Few destinations can create more excitement for business travellers and convention attendees than Malaysia.
STORY BY LEILA BOTHAM
Malaysia is a land of cloud-piercing skyscrapers, world renowned cuisine, lush rainforests, sandy beaches and some of the friendliest folks around. From the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur, to the grand colonial past celebrated in Penang, across the sleepy beaches of Langkawi and the lovable orang-utans of Sabah, Malaysia has a character full of warmth and diversity. It promises the perfect blend of work and play, so it is not surprising that Malaysia has been steadily growing MICE business in recent years.
Start with the capital
Many journeys to Malaysia begin and end in Kuala Lumpur – an intoxicating city full of contrasts. Stunning skyscrapers like the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur Tower and the Maybank Tower are juxtaposed with vast expanses of greenery and forest that try to reclaim the city by growing all the way up to multi-laned freeways. Look through the giant windows at The Pavilion shopping mall whilst buying the latest Versace or Prada handbag and you will see street hawkers selling copies from last season in Bukit Bintang. Salivate over roti canai at a local restaurant for seven ringgit at lunch, and then for dinner, indulge in crispy duck pancakes at Lai Po Heen at the Mandarin Oriental and you will be relieved that lunch was so cheap.
Perfect for the busy business traveller and convention attendee, Kuala Lumpur offers all of these experiences within a 10-15 minute walk from Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Wander out of your plenary session to be greeted by the Twin Towers and 50-acre KLCC Park, with a multitude of 4 and 5 star hotels only a stumble away.
The Traders Hotel, part of the Shangri-la chain, is adjoining the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre complex. The Mandarin Oriental is adjacent to the Convention Centre, and the Novotel, Crowne Plaza and Prince Hotel are all easily accessed via an air conditioned walkway from the Centre to The Pavilion – empirical evidence that no one should have to perspire when transiting between workshops and shopping nirvana.
Yet, there is much more to Kuala Lumpur than concrete towers and retail therapy. There are several great activities available only a short drive from Kuala Lumpur City Centre.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is still a buzz word in the business world. Carbon offsetting, planting trees, building schools – most organisations have a CSR policy and offering unique opportunities for delegates to ‘give back’ to the local community or environment is growing in popularity.
Located a short two hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any animal lover. With no entrance fees except for a request for donations to help the homeless elephants, visitors can hand-feed and bathe these gentle giants. If time is of the essence, then arranging tree-planting sessions at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) may help alleviate any carbon related guilt after a lengthy international flight.
Do you have a bus-load of adrenaline junkies attending your event? This is an exciting team-building activity bound to create a little healthy competition and rivalry – hot-lapping around the Sepang International Circuit, located near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Let your delegates jump in a go-kart and channel their Schumacher and Hamilton race pedigree around one of the most modern and high-tech tracks on the F1 circuit.
If there is one team-building activity that everyone is jumping on board for, it is dragon boat racing. Over 2000 years old and originally part of an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers, dragon boat racing with its pulsating drum and rhythmic movement is a fantastic way to get the endorphins pumping, the team synergised and competitive spirit bubbling.
Kuala Lumpur is a fantastic and convenient destination, so some people forget to consider other options further afield… but they would be grievously mistaken as Malaysia has much more to offer that is too good to be missed.
Beyond the capital
Located an hour flight north-west of Kuala Lumpur in the Malacca Strait, Penang is one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations. Its colonial past and architecture charm visitors, and locals will try to convince you that their delicious hawker fare is the best in Malaysia.
One fact about Penang that cannot be questioned is that Georgetown, the capital of the island, is an historic treasure. UNESCO added Georgetown to the World Heritage List in 2008, and Penangites couldn’t be prouder.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is the epitome of colonial grandeur with a rich 127-year history. Opened in 1885 by the Sarkies brothers who went on to establish The Raffles in Singapore and The Strand in Rangoon, be transported back in time when travel by sea and rail were refined affairs reserved for the glitterati of the era. The MICE facilities at the Eastern & Oriental are equally elegant, with a 400 pax ballroom with royal boxes and gallery, along with six function suites accommodating between 15 and 150.
Whilst there is an abundance of nightlife to keep guests in high spirits, there are also lots of other activities to keep them entertained (and in contrast, sober). Try group or team building activities to hone their physical or culinary skills and reactivate their minds after long conference sessions.
Hosting a team of fitness fanatics? Then challenge them with the ancient Chinese street art called Chingay. They will stop in their tracks when they realise that they need to participate in a flag parade whilst balancing a 25 feet tall flagpole weighing 60 pounds. No easy feat and usually left to the Chingay masters who perform at the Chinese New Year Celebrations. It is a great way to build morale and create a lot of trust amongst team members – especially when someone is tossing a 60-pound pole at you!
