Sarawak: A business event destination of choice

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Mike Cannon, Managing Director Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings.Inside Investor sat down with Managing Director Mike Cannon to hear about the latest developments.

Q: What have been the most successful events that have been held with involvement of the Sarawak Convention Bureau so far this year?
A: We had a few successful events over the past couple of months, for example the 50th Multiple Districts 308 Lions Convention 2012 with 1,800 delegates, a number of healthcare events with together more than 5,000 delegates, the 12th Pacific Rim International Conference on Artificial Intelligence with 300 delegates, and the 9th World Congress of Chinese Medicine 2012 with 1,000 delegates.

Q: What was the direct impact on business event visitations and visitor numbers?
A: In 2011, SCB supported 56 convention bids representing 25,555 delegates, and 96,653 delegate days, which contributed an estimated direct delegate expenditure of 59.2 million ringgit to Sarawak. Overall, since 2006, SCB has supported 215 convention bids representing 97, 507 delegates, and 362,745 delegate days, which in turn has contributed an estimated direct delegate expenditure of 222.3 million ringgit to Sarawak.

Q: How would you estimate the share of business event visitation as part of overall tourism figures in Sarawak?
A: We have been focusing on the association business for the past 5 years. According to the international Convention and Congress Association, there were almost 6,000 international association conventions held around the world in 2010. Of these, 91 were held in Malaysia, which is 2 per cent of the total. As to the economic value of business events for Sarawak, international business events direct expenditure for 2012 is estimated to be around 45 million ringgit, the average spending per trip for international business delegates is estimated to be 3,075 ringgit per delegate, the average length of international conventions is 3.9 days and the average length of stay for international business events delegates including pre- and post-touring is 5.85 days. Business events delegates’ spending is estimated to be at least three times more than an average leisure visitor.

Q: The bureau was lately present at IMEX America, one of the largest tourism business event trade fairs in the Americas. Are there going to be more cooperations with event/convention organisers from that region?
A: Absolutely – Trade fairs focusing on the business of business events provide us with leads that are profiled and valuable to chase. Whilst we had to “work the floor”, IMEX America presented us with over 60 new leads, most of them being leads and contacts for corporate business, whereas IMEX Frankfurt has a greater focus on association business. Next year we have plans in place to target both the association and corporate markets of America. And much of this will be by partnering Sarawak business event products and services and our mighty federal colleagues, MyCEB. On that point, aside from association events, we are going to focus on targeting more corporate events in 2013 and 14, given that more and more corporations from the US are setting up their regional headquarters in Asia. There are many advantages for Sarawak to this, but significantly it will provide the opportunity for Southeast Asia business event business to increase tremendously. So in summary, we will be targeting association and corporate business and we will keep up our international marketing efforts with a stronger presence at major international trade fairs such as IMEX in Frankfurt and Las Vegas, AIME in Melbourne and ITB Asia in Singapore. We will also ramp up our Familiarisation & Buyer Educational Projects so as to show potential buyers what a great business event destination Sarawak is. Conversion is greatest when we can show-off the destination.

Q: What is the roadmap for 2013 for the bureau? Which big events/convention can be expected?
A: A key point I can share is that our focus is to tap into international corporate organisations and associations that link to Sarawak’s objectives with SCORE, and that can provide benefits to Sarawak society beyond tourism. Every business event that arrives in Sarawak adds value with new research, education trade and CSR opportunities – value that would not be there if not for the event, hence the focus aforementioned.  What we find is that international buyers are looking for new solutions in terms of affordable and less flamboyant meeting destinations, especially those that could deliver strong corporate social responsibility programmes and are affordable on ground costs. With regard to some of our wins, we will be hosting the following in 2013: The NAMLIFA 6th National Mandarin Life Insurance and Financial Planning Summit 2013 with 1,500 delegates, the XXIII Asian & Oceania Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2015 with 1,500 delegates, the World Clown Association Convention 2013 with 250 delegates – won for us by our General Manager – Sales, Chew Chang Guan, who himself is a clown –, the WOOMB International Conference 2013 with 300 delegates, the 13th International Conference on Urban Drainage 2014 with 500 delegates and the Asia Pacific Regional Conference of the World Organization of Family Doctors WONCA 2014 with 1,000 delegates.

