The IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings, the focal point of activities being held in Singapore on September 14–20, will be the largest international event that the country has ever organized. To ensure the success of the meetings, the government and the city-state’s four million people are going all-out. It’s not just a matter of providing space, Internet access, phone lines, and air-conditioning for the 16,000 expected participants. It’s also a matter of showcasing Singapore’s renowned restaurants and service culture.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took it upon himself to improve the country’s customer orientation, which dropped in rank from 8th in 1998 to 17th in 2005, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2005 Competitiveness Report. In January 2006, the government created a program under which US$2.8 million was devoted to training 28,000 workers, including 18,000 employees of stores, hotels, and restaurants in key shopping areas, Changi Airport, and other tourist destinations, as well as 10,000 public transport workers.
As part of this effort, the government is exhorting its citizens to be polite to foreign guests. In June, Lee launched the “Four Million Smiles” campaign. Photos of smiling citizens are being made into a digital mural that will welcome the visitors.
The smiles will be on display when the world’s finance ministers and central bankers, investment bankers and others from the private sector, and the international media descend on Singapore. The country (Singapore Island and 63 smaller islands) has an area of about 700 square kilometers and a population density (as of July 2005) of 6,333 persons per square kilometer. How will Singapore handle all these visitors?
The Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Center—dubbed Suntec Singapore—has over 1 million square feet of space, ample room for the 1,000 offices, 27 large meeting rooms, press center, and registration area the meetings require. Plus, more than 1,000 two-story temporary offices are being built in Suntec Singapore, with 960 kilometers of cable being laid to provide them with Internet access. In addition to 12,000 wired network points, there will be wireless “hot spots” in the visitor’s center. To ferry the participants to the meetings and other events, more than 400 limousines and 230 buses will be pressed into service.
The intensive preparations for Singapore 2006 should be well worth the time and effort for all parties. Indeed, a World Bank official said “the organization side …is proceeding better than any Annual Meetings we’ve had.” The event gives Asia an opportunity to showcase its economic dynamism and the significant developments that have taken place in the region since 1997, when the Annual Meetings were last held in the region. The Singapore economy expects to see a boost of some US$100 million from hosting the events.
For the IMF and the World Bank, there is value in holding their meetings overseas every third year. Because the meetings are a onetime event for the host country, there is both a desire to promote that country’s facilities and a willingness to allow additional time for full-scale meetings. In Washington, D.C., security concerns have constrained the length and scale of the meetings since 2001, and the abbreviated meetings there seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
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