Following his win as the 2021 Supplier of the Year for PCMA Visionary Awards, we spoke to Mr Ong Wee Min, Vice President of Conventions and Exhibitions, Marina Bay Sands about his achievements, what he has learnt living through the pandemic, his experiences, and changes to customer service delivery and more.
Be inspired and motivated by how a leader and his team tackled challenges and seized opportunities with a go-getter attitude.
Congratulations on winning the 2021 The Supplier of the Year award. What does this win mean for you?
I’ve been part of PCMA since 2005 and PCMA is like a family to me – where I meet my peers a few times a year. Through the years, I’ve met many leaders who are ever so inspiring and supportive. They are the ones whom I seek advice from or even simply to bounce ideas with. It is truly humbling to receive the 2021 Supplier of the Year award and an even greater honour to be named alongside giants such as Rose Horcher, Vice President of Client Services at Choose Chicago and Lora Stanley, Senior Director of Convention Sales at Visit Anaheim, whom I have great respect for.
What achievement are you personally most proud of from the last 18 months?
The past 18 months had been a game changer for the entire MICE industry. The pandemic presented a whole new set of challenges that nobody has ever experienced before. It gave us the opportunity to stand together at that point in time to reimagine and redefine the future of the industry.
For one, I am proud to be part of the Marina Bay Sands family and even more so to have the support of my team. Even during such trying times, the team rose to the challenge and seized the opportunity with a go-getter attitude.
Pre-COVID, the team was already conceptualising the design and build of our first Hybrid Broadcast Studio, a live broadcast studio to serve as a platform for the MICE industry to drive content into the digital realm. COVID-19 accelerated the process, and the team brought this studio to life and built it in just seven days – remodifying the space, incorporating a high-tech stage centre piece, socially-distanced seating areas and including a 10-15 crew workspace in the background to support the entire event’s production.
We have since built three more studios in response to the increasing demand for hybrid events. It is also testament of Marina Bay Sands’ continuing efforts to enhance our technical capabilities to adapt with the changing nature of the pandemic.
As Singapore started piloting events since last October, the team has been working tirelessly with various stakeholders in Singapore to ensure the safe return of physical events. For example, we redesigned the way food and beverages were being served at events. We also went back to the drawing board to map every single customer touchpoint, ensuring that they are compliant with the stringent Safe Measurement Measures yet deliver a unique and memorable experience for the delegates.
What do you think you’ve learnt from living through the pandemic and working in events?
I’ve always been told that the beautiful thing and the scariest thing about events is the dynamism of it. Every day is in flux, and no two situations will be the same. We always need to be on our feet, adapting to situations. While it is challenging, I still relish in coming up with new solutions for our partners. I’m very thankful and appreciative that I have a very strong team behind me, forging ahead together and setting the benchmark high for executing events during the pandemic.
Customer Service is vital to good business, how did you go about keeping in contact with suppliers/clients during lockdown periods?
I wouldn’t use the word “suppliers” or “clients”. Over the years, we have fostered a close relationship with these organisers that they have become industry partners, or even friends who share the common goal as we continue to push the boundaries to bring about positive change for the industry. Sending a text message or making personal phone calls to our peers, especially during the pandemic, is a simple gesture to show our care and concern. These actions, non-transactional in nature, may be seen as insignificant to some but we do so because we genuinely care for each other.
What are your experiences with rapid testing and maintaining good customer experiences?
When Antigen Rapid Testing (ART) was first introduced, it was a big unknown for everyone but we learnt the process together, and translated it to simple steps for our clients. ART forms a very important part of the entire safe event management system.
Our first encounter with ART happened during the Singapore International Energy Week, held at Sands Expo and Convention Centre in 2020. It was the first hybrid tradeshow and was part of a pilot to enable more large-scale events to resume safely in Singapore.
While ART is an essential medical procedure, the team felt that the whole process doesn’t need to feel sterile and impersonal. Being in the hospitality industry, the comfort of our guests was still key, and we wanted to add in a bit of human touch to it.
Typically, most rapid testing is done in a room that uses packaged or disposable plastic sheets over the chairs to ensure cleanliness. The team came up with the idea of using special seat covers and tablecloths that not only look great, but they can be easily sanitised after each event.