Q: Do you see demand for new or expanded event venues in Sarawak?
A: New hotels are constantly being built in Sarawak to cater to the ever growing demand, particularly those that cater to business travelers. Part of the government’s Entry Point Projects is to improve the rates, mix and quality of hotels. Thus, in moving towards the ambition of growing tourist receipts threefold and arrivals by 1.5 times, more investments are needed; primarily to upgrade existing products and to ensure a higher quality of service. Upcoming developments are the Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa which is scheduled for completion in 2013 and Riverine Resort Kuching and Plaza Merdeka Mall and Hotel. The existing Boulevard Shopping Mall is to build a four-star hotel with about 336 rooms and meeting facilities. In Kota Samarahan, 30 kilometers from Kuching, a mixed development project features an environmentally friendly designed hotel with an adjacent shopping mall, waterpark and theme park. The new Meritz Hotel in Miri has 290 guest rooms and meeting facilities. Further to new infrastructure and hotels to be built across Sarawak, part of our commitment in developing sustainability is to ensure that Sarawak’s tribal roots and heritage are not forgotten. As one way of addressing this, we created the Tribal Wisdom Speaker programme, where best speakers from Sarawak’s successful businesses, artists and professionals who are also from Sarawak’s ethnic tribes, come together to share their life experiences and reveal how their tribal ancestry has influenced their success. These motivation sessions are fully sponsored by SCB – our gift to the event, so to speak – and can be used as part of a bid presentation, cocktail event or opening ceremony in lieu of a welcome dance performance. The speakers are given prior training on presentation and performance, all of which is provided by the Bureau. The end result is a chance to highlight Sarawak’s many ethnic tribes whilst preserving the authenticity and the heart of the destination that will be passed on to the delegates, inspiring them with the tribal rhythm of Sarawak.

Q: How does cooperation with the Sarawak Tourism Board work?

A: We work closely with Sarawak Tourism Board to promote Sarawak as a business events destination. In particular we work side-by-side in the emerging business events market of China, and in promoting pre and post touring for bids we have won. Much of their focus is on the leisure aspect, and we handle the business events. As both organisations focus to promote Sarawak as a destination, it is very important for both organisations to brand and position themselves, and to project the same image.  We are lucky to have the Sarawak Tourism Board whose branding is almost the same as SCB in the client’s eyes, as it makes our branding stronger.

Q: Would you be open for private investors for joint projects in the business event segment?
A: The nation’s Economic Transformation Program, or ETP, and Sarawak Corridor Renewal Energy, or SCORE will open up more business opportunities through conventions. Sarawak is constantly upgrading its infrastructure and developments to achieve the goal of opening up more business opportunities. New roads, new transportation hubs, cutting edge university campuses and collaborative programs with international universities, road-widening schemes, new bridges, new shopping areas of international standards, high tech industrial parks and opportunities for ever-attractive lifestyles all play a part in improving professional development and attracting investors from around the globe. As an aside, it would be helpful to get a few more international brands into Sarawak – it helps us to sell. But at the same time, we would always encourage development to retain the wonderful culture that is unique to Sarawak.

Q: Sarawak’s and Sabah’s plans to acquire MASwings would definitely improve accessibility of the state. Would this also mean more business event traffic to Sarawak?
A: Any move to improve connectivity and services makes it easier for us to brand and bid successfully. At present, air transport into Sarawak is served by four major airports namely Kuching International Airport, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri, plus the innumerable air strips used by Rural Air Services which caters for the coastal and interior towns of Sarawak. This has helped to provide accessibility to our tourists but Sarawak certainly has more room for air accessibility improvement. Without reliable air connectivity, the state stands to lose many opportunities in attracting potential foreign investors, tourists and other businesses. For whatever reasons, Sarawak needs reliable and sufficient international air connectivity and exposure to the outside world. As you are aware, Sarawak has won the rights to host the Routes Asia Conference in 2014, and we are hopeful that this will lead to direct flights from and to key catchments such as the core hubs of China.

