Biz Events: What’s next for Sarawak?

Last year, with its population of just 2.7 million, stepped onto the world stage and hosted the prestigious International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).

Dubbed the ‘Olympics’ of the business events sector, the state proved that it was capable of competing with larger, more established countries in handling an event of this grand scale.

That’s not all. Within the last decade – since Sarawak first delved into the realm of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) or business events – more than RM504 million has been injected into the local economy through the hosting of 697 events.

These include international, regional and national meetings held here in Sarawak.

According to statistics compiled by the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB), from 2006 to 2016, the efforts of SCB and its sector partners brought in 657 business events to Sarawak, whereby 452 were bid wins and 205 bids supported.

These 657 business events translate into close to 241,000 delegates and 810,000 delegate days, which is approximately RM464 million in direct delegate expenditure to Sarawak.

The vastness of these figures greatly underscore the state’s ability of being a world class destination for conferences and business events.

This also cements the importance of business events industry towards the country’s economy.

Just recently, the national convention bureau; Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture , saidt for the last five years, has secured an overall 654 events, delivering an estimated RM4.1 billion economic impact to the country.

From the business events sector, business tourism is also expected to rise exponentially over the next few decades.

Growing number of tourists

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in its ‘Travel & tourism economic impact 2017 – Malaysia’ report pointed out that Malaysia by 2027 will see its international tourist arrivals reach a forecasted amount of 52.371 million – generating an expenditure of RM129.8 billion.

It also highlighted that travel and tourism in Malaysia should attract capital investments of RM20.6 billion in 2016 and it will continue to rise by 8.2 per cent in 2017, and 5.5 per cent per annum over the next ten years to RM38.1 billion in 2027.

Out of that total, WTTC surprisingly expects that business travel will exceed leisure travels in Malaysia.

“Leisure travel spending – both inbound and domestic – generated 49.9 per cent of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2016 (RM70 billion) compared with 50.1 per cent for business travel spending (RM70.4 billion).

“Business travel spending is expected to grow by 19.5 per cent in 2017 to RM84.1 billion, and rise by 4.2 per cent per annum to RM126.7 billion in 2027,” it reported.

With an influx inbound travel investments expected, it is no wonder Sarawak has placed a great importance on wooing in business events.

“Aside from the economic indicators, the beauty of business events lies in the fact that it has tremendous spillover effects to other industries.

“Today, business events are more crucial than ever, as most are being transformed into knowledge intensive ,” said Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Karim Rahman Hamzah during the official launch of SCB’s latest Redefining Global Tribes (RGT) campaign here recently.

With the excitement of hosting the 55th ICCA’s ‘Gathering of the ICCA Global Tribes’ still resonating in Sarawak’s business events industry players, BizHive takes a look at the impact of ICCA and what we can look forward to in the next few years.

Blazing through to the next round of adventures

Redefining the business events industry in Sarawak

It has been five years since Sarawak and its industry partners did the impossible by winning the opportunity to host the ICCA Congress here in Kuching.

Over the span of that five years, the local business events industry have evolved and grown to ready itself for the congress.

As one of the pioneers of SCB and having been part of the Sarawakian team which presented itself at several ICCA Congresses worldwide, newly installed SCB chief operating officer Amelia Roziman shared some insights on how ICCA has changed Sarawak and how it continues to change the business events landscape in the state.

“The greatest thing about the ICCA as a legacy is its ‘ripple’ effect which is tremendously felt until today.

“Depicted and lived through present success stories, ICCA primarily cemented Sarawak’s status as a leading second tier destination.

“What this entails is an avenue for us to speak to the rest of the world and be a role model to other second tier destinations who wish to emulate us,” Amelia told BizHive Weekly.

“Another major outcome is the impact it has had on our homegrown talents. The beauty of business events is that it affects so many entities, and very often you will find that events like ICCA 2016 are a catalyst and an incentive for many industry players and the greater society to take it up a notch, generating positive impact to the socio-economic of the destination,” she added.

She further pointed out that the ICCA Congress is also a significant marketing platform for business events prospect.

“Sarawak is looking to receive a returns of investment (ROI) value of between RM5 million and RM10 million worth of marketing and branding,” she added.

In the spirit of the 55th ICCA Congress, SCB continues to march forward with its latest campaign; Redefining Global Tribes (RGT).

“From this, we stir a global dialogue – a common interest piqued by our success. We even coincided 2017 FAM’s trip with the Tribal Warrior Challenge, which is an exhilarating obstacle course race that marks the physical attestation of the RGT spirit (community, identity and unity),” Amelia said.

At the launch of RGT recently, SCB’s chairman Dato Sri Dr Muhammad Leo Michael Toyad Abdullah  shared, “The execution of the 55th ICCA Congress was the result of synergy, support from industry partners, government agencies and the destination matched with extraordinary passion, leadership and commitment.”

“When a congress of this prominence is successfully held in a second tier destination like Sarawak, it indicates that destinations have overwhelming potential for international Business Events.

“We hope this will inspire other second tier destinations, especially in the Asean region, to rise with us and trail blaze the business events revolution,” he added.

