Malaysia rode high on the oil and gas boom for years, but has been left looking for new horizons when the floor fell out from underneath the energy sector. Among those new options business events is looking particularly promising, with key players in the sector looking to work together to lift their offering to lure more international conferences.
“We have a strong ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ brand but as a business events destination, the brand awareness and exposure is something we are lacking,” says Ping Ho, general manager – business events at the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau.
“Malaysia is one of those destinations that ‘seeing is believing’. Often, when we bring a client to experience the destination, they are impressed with what the destination has to offer.”
Malaysia is still an energy resources hub, but new emerging sectors include e-commerce, technology and innovation.
“We are working towards leveraging the events that take place in Malaysia and also to connect the international associations with our local community,” she says. “Our associations are also getting more active internationally, and with the establishmen of Malaysian Society of Association Executives, we are looking at raising the professionalism of managing associations.”
Thanks to a fall in the value of the Ringgit, Malaysia is also great value-for-money, with its affordability resulting in lower overall expenditure for organisers and the potential to attract a much broader range of attendees.
The International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) recently held its EDGE Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, marking the first time it has held the event in Malaysia. The decision was driven by a desire to increase participation in South East Asia, a region that is definitely in the economic fast lane in comparison to Europe and North America.
The seminar followed an earlier partnership between Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and IAPCO aimed at fostering greater ties with international professional conference organisers and enhancing the growth and professional development of Malaysia’s business events industry supply chain, says Jan Tonkin, the newly elected president of IAPCO, who has previously stated it is her personal mission to strengthen ties between IAPCO and the Asia-Pacific region.
The event was held at the Centre, giving IAPCO delegates from all over the world a chance to experience the newly formed Business Events Alliance, a partnership between the Centre and key players in the local precinct – Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Traders Hotel, Impiana Hotel, Grand Hyatt, retail space Suria KLCC, hospitality company Marini’s Group and MCI Malaysia.
In some respects the decision to ratify an existing informal partnership between the key players in the precinct was driven by a lack of dedicated city convention bureau.
“We need to work harder to win business and further differentiate ourselves,” says Alan Pryor, the Centre’s general manager, who wants international meeting organisers to view the Alliance in a similar way to a resort “where you deal with one or two people and everything gets done for you”.
“The organiser will contact us and say ‘here are the requirements on my room block’ and we will guarantee that we will get a response from the hotel within 24 hours,” he says. “The hotel will either revert to us and we can consolidate the information or directly to the meeting planner.
“We can also connect planners to convenient restaurants through our partnerships with the Marini’s Group who have Marble 8 and Marinis 57 restaurants. One of our alliance partners is the Suria shopping complex, and they will give a discount shopping card to delegates. It’s all about added values, but we put it all together for them.”
Ann Foo, assistant director of sales & marketing at Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, says the Alliance reflects the strong partnership formed between the Centre and other members.
“It will provide a positive impact, especially to hotels in influencing the decision making of meetings and event planners in terms of accommodation and events spaces when looking into a destination for international tradeshows,” she says.
As well as providing a seamless event experience, the Alliance will assist international planners navigate the local business culture, corporate companies, suppliers or vendors needed for their event within the precinct, she says.
Europe has always been, and continues to be, one of Malaysia’s key traditional target markets, but given its strong local population of both Indian and Chinese it is also well placed to target both countries. The Middle East is also in its sights, with Malaysia’s Muslim-friendly culture already a big draw for leisure visitors from that region.
Pryor also sees potential for growth from its neighbours. “The biggest opportunity from a business development perspective is to go after more regional events, which are really going to grow,” he says. And with construction of the Centre’s expansion set for completion next year, adding an additional 10,000sqm of flexible space to the current 22,659sqm, the Centre can also host larger events.
“About 40 per cent of our business is recurrent, with about 67 exhibitions a year,” he says. “We found that the exhibitions had outgrown our space. It allows those business that we have to grow and stay here.”