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mike Cannon, Managing Director Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings.Inside Investor sat down with Managing Director Mike Cannon to hear about the latest developments.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mike Cannon, Managing Director Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings.Inside Investor sat down with Managing Director Mike Cannon to hear about the latest developments.

Q: What have been the most successful events that have been held with involvement of the Sarawak Convention Bureau so far this year?
A: We had a few successful events over the past couple of months, for example the 50th Multiple Districts 308 Lions Convention 2012 with 1,800 delegates, a number of healthcare events with together more than 5,000 delegates, the 12th Pacific Rim International Conference on Artificial Intelligence with 300 delegates, and the 9th World Congress of Chinese Medicine 2012 with 1,000 delegates.

Q: What was the direct impact on business event visitations and visitor numbers?
A: In 2011, SCB supported 56 convention bids representing 25,555 delegates, and 96,653 delegate days, which contributed an estimated direct delegate expenditure of 59.2 million ringgit to Sarawak. Overall, since 2006, SCB has supported 215 convention bids representing 97, 507 delegates, and 362,745 delegate days, which in turn has contributed an estimated direct delegate expenditure of 222.3 million ringgit to Sarawak.

Q: How would you estimate the share of business event visitation as part of overall tourism figures in Sarawak?
A: We have been focusing on the association business for the past 5 years. According to the international Convention and Congress Association, there were almost 6,000 international association conventions held around the world in 2010. Of these, 91 were held in Malaysia, which is 2 per cent of the total. As to the economic value of business events for Sarawak, international business events direct expenditure for 2012 is estimated to be around 45 million ringgit, the average spending per trip for international business delegates is estimated to be 3,075 ringgit per delegate, the average length of international conventions is 3.9 days and the average length of stay for international business events delegates including pre- and post-touring is 5.85 days. Business events delegates’ spending is estimated to be at least three times more than an average leisure visitor.

Q: The bureau was lately present at IMEX America, one of the largest tourism business event trade fairs in the Americas. Are there going to be more cooperations with event/convention organisers from that region?
A: Absolutely – Trade fairs focusing on the business of business events provide us with leads that are profiled and valuable to chase. Whilst we had to “work the floor”, IMEX America presented us with over 60 new leads, most of them being leads and contacts for corporate business, whereas IMEX Frankfurt has a greater focus on association business. Next year we have plans in place to target both the association and corporate markets of America. And much of this will be by partnering Sarawak business event products and services and our mighty federal colleagues, MyCEB. On that point, aside from association events, we are going to focus on targeting more corporate events in 2013 and 14, given that more and more corporations from the US are setting up their regional headquarters in Asia. There are many advantages for Sarawak to this, but significantly it will provide the opportunity for Southeast Asia business event business to increase tremendously. So in summary, we will be targeting association and corporate business and we will keep up our international marketing efforts with a stronger presence at major international trade fairs such as IMEX in Frankfurt and Las Vegas, AIME in Melbourne and ITB Asia in Singapore. We will also ramp up our Familiarisation & Buyer Educational Projects so as to show potential buyers what a great business event destination Sarawak is. Conversion is greatest when we can show-off the destination.

Q: What is the roadmap for 2013 for the bureau? Which big events/convention can be expected?
A: A key point I can share is that our focus is to tap into international corporate organisations and associations that link to Sarawak’s objectives with SCORE, and that can provide benefits to Sarawak society beyond tourism. Every business event that arrives in Sarawak adds value with new research, education trade and CSR opportunities – value that would not be there if not for the event, hence the focus aforementioned.  What we find is that international buyers are looking for new solutions in terms of affordable and less flamboyant meeting destinations, especially those that could deliver strong corporate social responsibility programmes and are affordable on ground costs. With regard to some of our wins, we will be hosting the following in 2013: The NAMLIFA 6th National Mandarin Life Insurance and Financial Planning Summit 2013 with 1,500 delegates, the XXIII Asian & Oceania Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2015 with 1,500 delegates, the World Clown Association Convention 2013 with 250 delegates – won for us by our General Manager – Sales, Chew Chang Guan, who himself is a clown –, the WOOMB International Conference 2013 with 300 delegates, the 13th International Conference on Urban Drainage 2014 with 500 delegates and the Asia Pacific Regional Conference of the World Organization of Family Doctors WONCA 2014 with 1,000 delegates.