Over time, as we gradually hosted more and bigger events at Marina Bay Sands, we came up with the concept of having a centralised testing centre located at Sands Expo and Convention Centre that can serve multiple events at one time. It helped us better deliver a safe meeting environment for our delegates in a more efficient and effective manner.
As a leading MICE venue, we are all about enhancing our customer’s journey at every touch point, making each experience unique. We also produced a video about the Safe Management Measures practised at Marina Bay Sands. It is shown at the beginning of every event, to remind attendees that their safety is of importance to us.
Operating in the service industry ensuring the health and safety of our Team Members is equally important. Marina Bay Sands is one of the first stakeholders in the hospitality industry to implement a rostered routine testing regime for all our team members. Staff are required to undergo regular swab tests at a frequency ranging from three to 14 days based on their job profiles, vaccination status and risk exposure. This is crucial because only when our Team Members are safe are we able to continue serving the community. We also have a very high vaccination rate among our nearly 10,000 Team Members, of more than 95%.
Where do you hope to see the industry headed in 2022?
We hope that travel will eventually return in 2022, so that we can all meet face-to-face and discuss issues pertinent to our society and industry in-person again.
As you are responsible for the success of the Sands Expo & Convention Centre; what is the biggest people-related obstacle you’ve had to overcome in 2020/2021?
The team takes immense pride in ensuring Marina Bay Sands is a leader in the industry, so there wasn’t a need to consciously motivate them. As we were all eager to brainstorm and redefine the way meetings are conducted in the new normal, the biggest challenge was to ensure that the team was aligned in terms of ideas, that we were all working towards a common goal.
With the situation evolving rapidly every single day, it is important for me to remain in close contact with my team leaders, keeping them updated on the changing circumstances and strategising our next steps. Being open and honest with my team on the realities of the situation through timely updates allows me to maintain team cohesiveness during this difficult time. My team is very motivated because we recognise the fact that we are leaders in the industry in Asia, and in many ways, globally as well. So, as part of industry, we do have the responsibility to try to learn, to apply, and to try again.
What innovations and customer experiences are being explored to expand the digital event options? How do you go about ‘selling’ these to clients?
When we first conceptualised the Hybrid Broadcast Studio, it was a new green-screen studio concept. We weren’t quite sure of the industry’s reception and hence tested the idea with a select group of global industry peers and asked them for their feedback. The team was challenged to think out-of-the-box and build a revolutionary product. They went back to the drawing board and reimagined why people want to meet, and how people want to meet.
Throughout the ideation journey of the Hybrid Broadcast Studio, the team did not just look at the trends within the industry. The team sought inspiration from three key parallel industries – e-gaming, news broadcasting and sports – and tried to find out how they captured the imagination of their respective communities.
Since its launch, the Hybrid Broadcast Studio has empowered our industry and provided an effective alternative that countered the impacts brought about by constraints of travel restrictions and border closures. It also enables event organisers to drive their content to a wider audience than ever imagined.
We had the privilege of partnering PCMA in January this year to be the Global Broadcast Centre for PCMA Convening Leaders 2021. The hybrid event format is not something new to PCMA. In fact, PCMA was one of the early adopters of the hybrid event format. When we first proposed the idea of the Global Broadcast Centre, it seemed like a far-fetched concept as the physical event is traditionally held in the United States. Hence launching it from a remote location was never thought of. Together with our strategic partners, we challenged ourselves and pushed the boundaries even further. We conceptualised and executed the industry’s first omnichannel event of its kind – combining digital, face-to-face partner and chapter events in key cities and venues around the world. It was indeed exciting to be part of this evolution.
What opportunities has the pandemic opened up for you?
The pandemic gave us the opportunity to take a step back and collectively consider where the future of our industry will be in the next 10 to 20 years. While we have overcome the challenges during the pandemic and presented a new way of conducting meetings, we also acknowledge that there are greater threats to our industry and mankind. Climate change is our next battle, and sustainability is something we must actively work towards in the long run. With sustainability being at the core of what we do here at Marina Bay Sands, we will continue to review our processes and identify ways to incorporate more sustainable practices as part of the events held at our venue.
As part of your role, you bring in first-to-Asia trade shows and exhibitions to Marina Bay Sands, are there any that you are excited about in 2022 or beyond?
There are many exciting shows to look forward to, not just the ones at Marina Bay Sands, but in Singapore as a whole. I would encourage everyone to watch this space closely in the next few years.