Business and adventure meet in Sarawak

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Mike Cannon, Managing Director of the Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings. The Bureau provides professional advice to meeting planners and helps connect NGOs, corporations, and government bodies. Inside Investors asked Managing Director Mike Cannon about the state of MICE visitation in Sarawak and the objectives of the Bureau.

Q: What was the state of MICE tourism in Sarawak when the Convention Bureau was set up?

A: When the SCB started in July 2006, there was already business event visitation in Sarawak, but not that vibrant. The state government decided to set up a Convention Bureau, and then we put things together, for example the funding and the strategies of how to bid for international conferences.  At that time not many conference organisers thought of putting Sarawak on their radar of meetings and incentives. After we started our promotions and showcases, we slowly managed to make the destination better known. We learned that if we want to get involved in the MICE business, we have to get behind the scenes and find out what companies are looking for.

Q: What exactly is the role of the Bureau?

A: Primarily we are marketing Sarawak as a leading business events location and aim, significantly,  to be the driving force in securing business events for the state. Such events comprise of conventions, incentive travel rewards programmes, corporate meetings, corporate product launches, as well as exhibitions and special events. We want to drive maximum delegate numbers through marketing activities for events that the Convention Bureau has won. We are also here to exchange ideas, and to network development and trade contacts for partners such as hotels, airlines, and event organisers – and for business beyond tourism.

Q: What kind of meetings and exhibition are you trying to bring to Sarawak?

A: The industry we are focusing in is mostly related to SCORE projects. However, this does not mean that we are not doing other events, such as for the medical and pharmaceutical industry. As for the conferences related to SCORE, there will be, for example, a Hydropower Association conference in Kuching next year. The government will use this as a platform of how they can move forward in terms of hydropower utilisation and related technologies. All the events around SCORE are a perfect opportunity to meet people who are also active in sub-sector businesses. We are obliged to target sectors of which we know that they can boost business and enhance the economy and the lifestyle of the Sarawak people. Thus, for conferences and to a certain extent for incentives, the focus lies on SCORE. It is working well, and we can see the competition heating up.

We also see that business events and conferences are giving more back to a destination than tourists. That doesn’t mean that tourists are not important: They create infrastructure for the businesses to stay. But, as opposed to the Sarawak Tourism Board, we are not marketing to tourists.  We are marketing to corporate and association heads, but, of course, we use the same infrastructure such as hotels and restaurants. The Sarawak government has recognised that business events enhance society and the ‘social economy’ as there is more money behind the business events visitor compared to the tourist, leisure visitor. One of the best ways to reach Sarawak’s 2020 target of being a high-income state is to bring in more meetings.

Q: What are the facilities the Convention Bureau is offering to international businesses and/or organisations?

A: We can offer many things, depending on the needs of the meeting organisers. We have become a business matchmaker to link them with services providers such as venue operators, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and such. We are here to provide a successful experience in Sarawak. For example, if a conference is held in the Borneo Convention Center Kuching, the biggest and best equipped in Sarawak, then we could organise a gala dinner in the nearby museum garden. For tours, we can guide delegates through the national parks. We keep a focus on business, but we add an element of culture and adventure. For example, if there is a scientific conference, the delegates would normally spend about 48 to 55 per cent of their time talking about business. The rest of their time is spent on tours and events. They might go to the longhouses, they would see the Culture Village, and they would have dinner in the museum. If it’s an incentive event, it’s a different story altogether. For example, if Honda is launching new motorbikes in Sarawak, we take the participants to places where the can test the bikes, and where they can see the real Sarawak and find great photo opportunities, which is, in turn, good for branding (for all parties).

Q: If a corporation or organisation wants to hold a meeting in Sarawak, what would be the steps to undertake for organising it?

A: They should talk to us.  We listen and understand the client’s needs, and we will guide them. The role of an organisation is to facilitate economic development emanating from meetings. We are the first contact, we put people in touch with suppliers and the businesses of the event, and we help with the bidding process to win a convention. We are a one-stop-shop for conference organisers, whether they seek a facility, want to bid for a conference, need promotion, or look for sponsorship.

Q: What have been the largest meetings the Bureau was involved in so far?

A: We helped to bid for the InterHash which was held in 2010 in Kuching with 4,800 participants. This May, we have the Malaysian Dental Association conference comprising 1500 delegates in cooperation with the Commonwealth Dental Association. And in April 2012, there was the 50th Lion’s Convention, also held in Kuching, with about 1,900 people.

Q: What are the upcoming meetings in Sarawak?

A: Amongst others, this year we will also have the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 10th International Scientific meeting, the 4th National Early Childhood Conference, the 5th EnCON Engineering Conference, the World Eco Fiber and Textile Forum 2012.

Q: What are the accompanying pre- and post-conference options for delegates and their entourage in terms of tours, tourism, and spending leisure time?

