Destinations rely on convention and exhibition centres to attract prominent events for an economic boost. Are new and existing venues keeping up with recent market expectations and offering event organisers what they truly need?

Story by KRISTIE THONG

The standard tried and tested event format doesn’t seem to quite cut it these days. Unique venues are more sought after in the marketplace, with clients’ needs going beyond the ballroom and conferences held in large convention centres holding gala ginners or luncheons off-site. But while the shift is apparent, convention and exhibition centres remain relevant because they contribute directly to a country’s economic growth, due to the sheer size of events they are able to support.


That said, changing market expectations are prompting convention and exhibition centre owners to rethink their operating models. In recent years, Asia Pacific has seen a surge in the number of new convention and exhibition venues in the region. From the likes of the newly-opened Royal International Convention Centre in Brisbane to the Penang Waterfront Convention Centre slated to open in 2017, the newer venues own their fair share of expansive and flexible space for varying needs, and are also determined to offer event organisers the best technology available.
Business Events Council of Australia executive manager Inge Garofani says the Asia Pacific region is lucky with the facilities it has at hand between convention centres and hotels.
“However the market is growing and we need to ensure as an industry we are staying in front of the demand.”
She cites that almost all convention and exhibition centres in Australia have expanded or will be expanding, as with the case of Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre. But following expansion, the demand would have grown as well.
“Governments need to be very forward-thinking in planning sufficient space as the industry continues to grow in this region.”
One forward-thinking venue is the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre. Having hosted some major events for the past 16 years, it is undergoing a major facelift worth S$180 million (US$145 million) and will re-emerge with a modernised façade that pays attention to flexibility, functionality and convertibility while integrating a high degree of advanced technology.
The venue is expected to feature an impressive three-storey interactive video wall, on top of new retail outlets on the first and most of the second level, 36 convertible meeting rooms on the third level, and exhibition halls on the fourth that can be converted into premium entertainment spaces through sophisticated design features.
Suntec’s re-launch “will certainly attract even more business tourism MICE visitors and events, and enlarge the pie for all players in the market, which we foresee will lead to a positive impact on our business”, Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford executive assistant manager of sales and marketing Raymond Tait says.


The absence of Suntec in the past year has helped Fairmont’s adjacent convention centre establish itself as one of the leading MICE venues in Singapore. Located in the heart of the city next to a shopping mall with an inventory of over 2000 rooms at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford, the Raffles City Convention Centre offers 70,000 square feet (approximately 6500 square metres) of flexible function space. Home to 27 fully-equipped meeting rooms and three grand ballrooms, with the largest capable of accommodating up to 1800 guests banquet-style and 3000 theatre-style, it has hosted noteworthy events such as the first Asian Youth Games, APEC Summit, Youth Olympic Games and Formula One Singapore Grand Prix.

Raffles City Convention Centre has also become a fully compliant Eco-Meet Hotel and Meetings Venue since 2009, an accreditation recognising the hotel’s offers to minimise the ecological impact of meetings and events. Along with its two hotels, it also sourced out a local company to provide its waste cooking oil for direct bio-fuel conversion, and is actively engaged in sustainable seafood initiatives.
Over at Resorts World Sentosa, its edge is its ability to offer event planners more, by marrying MICE and leisure. As the owner of Southeast Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park and an expansive “oceanarium”, it also boasts a column-free ballroom that seats 6500 delegates and 20 different event venues, along with more than 1500 rooms in six luxury hotels.
Resorts World Sentosa vice-president of national MICE and group sales Theresa Gan believes RWS offers event planners an opportunity to take event experiences out of the ballroom. Past after-hours social networking dinners have been hosted at the Universal Studios, S.E.A Aquarium at Marine Life Park, and the waterfront promenade at the Maritime Experiential Museum. Its destination spa, ESPA at Resorts World Sentosa, also provides 10,000 square metres of luxury relaxation, making it a highlight on a busy conference itinerary for delegates.
Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld-Expo, situated close to the international airport, had hosted prominent events such as the Nu Skin Greater China Regional Conference 2012, which saw over 20,000 delegates. Comprising a purpose-built indoor seated AsiaWorld-Arena with a maximum 14,000-pax capacity and the convention and hospitality hall AsiaWorld-Summit, it recently saw a need to cater to a wider range of event formats. In December 2012, the Runway Suites was launched, offering 10 soundproof rooms that seat between 8 to 200 theatre-style.
“[The Runway Suites] complement in a perfect way by offering a combination of large or small meeting spaces for breakout sessions, which is ideal for events across all industries, particularly for content-rich programmes that require multiple meeting spaces of various sizes,” a spokesperson says.
Early this year, AsiaWorld-Expo has also received accolades for its environmental initiatives and a successful reduction in energy consumption.
Ms Garofani feels that while there has been a growing expectation for sustainability over the last decades, most venues have heard the call and catered to that. But convention venues ultimately face increasing expectations regarding costs.
“Many people need/want a convention centre but do not have a high budget, so centres are often faced with reducing budgets and this can be very difficult.”
Additionally, while sustainability and technology are good additions venues provide, she feels they may not be the key when deciding on a convention venue.
Bangkok’s IMPACT Exhibition Management Co., Ltd general manager Loy Joon How says venues need to gear up to meet the needs and expectations of clients, in a climate where MICE-related events are becoming more sophisticated in the way they are staged and the content they offer.
IMPACT Muang Thong Thani offers more than 140,000 square metres of event space, comprising four large multi-purpose buildings – IMPACT Arena, IMPACT Exhibition Center, IMPACT Convention Center and IMPACT Challenger Hall – with 12 exhibition and convention halls, one arena hall, two ballrooms, two banquet halls and 52 breakout rooms.
“The recent renovation of our old convention centre (now renamed IMPACT Forum) is an example of our commitment to continue to deliver to expectations, by modernising our venue and adding more meeting and function rooms to cater to smaller events and more,” he says.
The China National Convention Center in Beijing has hosted over 2000 meetings and events and 199 exhibitions, but its pride is its ability to provide international standard service to event organisers. On top of ensuring its ability in providing international clients with the background technological support for high-tech productions, the venue has also simplified its contracting process.
“Chinese law means that a local contract will appear less specific to an international client, compared to the regular international contract they will be used to signing. So China National Convention Center has developed an International Contract that can be signed in English as well as Chinese which includes all the regular details and specifics that they will expect to see,” the venue’s international senior director Jennifer Salsbury says.
It has also established an International Business Development Department that explains clearly to clients about protocols when organising events in China, such as VIP invitations, room set-up styles, banquet programmes, and paperwork processes.