Asean countries let down by Taylor Swift Eras Tour snub can shake it off by upping their game, say experts


US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift performing during the first night of the The Eras Tour in Australia. - PHOTO: EPA-EFE via The Straits Times/ANN

JAKARTA (The Straits Times/ANN): The “Swiftonomics” is clear: Taylor Swift’s sold-out stadium Eras Tour concerts have already injected billions in spillover economic benefits to its tour stops so far – and countries in South-east Asia are eager to start luring such superstar acts to amp up tourism and consumer spending on their home ground.

But experts say big money-making acts like Taylor Swift are more likely to perform in venues where they can get the best deal for their shows. Connectivity, infrastructure and security are pivotal considerations, aside from subsidies or grants like what Singapore was revealed to have offered the singer.

Singapore is the only stop in South-east Asia for Swift, who will be playing at the National Stadium on March 2 to 9, after stops in Japan – where the pop phenomenon’s four shows reportedly injected more than 34 billion yen (S$305 million) into the country’s economy – and Australia.

The region’s Swifties, as the singer-songwriter’s fans are called, were upset – and started making travel plans – when it was announced in mid-2023 that Tokyo and Singapore were the only Eras Tour stops in Asia. Hotel bookings for March experienced a surge, as The Straits Times reported in July 2023.

Traveloka’s flight bookings to and from Singapore for the periods around concerts by Swift increased sixfold, the travel company’s president Caesar Indra said.

The same happened for British band Coldplay, which played six shows in Singapore in January and February. The National Stadium, the venue of both artists’ sold-out shows, packs in 55,000.

As the tangible effects of Swiftonomics materialised, world leaders have also felt the sting.

Indonesia, for one, has formed a 1 trillion rupiah (S$86 million) tourism fund to entice artists to play more shows in its venues.

“We need ‘Swiftonomics’ for Indonesian tourism,” Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno said in an interview on Feb 20, referring to the snowball effect on sectors such as retail and tourism when artists perform.

Hong Kong leader John Lee said on Feb 20 that the city must be “relentless” in its efforts to lure mega events to its shores.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Feb 22 said the country will do more to lure “A-listers and world-class acts”, including visa-free travel and changing the rules on drinking alcohol at concerts.

He made headlines with his Feb 16 revelations that he had learnt the Singapore Government offered Taylor Swift subsidies of up to US$3 million (S$4 million) per show to make the Republic her exclusive Eras Tour stop in South-east Asia.

Four days later, the Singapore authorities acknowledged that a grant was given – details withheld on the premise of business confidentiality – as the concerts are likely to generate significant benefits for its economy.

Dr Samer Hajjar, a senior marketing lecturer at NUS Business School, said the practice of providing subsidies to attract artists is not uncommon, and governments and tourism boards often use financial incentives like grants, tax breaks and marketing support to draw significant events.

But the purported amount for Taylor Swift’s concerts is notably high, exceeding typical subsidy figures, which are generally allocated for operational costs, marketing or infrastructure upgrades, he said.

“Whether other countries should emulate this approach depends on their objectives and budgetary constraints. Subsidies can effectively stimulate tourism, economic activity and boost the national image, but careful consideration of benefits versus costs is essential, ensuring alignment with broader economic and cultural goals.”

Ms Rebecca Neo, a research officer at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, said that while a grant could cushion the cost of holding concerts, other considerations come into play too.

“These include venue capacity, security (of the performers and crew), transportation for the audience, et cetera. Countries wishing to host such large-scale concerts would need to consider all these factors as well to increase their attractiveness as hosts,” said Ms Neo, who is from the institute’s Indonesia Studies programme and has done research into music events in the region.

Her colleague Siwage Dharma Negara, a senior fellow and co-coordinator of the Indonesia Studies programme, said that such shows would also be considered in terms of how much of an investment they could be for the performer.

“They will see the potential of boosting their future earning potentials, for example, through albums, copyrights, and others,” he said.

While sidelined this round by Taylor Swift, Singapore’s neighbours boast vibrant music scenes of their own. Indonesia-based PermataBank chief economist Josua Pardede noted that some of the biggest players in the regional music scene are Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has played shows in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, and will be playing in Indonesia in March.

Indonesia was the only stop in Asia for Grammy-nominated indie folk band Fleet Foxes in 2023. And as part of his Asia tour, Welsh musician Novo Amor announced that he will be playing in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Large-scale annual music festivals also feature international artists and draw thousands of tourists.

Wonderfruit, a Thai music and arts festival held in Pattaya that features popular DJs, drew more than 20,000 people in December 2023.

We The Fest music festival, held in central Jakarta from July 21 to 23, 2023, drew some 75,000 music fans with big name artists like American rock band The Strokes and Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar.

Events such as these two festivals, noted Dr Samer, thrive on the region’s vibrant cultural scene and natural landscapes, which offer a unique experience.

Singapore, on the other hand, is known more as a concert hub for artists who want to hold their own shows instead of being part of a bigger line-up that is characteristic of music festivals, said Ms Neo.

Dr Siwage said that for countries like Indonesia to be an attractive destination for concerts, so that they draw visitors with higher purchasing power, governments could consider working closely with the private sector to plan better international events.

“Some critical issues concerning the ability to hold large international events are linked to security, infrastructure facilities, and even some political and cultural factors,” he said.

He cited an example of how Fifa dropped Indonesia as host of the Under-20 World Cup in March 2023 after the governor of Bali refused to host Israel’s team. Protesters in the Muslim-majority country had earlier marched in the capital Jakarta waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags, demanding that Israel be barred from participating.

A clash of societal values also came to fore in July 2023, when the frontman of The 1975 went on a drunken rant against Malaysia’s anti-LGBTQ laws during the British band’s set at the Good Vibes music festival in Kuala Lumpur, capping it with a same-sex kiss with a bandmate.

The debacle led to the abrupt cancellation of the event, and the band then cancelled its performance at the We The Fest in Jakarta.

There is also payment and ticketing infrastructure to think about as well, and even Singapore had issues with this when many fans saw red after technical issues plagued their attempts to purchase tickets with the Ticketmaster platform.

Another barrier for Indonesia is to address the problem of scalpers or scammers who try to make a quick buck by scamming fans or reselling tickets at inflated prices, said Mr Josua.

After Coldplay’s show in Jakarta on Nov 15, the police said victims had been duped into buying almost 2,300 fake tickets worth 5.1 billion rupiah (S$439,000).

“One of the significant tasks for the Indonesian government in developing music festivals and concerts further is related to minimising the scalper, or calo in Indonesian, during the ticketing process,” he said.

“Minimising the ticket’s scalpers could help boost Indonesia’s reputation and trust in the artist’s management itself.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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