The young but formidable Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau believes an emphasis on the rich Malaysian culture is what gives the country the edge to secure large international events.

During the Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo (AIME) in February 2013, the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) took the Malaysian cultural experience to a new level.

Together with 24 industry partners such as Langkawi Development Authority, Penang Global Tourism, Sarawak Convention Bureau, Borneo Convention Centre (BCCK), Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and Pullman Kuching, the formidable group hosted a “Spice Market” cocktail reception where a mock set-up of a thriving spice market was enacted to capture the country’s vibrancy and capabilities to conduct business events. Taking visitors on a time travel back 600 years complete with Arab, Chinese and Indian traders, the spice market saw attendees using supplied fake Malaysian currency for specialty items such as fabrics, spices and embroidery, amid featured activities such as Islamic and Chinese calligraphy, tea-making and Indian henna and batik painting.

While the concept had previously been showcased at previous tradeshows, MyCEB alongside partners Borneo Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and Pullman Kuching took this experience a notch higher by sponsoring the Malaysia Spice Market Restaurant. AIME attendees at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre were able to savour authentic Malaysian cuisine such as “nasi lemak” (fragrant coconut rice), “char kuey teow” (fried flat noodles) and “”satay” (barbecued meat on skewers).
MyCEB’s decision to play the culture card to highlight the country’s advantage for business events may be the key to pivot the destination to greater success. The country has seen a steady increase in visitors year-on-year, with business tourists making up 5 per cent of the 25.3 million tourist arrivals last year. The goal, however, is to bolster the figure to 8 per cent of total tourist arrivals by 2020, generating an estimated total revenue of RM168 million (US$54 million) for the local economy and also positioning Malaysia as one of the top five destinations in Asia Pacific for international meetings. MyCEB CEO Zulkefli Haji Sharif told micenet ASIA: “Malaysia has a true local flavour; a combination of the society that puts us at a competitive edge.”

Only established in 2009 by the Ministry of Tourism, MyCEB has managed to strengthen its global presence in the business events industry. Launched initially with a Business Events Unit (BEU), the team added an International Events Unit (IEU) to its portfolio – aimed at attracting major global events including those revolving around music, arts, entertainment, sports and lifestyle, on top of supporting home-grown events. With the appointment of Tony Nagamaiah to head IEU alongside MyCEB’s BEU general manager of sales and marketing Ho Yoke Ping, the association has managed to secure 24 bids for international association meetings in 2012, bringing in approximately RM342 million in economic impact. On the arts and culture front, the IEU was able to support major events such as the MTV World Stage 2012, J Lo Dance World Tour Concert and Future Music Festival Asia.

Unique push

But with competition heating up amongst Asian counterparts, MyCEB has to do more to win the hearts of MICE buyers. In 2011, it launched an incentive campaign aimed at leveraging Malaysia’s various unique selling points to event planners under four themes – unique venues, themed events, corporate social responsibility and team-building.
During a press conference, Mr Zulkefli highlighted the option of running themed events in culturally-strong areas such as Little India and Chinatown. “Participants can dress up in traditional Indian costumes when an event is held in Brickfields, which is a medium-sized neighbourhood just outside KL, dominated by the Indian community.”

One strong emphasis under the incentive campaign is Malaysia’s Let’s Meet and Green programme, which was first launched in 2010 in support of the government’s commitment to offset carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.
Just as sustainability gains traction in the Asian business events space, MyCEB’s programme operates on the simple premise where delegates of an event hosted in Malaysia can contribute a minimum of US$10, which will be channelled to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia’s tree-planting activities.
As the demand for unique venues grows and conventional event spaces see a decline in popularity, heritage off-site venues have never been more important. MyCEB has turned the Putrajaya Maritime Centre, Central Market and Thean Hou Temple into shell sites for off-site business event venues, which present the opportunity for meetings within the cultural and natural elements of Malaysia. Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding was also penned with Chin Swee Caves Temple, turning the Temple into its fourth shell site.