In Singapore, a very different Davos takes shape

In Singapore, a very different Davos takes shape
Questions remain as to how Singapore — with its borders effectively shut and strict anti-virus rules — will put on a show that usually attracts thousands just five months from now. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2020

In Singapore, a very different Davos takes shape

In Singapore, a very different Davos takes shape
  • In Davos, it is an opportunity to rub shoulders with somebody taking the lift or in the hotel lobby

SINGAPORE: It’s not only the weather that might come as a shock when the World Economic Forum moves from Davos, the Swiss ski resort after which it takes its informal name, to the tropical Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore in May.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual gathering of world leaders, billionaires, celebrities and media is expected to be a trimmed-down, tightly controlled affair, Singapore-based business groups and consultants said on Tuesday.

Although seen as another coup for the country that hosted the 2018 Trump-Kim summit, questions remain as to how Singapore — with its borders effectively shut and strict anti-virus rules and limits on public gatherings — will put on a show that usually attracts thousands just five months from now.

“Singapore does not take risks,” said Christopher Khoo of Singapore tourism consultancy MasterConsult Services, adding that he expected fewer attendees and that virus curbs would make it hard to recreate Davos’ networking environment.

“In Davos, it is an opportunity to rub shoulders with somebody taking the lift or in the hotel lobby, and exchanging thoughts that way,” Khoo said. “How do you create those networking opportunities? ... That is a challenge.”

Others said the success of global vaccine deployment over coming months would most likely dictate the scale of the event, planned for May 13-16.

Announcing the change late Monday, WEF’s chief Klaus Schwab said the decision was made to safely ensure the first “in-person” meeting of business executives, government leaders and civil society since the start of the pandemic to discuss recovery.

In its statement, Singapore — which restricts conferences to 250 people, split into groups of 50 who cannot mingle — talked up the virtual component of the conference, which it also said would be a first.

Neither the WEF or Singapore have yet given specifics on the number of attendees expected at the event, the first in Asia and only the second to be held outside of Switzerland since its inception in 1971.

WEF usually plays host to about 3,000 official participants, but much of the action happens outside the conference at side meetings and networking events. The population of the hard-to-reach Alpine town of Davos swells from 10,000 to about 30,000 during the summit.

By contrast, Singapore averaged around 400 arrivals daily in October, the latest official figures available, less than 1 percent of those arriving during the same period in 2019.

The city-state remains largely closed to visitors and has agreements for limited official and business travel with seven countries, all in Asia. A plan to open a quarantine-free air travel bubble with Hong Kong last month was postponed at the eleventh hour.

Other factors may keep attendance down too, said Hsien Hsien Lei, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

“It is not necessarily whether Singapore is ready to welcome them but whether people are ready to start traveling,” said Lei, adding that many companies still restrict travel, especially for their top executives.

Lei said international praise for Singapore’s handling of the coronavirus, including from the World Health Organization, as well as vaccine rollouts early next year, should lend firms more confidence.

The success of smaller-scale events like the 250-strong energy week in October also shows that Singapore’s strict regime of pre-event testing, safe distancing measures and contact tracing works, said David Kelly, head of the British Chamber of Commerce Singapore.


German startup to help Saudi hotels utilize empty spaces

German start-up NeuSpace, established during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to help hotels overcome a slump in occupancy rates, is now working in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
German start-up NeuSpace, established during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to help hotels overcome a slump in occupancy rates, is now working in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 21 January 2021

German startup to help Saudi hotels utilize empty spaces

German start-up NeuSpace, established during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to help hotels overcome a slump in occupancy rates, is now working in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • COVID-19 pandemic has brought slump in average hotel occupancy rates in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: A German start-up established during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to help hotels overcome a slump in occupancy rates is now working in Saudi Arabia.

NeuSpace aims to assist operators in coming up with new ways to generate revenue from their empty spaces.

Anne Schaeflein, a co-founder of the Dusseldorf-based company, told Arab News: “For hotel properties still in the completion phase, we feel it is best to evaluate the perspective, and to diversify pre-opening.

“To be empathic to the existing (or planned) infrastructure and environment of the location, we run a feasibility study and look at how the space could be best used from an ROI (return on investment) as well as community perspective. Turning function spaces into day nurseries, delis, and bakeries,” she said.

Anne Schaeflein, Collaborative Founder NeuSpace. (Supplied)

According to the company’s website, it aims to address the needs of hotel investors, operators, and the wider community surrounding the property.

“We deliver quick solutions to retain some of the hospitality jobs, and add others, and offer attractive living space for communities, all within one to four months, depending on the individual projects,” the company said.

A report in November by global hotel data analysis company, STR, found that the average occupancy rate in Saudi Arabia was 34.7 percent, down 38.7 percent on the previous year. As a result, the average revenue per available room fell 35.5 percent year-on-year to SR172.70 ($46.05).

Looking to the future, real estate consultancy firm, Colliers International, has forecast that average occupancy rates in Riyadh and Alkhobar will be 55 percent, 51 percent in Jeddah and Madinah, and 37 percent in Makkah.

On innovative solutions, Schaeflein said the startup’s concept was formed around the key pillars of value preservation, creating new housing space, and innovative housing concepts.

She pointed out that the company looked at how areas such as roof gardens or social spaces could be used by the wider community, or how pools and spas not being used by guests could be utilized by local residents.

NeuSpace also studies how back-office services and facilities could be offered to residents to better utilize staffing levels. This could include offering dog-minding services, turning rooms into office or retail areas, or renting out restaurant and entertainment spaces when footfall was low.