Empowering Penang’s MICE industry


More than just building the expanding industry, the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau works hard at engaging business events players in the state.

Penang has been experiencing steady growth in business events over the past decade. Data gathering and industry analysis conducted by the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) reported in January this year that Penang hosted 1,251 business events in 2016, with an estimated economic impact reaching as much as RM808mil.

The bureau, which was established in 2016 to develop the state’s meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry, coordinates all MICE activities in Penang. “We provide expert assistance to organisations and MICE planners at every step of the planning,” says CEO Ashwin Gunasekeran.

Bidding 101

“PCEB actively bids for conferences, meetings and events. We have a full-time in-house researcher who goes through the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) database to produce leads, especially for association meetings. We actively pursue and engage Penang-based associations and associations that have secretariats based in Penang. We also identify associations that have the potential to be local hosts and engage them to convert leads gained by our researcher,” Ashwin explains.

The press conference of BE @ Penang 2017.

To do that, the researcher first analyses the leads and assesses the viability of the bid for Penang before engaging with the conference owner. “Should the owner consider Penang a potential destination, PCEB will enter into the bidding process, after which we will identify the local host to invite them onto the bidding committee.

“We will also liaise with state and local government bodies, strategic partners, professional conference organisers and other stakeholders before selecting suitable meeting venues, accommodations, activities and products that meet the conference’s needs

“Next, we proceed to coordinate and prepare the bidding documents, promotions and presentations. The bidding documents will be submitted before we go into the bidding process. Once we’ve won the bid, we engage the stakeholders and provide support where needed – host site inspections for key decision makers, provide pre- and post-tour options, and support the local host in the lead up to the event by providing assistance with marketing and promotion, and government support and liaison.”

This includes organising a post-event familiarisation tour, such as the one arranged for the Asia Meeting and Incentive Travel Exchange (AMITE) at Bangkok recently. “PCEB, together with our Penang industry partners, hosted half of the 32 elite MICE buyers, showcasing Penang’s best. We also hosted multiple networking sessions and a B2B session matching the buyers with local hotels and destination management companies.”

How Does Penang Fare?

BE @ Penang serves as catalyst for PCEB to develop Penang into a matured and competitive business events destination.

Currently, Penang ranks 54 in the ICCA country and city rankings for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, and is the top second-tier Malaysian destination since 2015. PCEB launched a brand campaign, “Experiences Unfiltered”, to market Penang as the ideal business events hub.

“We are strongly focusing on our key markets – Asia Pacific, the UK and Europe – and as such, we are building relationships with the media in these regions,” says Ashwin. “Presently, our emphasis is on creating brand awareness – both of Penang as a MICE destination and of PCEB. From our marketing exercises and partnership with the media, we have been approached by buyers and have had new leads at the trade shows that we attend.”

As an important second-tier business events destination, Penang’s infrastructure has happily kept up with this role, such as the RM350mil Setia SPICE Convention Centre and the refurbished SPICE Arena. “In the pipeline is the RM450mil Penang Waterfront Convention Centre, slated for completion in 2021. As of now, the largest group we have hosted is 18,000. In the future, Penang will be able to support groups of larger sizes, and with the addition of name-brand hotels and residences managed by the likes of Hilton, Ozo, Marriott and Banyan Tree, Penang would also be able to attract MICE clients with higher spending capacity.”

Though having gone to great lengths to position Penang as the ideal business events location, such as the waiving of visa requirements for Chinese tourists visiting Malaysia for 15 days or less, Ashwin observes that there is room for improvement, specifically with the availability of more direct flights into Penang from key MICE destinations in China, India and Asia Pacific. “Another would be special customs checkout lanes dedicated to processing MICE delegates. The ‘MICE Express Lane’ not only works for seamless customs processing, but also makes for a good first impression to foreign delegates coming into Penang.”

BE @ Penang 2017

PCEB also organises a business events industry engagement conference, and this year, Business Events @ Penang (BE @ Penang), takes place on December 7-8 at the Setia SPICE Convention Centre. With the theme “BE EMPOWERED”, it is a follow-up to last year’s theme, “BE ENGAGED”, which called upon the delegates to form “Team Penang”.

Equatorial Hotel Penang General Manager Andreas Knussi and Ashwin Gunasekeran.

The conference aims to encourage industry players to communicate, collaborate and capture businesses for Penang. As members of Team Penang, PCEB wants them to be empowered when it comes to sourcing for leads, and collaborate on bidding and winning the bids for Penang.

“As Penang’s first home-grown business events industry conference, it is vital for BE @ Penang to be seen as the benchmark for organising meetings in Penang,” says Ashwin. “The conference is designed in tandem with meetings and conference trends worldwide, bringing in expert speakers from around the globe to Penang to share their knowledge.”