Not wanting too much physical activity? Don your chef’s hat and try your hand at masak-masak – literally ‘play cook’. Think Malaysian Masterchef for team building! Participants will pitch their culinary efforts against the others and if you are lucky, perhaps you can sweet-talk your way onto the judging panel to taste all the amazing creations!
If you are intrigued by the gorgeous architecture in Georgetown, then consider a trishaw treasure hunt highlighting all the key monuments and areas in town. It is a fantastic way to see the sites, build some team spirit whilst a lovely trishaw driver is doing the hard work for you! Why walk when you can hire pedal power?
If Georgetown isn’t your cup of tea, then there are popular MICE hotels along the north coast beaches of Penang. Batu Feringghi is beachside heaven – a long white sand stretch of oceanfront that offers plenty of evening entertainment for the adventurous socialites in your group.
Batu Feringghi is perfect for the sportier types with wind-surfing and parasailing available along the beach. When looking for a hotel, it is difficult to go past Shangri-la’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa. Covering 30 acres of luscious gardens, delegates have access to the award-winning CHI spa, par-3 executive golf course, floodlit tennis courts, mahjong pavilion and health club during their stay.
The Pelangi Ballroom holds 400 people banquet style and is linked to 14 other meeting rooms – great for break out rooms, secretariat facilities and concurrent sessions. This resort and Penang as a destination assures that your delegates will be talking about the convention for long after the closing plenary session.
Still lost for ideas on ways to connect delegates with the true Penang, with all its cultural quirks and rich history? Send everyone back to the days of the Malacca Sultanate in the conceptual event called “spice market”. Participants travel 600 years into the Malaysian past, where a mock set-up of a thriving spice market is enacted complete with Malay, Arab, Chinese, Indian, Javanese and Burmese traders. Hone your negotiation skills by haggling with traders wanting to cash in on their enviable hauls from the seven seas.
Perhaps Kuala Lumpur and Penang are still a little too intense and you would prefer a quieter destination – an opportunity to reconnect with nature and indulge in a little zen. Travel south east of Kuala Lumpur to Borneo, home to the largest Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Already popular with eco-tourists, expect towering mountains, colourful coral reefs and some of the most affable orang-utans you could ever hope to meet.
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and houses many luxurious resorts. Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu, only 15 minutes from the international airport offers superior business event facilities within an idyllic environment. The hotel has eight meeting rooms and a ballroom that seats up to 370, all minutes from the beach and within walking distance to the marina for boat transfers to nearby islands.
Though fabulous resorts can be found all over Malaysia, the uniqueness of Sabah and Sarawak lies in the stunning natural surroundings. Only a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu is the magnificent Mount Kinabalu – the 20th tallest mountain in the world, and the highest in the Malay Archipelago. Also awarded a UNESCO World Heritage status, the lower peaks can be scaled by those with a decent fitness level, and provides stunning views of the surrounding forest and parklands.
Another truly memorable experience is the Great Ape Encounter. Delegates can choose to spend the day caring for our Darwinian cousins, the orang-utans. Invest in the conservation and preservation of the endangered pongo pygmaeus, also known as the Bornean orang-utan. They are the third heaviest primate after two species of gorilla, and is the largest truly tree dwelling animal alive today. The opportunity to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures is sure to lift any delegates spirits after a long day of meetings and talks.
For those of a more sea-faring nature, the coral enrichment and reef cleaning programs available in coastal areas of Sabah, Langkawi and Pahang may proffer more satisfaction. Alternatively, attendees may like to participate in turtle hatchery programs to assist these endangered species to live on for generations to come.
There are countless ways to reconnect with nature and help reduce the impact of mankind on the plant and our animal friends whilst in beautiful Sabah and Sarawak.
Spoilt for choice
It is simple to see why Malaysia is an up-and-coming MICE destination. World-class convention facilities and hotels, breathtaking natural beauty and a rich history all combine to create an intriguing and desirable location for any type of MICE event. It is an aspirational travel spot that encourages delegates to book tickets to conventions and conferences that they previously were not convinced to attend.
Whilst there are innumerable activities, both organised and independent for delegates to participate in, Malaysia also offers ample entertainment to soak up many an hour for partners and families accompanying delegates.
When choosing Malaysia, the trickiest decision will be where to go, as you are most definitely spoilt for choice! But now with the assistance of the Malaysian Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) it has never been easier to book your next event in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Sabah or any other glorious destinations in beautiful Malaysia. MyCEB provides a range of complimentary support services for event planners and can help remove the stress and headaches of organising conventions and events.