Charting new territories

Not one to rest on its laurels, SCB, along with its partners across various sectors, are back in the cage, ready to wrangle in the next big thing for Sarawak.

“As mentioned, the Bureau kickstarted the year with the RGT campaign which carries the baton for the legacy of ICCA 2016.

“It signifies Sarawak’s readiness to shift gears and accelerate further in the business events realm,” Amelia said.

Essentially, she noted that the campaign is an assurance of commitment of Sarawak in cementing its position not only as a top second-tier destination but as a formidable contender that could easily rise upwards in the ranks.

“Encapsulating the core principles of community, identity and unity, the campaign hopes to rally the global tribes into the journey Sarawak is embarking on – we want people to be enticed with Sarawak!

“The physical element embodied by the Tribal Warrior Challenge within the campaign also invites the participation of the general public.

“To have a public sports event (Tribal Warrior Challenge) as a highlight of a business events campaign is unusual. It is akin to holding a marathon at the World Economic Forum. It has been an exciting time for the Bureau to bring all the elements together and execute our campaign on so many different levels!”    Aside from SCB’s RGT campaign, the bureau also has plenty of activities to be excited about for next year. While Amelia has not revealed to us what SCB is working on, she shared that SCB will be organising the 9th Anak Sarawak Awards – Malaysia’s inaugural award for business events to recognise the amazing contribution of hosts and industry partners to the growth of the sector.

“What is distinct about the awards is that it acknowledges all segments from the industry; from meeting venues, corporate events, journalism, and even a special category for business events professionals under 30!”

So far in 2017, according to Dr Toyad, SCB and its sector partners have brought in 35 business events, representing close to 12,000 delegates, 33,000 delegate days which totals to approximately RM37 million in direct delegate expenditure to Sarawak.

Some of these business events include the 29th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention 2017 and the 21st Malaysian Conference of Psychological Medicine 2017, and the 7th International Hornbill Conference 2017.

SCB has also secured several business events for the next two years. These events include the Congress of the Asian-Australasian Association of Animal Production Societies 2018, Asia International Conference on Tribology 2018, International Marine Conservation Congress 2018, Kodaly International Symposium 2019, Asia Physics Conference 2019, and the 13th Asia Orchid Conference and Show 2019.

A united front to benefit all stakeholders

As a second-tier destination, Sarawak offers a wide range of options for organisers of meetings, exhibitions or conferences of all types and sizes.

According to SCB, the current capacity for business events in Sarawak is from 10 to 5,000 delegates in venues ranging from unique historic buildings and international chains to the fully-equipped, state-of-the-art Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).

In Kuching, for those looking to draw in a more diverse range of audiences, easily accessible shopping malls such as Vivacity Megamall and CityONE Megamall boast exhibition halls capable of hosting large-scale exhibitions.

While for those aiming to educate, share and enhance the talents here in Sarawak, newly established incubator facilities like Borneo744 and iCom Square’s iCube Innovation centre offer a unique space that encourages forward thinkers, innovators, educators, and more.

Overall, a major component in the sector is team work as these facilities could only be fully utilised with the help of industry players from all sectors.

With Kuching declared as the world’s first ‘City of Unity’, SCB has emphasized the need to remain united, to uphold Sarawak’s unique identity of being community-oriented.

“I wish to emphasise our present campaign, RGT. We took charge of our own fate and marched on from ICCA with RGT and it is with this spirit that we would like to do a ‘tribal call’, if you will, and urge all players in the industry to strengthen their existing networks and create new ones.

“We are reminding ourselves that the convergence of the global tribes here in Sarawak is the goal that remains unchanged year in and year out, strongly rooted in our own Sarawakian values of Community, Unity and Identity,” Amelia shared.

Aside from the economic valuations of these business events, Dr Toyad pointed out that there is a greater long-term spillover impact from this sector.

“Beyond the immediate RM504 million revenue, there is a greater impact derived from business events over the long term especially for medicine, technology, science and other advanced industries – business events produces meaningful business relationships and international collaboration across a myriad of sectors,” he added.

INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION: Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg (fifth left) is seen with Sarawak Convention Bureau chairman Dato Sri Dr Muhammad Leo Michael Toyad Abdullah (fourth left), deputy chairman Datuk Abang Abdul Karim Tun Abang Openg (second left), ICCA president Nina Freysen-Pretarius (fifth right), CEO Martin Sirk (fourth right), board members of SCB, and other industry players during a photo opt at the launch of the 55th ICCA Congress at BCCK, here\ last year.

Prime benefactors

For other sectors, the business events sector is also expected to boost developments across the state.

Amelia commented, “Most importantly, business events creates the ‘yield beyond tourism’, such as nation-building education and technology exchange, research alliances, global publicity,  international partnerships and opportunities for corporate social responsibility initiative and legacy building.

“The industry players are assured of the longevity of business events; it is not a phase or a trend in tourism but a viable component with increasing importance each year.