A: There are plenty. It depends on where the conference is held. In Kuching people can see the Culture Village, the Museum, can have city tours, and river cruises. Elsewhere, they also can go and see the Orang Utans or the longhouse villages in the heart of Borneo, or visit an island off the coast, a national park, or a rainforest resort in the jungle, or  – for younger people –  go kayaking or have other natural adventures. Some conferences arrange their own scientific tours with their counterparts here and visit manufacturing plants or hospitals.

Q: What are the financial sponsorship options for companies or organisations that choose Sarawak for meetings and conferences?

A: The government offers sponsorship based on certain criteria. If the company has a good track record and can give evidence that it can produce the promised number of people for a conference, the Sarawak government works together with us to help in realising such an event. Money is available, but there are criteria to fulfil because it’s public money. However, for anybody who is genuine, it is actually easy to meet these criteria. The government is very supportive in helping to win bids and is putting money behind it, especially if the planned conference will have a positive effect on Sarawak – that’s the key. The value for government investment into the MICE sector is, among others, to raise visitor numbers in the state and thereby filling hotel beds and airline seats, to promote innovation through collaboration and networking, deliver education and skills training, and, overall, lift the destination’s profile on the international scene.

Q: What cultural or other festivities are to expect this year in Sarawak that could act as fringe events for corporate meetings?

A: There are two events organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board yearly, the Borneo Jazz Festival every May, and the Rainforest World Music Festival in July. There are others as well, such as the Sarawak Regatta in Kuching, a Raft Safari in Kapit, and the Kaul Festival in Muka. All of them can act as side events for conferences.

Q: What would be your target number of MICE visitors to Sarawak in the foreseeable future?

A: We have our annual targets to win more MICE visitors for Sarawak.  Importantly, it’s not only the number of visitors, it’s also about how the conferences and events enhance Sarawak’s society and benefit the long-term legacies for Sarawak, such as the exposure to best practice operations, enhancement of business relationships and international prestige, enlargement of the business migration inflow, trade opportunities, commercial sponsorships and fundraising opportunities, and the leveraging of existing exports such as mining, timber and agriculture.

Q: What is your key message for people to come over to Sarawak?

A: Simply; Sarawak is where business and adventure meets.

 

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mike Cannon, Managing Director of the Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings. The Bureau provides professional advice to meeting planners and helps connect NGOs, corporations, and government bodies. Inside Investors asked Managing Director Mike Cannon about the state of MICE visitation in Sarawak and the objectives of the Bureau.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mike Cannon, Managing Director of the Sarawak Convention Bureau

The Sarawak Convention Bureau is a non-profit company whose aim is to bring Sarawak to the forefront as a competitive destination for international meetings. The Bureau provides professional advice to meeting planners and helps connect NGOs, corporations, and government bodies. Inside Investors asked Managing Director Mike Cannon about the state of MICE visitation in Sarawak and the objectives of the Bureau.

Q: What was the state of MICE tourism in Sarawak when the Convention Bureau was set up?

A: When the SCB started in July 2006, there was already business event visitation in Sarawak, but not that vibrant. The state government decided to set up a Convention Bureau, and then we put things together, for example the funding and the strategies of how to bid for international conferences.  At that time not many conference organisers thought of putting Sarawak on their radar of meetings and incentives. After we started our promotions and showcases, we slowly managed to make the destination better known. We learned that if we want to get involved in the MICE business, we have to get behind the scenes and find out what companies are looking for.

Q: What exactly is the role of the Bureau?

A: Primarily we are marketing Sarawak as a leading business events location and aim, significantly,  to be the driving force in securing business events for the state. Such events comprise of conventions, incentive travel rewards programmes, corporate meetings, corporate product launches, as well as exhibitions and special events. We want to drive maximum delegate numbers through marketing activities for events that the Convention Bureau has won. We are also here to exchange ideas, and to network development and trade contacts for partners such as hotels, airlines, and event organisers – and for business beyond tourism.

Q: What kind of meetings and exhibition are you trying to bring to Sarawak?

A: The industry we are focusing in is mostly related to SCORE projects. However, this does not mean that we are not doing other events, such as for the medical and pharmaceutical industry. As for the conferences related to SCORE, there will be, for example, a Hydropower Association conference in Kuching next year. The government will use this as a platform of how they can move forward in terms of hydropower utilisation and related technologies. All the events around SCORE are a perfect opportunity to meet people who are also active in sub-sector businesses. We are obliged to target sectors of which we know that they can boost business and enhance the economy and the lifestyle of the Sarawak people. Thus, for conferences and to a certain extent for incentives, the focus lies on SCORE. It is working well, and we can see the competition heating up.