Q: Do you see demand for new or expanded event venues in Sarawak?
A: New hotels are constantly being built in Sarawak to cater to the ever growing demand, particularly those that cater to business travelers. Part of the government’s Entry Point Projects is to improve the rates, mix and quality of hotels. Thus, in moving towards the ambition of growing tourist receipts threefold and arrivals by 1.5 times, more investments are needed; primarily to upgrade existing products and to ensure a higher quality of service. Upcoming developments are the Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa which is scheduled for completion in 2013 and Riverine Resort Kuching and Plaza Merdeka Mall and Hotel. The existing Boulevard Shopping Mall is to build a four-star hotel with about 336 rooms and meeting facilities. In Kota Samarahan, 30 kilometers from Kuching, a mixed development project features an environmentally friendly designed hotel with an adjacent shopping mall, waterpark and theme park. The new Meritz Hotel in Miri has 290 guest rooms and meeting facilities. Further to new infrastructure and hotels to be built across Sarawak, part of our commitment in developing sustainability is to ensure that Sarawak’s tribal roots and heritage are not forgotten. As one way of addressing this, we created the Tribal Wisdom Speaker programme, where best speakers from Sarawak’s successful businesses, artists and professionals who are also from Sarawak’s ethnic tribes, come together to share their life experiences and reveal how their tribal ancestry has influenced their success. These motivation sessions are fully sponsored by SCB – our gift to the event, so to speak – and can be used as part of a bid presentation, cocktail event or opening ceremony in lieu of a welcome dance performance. The speakers are given prior training on presentation and performance, all of which is provided by the Bureau. The end result is a chance to highlight Sarawak’s many ethnic tribes whilst preserving the authenticity and the heart of the destination that will be passed on to the delegates, inspiring them with the tribal rhythm of Sarawak.

Q: How does cooperation with the Sarawak Tourism Board work?

A: We work closely with Sarawak Tourism Board to promote Sarawak as a business events destination. In particular we work side-by-side in the emerging business events market of China, and in promoting pre and post touring for bids we have won. Much of their focus is on the leisure aspect, and we handle the business events. As both organisations focus to promote Sarawak as a destination, it is very important for both organisations to brand and position themselves, and to project the same image.  We are lucky to have the Sarawak Tourism Board whose branding is almost the same as SCB in the client’s eyes, as it makes our branding stronger.

Q: Would you be open for private investors for joint projects in the business event segment?
A: The nation’s Economic Transformation Program, or ETP, and Sarawak Corridor Renewal Energy, or SCORE will open up more business opportunities through conventions. Sarawak is constantly upgrading its infrastructure and developments to achieve the goal of opening up more business opportunities. New roads, new transportation hubs, cutting edge university campuses and collaborative programs with international universities, road-widening schemes, new bridges, new shopping areas of international standards, high tech industrial parks and opportunities for ever-attractive lifestyles all play a part in improving professional development and attracting investors from around the globe. As an aside, it would be helpful to get a few more international brands into Sarawak – it helps us to sell. But at the same time, we would always encourage development to retain the wonderful culture that is unique to Sarawak.

Q: Sarawak’s and Sabah’s plans to acquire MASwings would definitely improve accessibility of the state. Would this also mean more business event traffic to Sarawak?
A: Any move to improve connectivity and services makes it easier for us to brand and bid successfully. At present, air transport into Sarawak is served by four major airports namely Kuching International Airport, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri, plus the innumerable air strips used by Rural Air Services which caters for the coastal and interior towns of Sarawak. This has helped to provide accessibility to our tourists but Sarawak certainly has more room for air accessibility improvement. Without reliable air connectivity, the state stands to lose many opportunities in attracting potential foreign investors, tourists and other businesses. For whatever reasons, Sarawak needs reliable and sufficient international air connectivity and exposure to the outside world. As you are aware, Sarawak has won the rights to host the Routes Asia Conference in 2014, and we are hopeful that this will lead to direct flights from and to key catchments such as the core hubs of China.

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