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(Bloomberg) -- Liveried Sikh doormen have welcomed royalty, literary giants and the deep of pocket to Singapore’s Raffles Hotel for decades. And for one night in September they let in the global oil trading community for the industry’s social highlight of the year.
But in 2017, renovations have all but shut the 130-year-old hotel, the birthplace of the Singapore Sling cocktail, and forced the world’s top independent oil trader to cancel the party it hosts each year during the annual Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference. Instead, Vitol Group is holding smaller, more exclusive receptions during what’s known as APPEC week.
While the company’s hand is being forced by the refurbishment, it’s joining other firms such as BP Plc and S-Oil Corp. in eschewing bigger dos altogether for more intimate events.
By excluding most brokers, industry consultants, analysts and media, the companies are focusing spending on clients most relevant to their operations. While the strategy may help the firms save money, it more importantly enables them to focus on exclusivity and woo counterparties in Asia, the biggest oil market, according to several traders and industry participants surveyed by Bloomberg who asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to compromise their business relationships.
The parties in previous years were more lavish. Now the events are getting more private, mostly reserved for top clients of the host, according to the people surveyed.
“Oil companies are becoming not only leaner by reducing costs but also focusing more on their key clients,” said Ehsan Ul-Haq, a director of crude oil and refined products at Resource Economist. At a similar annual industry gathering in London earlier this year, some firms organized smaller cocktail receptions rather than bigger dinners, he said.
Andrea Schlaepfer, a Vitol spokeswoman in London, declined to comment. BP and S-Oil didn’t reply to emails or phone calls seeking comment.
APPEC features a long line of sessions where officials from Vitol to Chevron Corp. and National Iranian Oil Co. are scheduled to speak, and industry participants from all over the globe traditionally gather at after-parties hosted through the week by various trading companies, brokers and producers. An invite to attend some of these are more coveted than others, depending on the status of the company organizing the apres event.
This year, those attending the more exclusive affairs will discuss shifting trade flows of crude and oil products between the Atlantic basin and Asia, as well as the status and plans of China’s independent refiners. Traders will be trying to gauge Asian demand as processors in the region cash in on record margins, while assessing the potential fallout from the industry’s impact on the environment and preparing for new quality standards for shipping fuel.
One of the invite-only events Vitol is hosting will take place at a rooftop bar at the National Gallery, overlooking the lawns of Singapore’s Padang, the field where the British flag was raised in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot on the island. The company’s reception will be held along with upstream partners Ghana National Petroleum Corp. and Eni SpA to mark the launch of Sankofa crude, according to a copy of the invitation seen by Bloomberg.
S-Oil, a South Korean refiner whose biggest shareholder is Saudi Arabian Oil Co., is hosting a private event on Sept. 25 for key customers at LeVeL33, a craft brewery and restaurant lounge, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by Bloomberg. The company’s party in previous years at a different venue was open to more participants and didn’t require a formal invitation.
Vitol’s and S-Oil’s receptions now mirror those held by commodities trader Glencore Plc and energy giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which have already restricted participation in their APPEC events in previous years to mostly core customers and clients.
Japanese refiner Cosmo Oil Co. will hold the first of the slew of events on Sept. 24 by hosting a cocktail reception at the Pan Pacific Hotel. State-run producer Saudi Aramco and broking firm Ginga are also sticking to their traditionally widely attended parties, scheduled in 2017 for Sept. 26. Other Middle Eastern producers Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and Kuwait Petroleum Corp. will hold their events on the final day of the conference -- Sept. 27.
--With assistance from Andy Hoffman
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