We also see that business events and conferences are giving more back to a destination than tourists. That doesn’t mean that tourists are not important: They create infrastructure for the businesses to stay. But, as opposed to the Sarawak Tourism Board, we are not marketing to tourists.  We are marketing to corporate and association heads, but, of course, we use the same infrastructure such as hotels and restaurants. The Sarawak government has recognised that business events enhance society and the ‘social economy’ as there is more money behind the business events visitor compared to the tourist, leisure visitor. One of the best ways to reach Sarawak’s 2020 target of being a high-income state is to bring in more meetings.

Q: What are the facilities the Convention Bureau is offering to international businesses and/or organisations?

A: We can offer many things, depending on the needs of the meeting organisers. We have become a business matchmaker to link them with services providers such as venue operators, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and such. We are here to provide a successful experience in Sarawak. For example, if a conference is held in the Borneo Convention Center Kuching, the biggest and best equipped in Sarawak, then we could organise a gala dinner in the nearby museum garden. For tours, we can guide delegates through the national parks. We keep a focus on business, but we add an element of culture and adventure. For example, if there is a scientific conference, the delegates would normally spend about 48 to 55 per cent of their time talking about business. The rest of their time is spent on tours and events. They might go to the longhouses, they would see the Culture Village, and they would have dinner in the museum. If it’s an incentive event, it’s a different story altogether. For example, if Honda is launching new motorbikes in Sarawak, we take the participants to places where the can test the bikes, and where they can see the real Sarawak and find great photo opportunities, which is, in turn, good for branding (for all parties).

Q: If a corporation or organisation wants to hold a meeting in Sarawak, what would be the steps to undertake for organising it?

A: They should talk to us.  We listen and understand the client’s needs, and we will guide them. The role of an organisation is to facilitate economic development emanating from meetings. We are the first contact, we put people in touch with suppliers and the businesses of the event, and we help with the bidding process to win a convention. We are a one-stop-shop for conference organisers, whether they seek a facility, want to bid for a conference, need promotion, or look for sponsorship.

Q: What have been the largest meetings the Bureau was involved in so far?

A: We helped to bid for the InterHash which was held in 2010 in Kuching with 4,800 participants. This May, we have the Malaysian Dental Association conference comprising 1500 delegates in cooperation with the Commonwealth Dental Association. And in April 2012, there was the 50th Lion’s Convention, also held in Kuching, with about 1,900 people.

Q: What are the upcoming meetings in Sarawak?

A: Amongst others, this year we will also have the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 10th International Scientific meeting, the 4th National Early Childhood Conference, the 5th EnCON Engineering Conference, the World Eco Fiber and Textile Forum 2012.

Q: What are the accompanying pre- and post-conference options for delegates and their entourage in terms of tours, tourism, and spending leisure time?

A: There are plenty. It depends on where the conference is held. In Kuching people can see the Culture Village, the Museum, can have city tours, and river cruises. Elsewhere, they also can go and see the Orang Utans or the longhouse villages in the heart of Borneo, or visit an island off the coast, a national park, or a rainforest resort in the jungle, or  – for younger people –  go kayaking or have other natural adventures. Some conferences arrange their own scientific tours with their counterparts here and visit manufacturing plants or hospitals.

Q: What are the financial sponsorship options for companies or organisations that choose Sarawak for meetings and conferences?

A: The government offers sponsorship based on certain criteria. If the company has a good track record and can give evidence that it can produce the promised number of people for a conference, the Sarawak government works together with us to help in realising such an event. Money is available, but there are criteria to fulfil because it’s public money. However, for anybody who is genuine, it is actually easy to meet these criteria. The government is very supportive in helping to win bids and is putting money behind it, especially if the planned conference will have a positive effect on Sarawak – that’s the key. The value for government investment into the MICE sector is, among others, to raise visitor numbers in the state and thereby filling hotel beds and airline seats, to promote innovation through collaboration and networking, deliver education and skills training, and, overall, lift the destination’s profile on the international scene.

Q: What cultural or other festivities are to expect this year in Sarawak that could act as fringe events for corporate meetings?

A: There are two events organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board yearly, the Borneo Jazz Festival every May, and the Rainforest World Music Festival in July. There are others as well, such as the Sarawak Regatta in Kuching, a Raft Safari in Kapit, and the Kaul Festival in Muka. All of them can act as side events for conferences.

Q: What would be your target number of MICE visitors to Sarawak in the foreseeable future?

A: We have our annual targets to win more MICE visitors for Sarawak.  Importantly, it’s not only the number of visitors, it’s also about how the conferences and events enhance Sarawak’s society and benefit the long-term legacies for Sarawak, such as the exposure to best practice operations, enhancement of business relationships and international prestige, enlargement of the business migration inflow, trade opportunities, commercial sponsorships and fundraising opportunities, and the leveraging of existing exports such as mining, timber and agriculture.

Q: What is your key message for people to come over to Sarawak?

A: Simply; Sarawak is where business and adventure meets.

 

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