“The business events profession in the state resembles an ecosystem. All entities have an equal stake in its growth. Any lag in performance in the supply chain could create a detrimental ripple across the whole profession. The BE chain allows organic growth for those in it, and for those who want a piece of the pie, opportunities are aplenty!”

Developments across Sarawak to buoy business events sector

Like any thriving business environment, its home-base has to evolve in order for its businesses to evolve with it.

With a rainforest backyard that is rich with biodiversity and an ‘old world’ charm that makes Sarawak what it is, the state has not fallen behind with the world. Embracing the growing development across the world, Sarawak is now utilising technology to further boost its unique image to the world.

With the new Chief Minister’s forward-thinking plans to push Sarawak into the digital era, Sarawak is expected to see an improvement in its public transportation and the road system.

Abang Johari’s plans to fast-track the implementation of high-speed internet throughout the city and encourage the usage of technology in all sectors in Sarawak; are also expected to open Sarawak to the world as well as encourage investors and foreign visitors into the state.

Furthermore, incoming business events can also lend support in driving the development here in Sarawak by educating the local talents.

“SCB is very much in tune with the digital economy our Chief Minister has called for. Presently a Lab Project 2017 to 2020 has been mobilised and is aimed at harnessing fresh ideas and knowledge on digital economy from the very best of the public service, world class companies and renowned universities.

“The outcome of the lab will then be used as the roadmap to dictate the state’s transformation route towards becoming a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy as envisaged by our Chief Minister,” Amelia disclosed.

At SCB itself, she noted that the bureau has also adopted the usage of Big Data and digital media tools for the past 10 years as it has been instrumental to its high success rate of over 80 per cent bid wins and intelligence gathering about conferences which have a strong ‘market fit’ for Sarawak and Malaysia.

“Ultimately, business events has the ability to facilitate exchange of knowledge between experts and the functioning agencies, speeding up the transition from a traditional economy to a digitalised one,” she added.

SCB on overcoming obstacles ahead

Every journey to success is rife with challenges meant to educate and strengthen us. The same goes for the business events sector in Sarawak. BizHive Weekly asks the hard question: What are the challenges faced by the industry?

“Branding awareness still continues to be the main challenge,” Amelia answered.

However, she also pointed out that SCB is facing this challenge head on and views it as a playing field which could raise SCB’s game, as it pushes the envelope by constantly evolving in marketing creativity and keeping up with trends such as digital marketing.

“Sarawak has to ensure that our brand translates to a dynamic, integrated and consistent one for Sarawak as a whole and marries business events and leisure tourism, which the Government is addressing now with extensive studies.

“I believe maintaining the consistency and will to improve our game is crucial!”

Nevertheless, she lamented that some international companies might not be aware of Sarawak, and what it has to offer.

She said, “We need to continuously push Sarawak’s brand to new potential clients who are living in the farthest corners of the world, as they may never have heard of this fair state. It is not a bad challenge to have, it just means we can never rest on our laurels and we need to constantly adopt the practice of thinking out of the box.”

Beyond Sarawak’s brand, industry partners have also voiced the lack of connectivity to Sarawak to boost inbound tourism.

During a business forum in conjunction with the launch of RGT, SCB’s partners in the hospitality industry pointed out that while Kuching’s hospitality industry is on an upward trend, airlift continues to be a particular challenge here.

Nevertheless, he commended Sarawak government’s effort in improving the air connectivity into Sarawak to enhance inbound international visitors.

Since taking office, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah has, on a number of occasions, assured that his ministry and the state government are working  hard to bring more air connectivity for Sarawak.

Tthere are talks of bringing in private airline industries such as from , Indonesia and Thailand, he said, to establish direct flights to the state capital.

“This area (air connectivity) is where we are lacking and needs to be worked on. I am optimistic that within a year, we can get more flights into Sarawak,” he added.

He also gave assurance that the state government will continue to render their support and cooperation to hosting future events.

“I am excited at the prospect of our state exploring possibilities and engaging with the world through partnerships and knowledge exchange. We have opened our doors to the world.

“We have also proven our efficiency and capabilities as the host of prestigious business events,” he said.

Sarawak’s landscape is shifting at a faster pace, now, compared to a decade ago. With exciting developments and business events happening or bound to happen in the state, Sarawak is quickly becoming a household name on the world stage.

Benefits of business events

Job creation: Every RM192,450 economic value from business events = one full time equivalent job created.

Branding: Increases Sarawak’s international profile.

Business & professional development: Creates new skills, networks, expertise, collaborations and opportunities.

Trade & export: Business events are ideal platforms to showcase local innovation, products, services, expertise.

Education and collaborations: Business events educate local communities and accrue broader benefits via collaborations with delegates/visiting international companies.

Induced tourism: Nearly 60 per cent of delegates intend to return within two years, about 46 per cent of global delegates extend their stays.

Corporate social responsibility: International conventions often leave on-going legacies to benefit local and regional communities and wildlife.

National impact: Through the attraction of international conventions, Malaysia can improve its world rankings as a the ‘go-to’ destination for conventions and exhibitions.

(SOURCES: SCB, NBES, VBE, ICCA, UIA, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak)

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Source: Borneo Post Online

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