking at what is interesting and absorbing the atmosphere. I always say Singapore’s fifth religion is food. The conversations could go on forever, with everyone competing to say what the best noodle is.
This profile of Janet Tan-Collis, founder of East West Planners and president of the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers is part of Singapore: Passion Personified. It is the first in a series of eight profiles of individuals who embody the country’s entrepreneurial drive and “passion made possible” spirit, which shares stories to inspire the business leaders of today and tomorrow.