Headlining the conference is the keynote speaker Roy Sheppard, a specialist conference facilitator and moderator. He is to run a key session for C-Level executives, answering high-level burning questions shifting their archaic paradigm models into something the executives can take back to sell to their internal shareholders.

Sheppard will be joined by industry experts Jason Yeh, founder and CEO of GIS Group and the Chair of ICCA Asia Pacific; Gracie Geckie, CEO of Place Borneo; and professional conference organisers Fu Kei Cheong and Rahul Bharadwaj of Anderes Fourdy. Among the topics to be deliberated are technology in business events, gearing for the future, effective bidding, attracting association meetings and marketing to Europe.

“BE @ Penang 2017 welcomes meeting planners, destination management companies, professional conference organisers, suppliers, and MICE owners and buyers from anywhere in the world who are interested in doing business in Penang,” adds Ashwin.

BE @ Penang 2017 is co-organised by Anderes Fourdy, one of Malaysia's leading Professional Conference Organisers, which has been working hand-in-hand with the PCEB team on the programming and logistics of the conference.

The conference is supported by Setia SPICE Convention Centre, and partner hotels Hotel Equatorial Penang and Vistana Hotel Penang. It is also supported by the Malaysia Association of Hotels, Penang Chapter.

Register for BE @ Penang 2017 at www. beatpenang.com. Registration fee for PCEB Industry Partners and MAH Members is RM400 for the first delegate and RM300 per person for the second and subsequent delegates. For non-PCEB and Malaysia Association of Hotels partners, the registration fee is RM500 for the first delegate and RM400 per person for the second and subsequent delegates.

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton. She has a mania for alliteration and Oscar Wilde.

Penang to Organise World Seafood Congress 2019

The World Seafood Congress (WSC) will be held for the first time in Asia in 2019, and it will be in Penang. The president of the International Association of Fish Inspectors (IAFI), Carey Bornell, announced this decision at the biennial conference in Reykjavik, Iceland last month.

Owned by IAFI, the WSC was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and is well regarded as a platform for marine life experts to discuss food security and seafood processing technology.

“It is a great honour to us that the first WSC in Asia will be held here. We get to create a legacy for the larger fishery and aquaculture industry in Asia,” says Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The Team Penang delegation directed by the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) and Penang Institute won the bid in competition with candidates from the rest of the world, including many major Asian and European countries. “We showcased the expertise, venues and services available in Penang to support and organise an international association congress. The state’s support for this congress is RM500,000 whereas the estimated economic impact of this 500-delegate three-day congress is estimated at RM3mil.”

Most significant is the global recognition Penang now receives as an important site for fishing and fish farming. Penang’s fishery sector recorded a revenue of RM1.3bil (US$300mil) in 2016, making it the largest fish farming state in Malaysia with fish farms located off Sungai Udang close to the second Penang Bridge, as well as off Pulau Jerejak. “We believe this congress will bring more awareness and innovation to our fishery industry, as well as expose ourselves to world standards and practices.”

Penang Institute is the local host and organiser for the 2019 congress.

Who is a Professional Conference Organiser?

A professional conference organiser (PCO)'s job entails various services, including bidding for a convention, budgeting and cash flow, timeline planning, marketing and promotions, vendor sourcing, registrations, abstracts management, sponsorships, housing, logistics, production and staging, staffing, and post-mortem.

“PCOs are categorised into core PCOs and local PCOs,” says Fu Kei Cheong, co-founder of My Meeting Partner by Anderes Fourdy, a Malaysian professional conference manager and business events consultancy. “Within the PCO community, both parties work in partnership – one as a client-servicing PCO to provide core services while the local PCO provides local services and support to the client.”

For the most part, PCOs work with non-profit associations, but they do collaborate with government bodies, NGOs and corporations as well. Fu’s Anderes Fourdy was the co-organiser of BE @ Penang 2016, and is working closely with PCEB for the 2017 edition. “At BE @ Penang 2016, we imparted much-needed knowledge to boost Penang’s business events industry. This year, we plan to have an even greater thrust into the industry and cut shorter the learning curve by injecting more prominent speakers and content.”

Though there are as yet no PCOs in Penang, Fu says secondary cities like Penang have a distinct appeal – quite unlike metropolitan KL. “Gravitating towards experiential travel and less of conventional ‘monument’ visits are perhaps a trend,” he observes. “Penang offers more of such adventure. On the other hand, while KL is focused on numbers, it is drowning in capturing a deluge of business events tourists. Still, one cannot discount the idea that Penang may one day be more favourable a business events destination than KL. After all, it has the infrastructure to rival the latter.”

Fu however urges that for its MICE industry to remain competitive, Penang has to enhance its tech knowledge. “Technology has proven to us time and again that it plays an important role in the MICE industry. Every element of the MICE business involves technology, whether it’s registrations, abstracts, travel arrangements, evaluations or other processes. Penang players must recognise and adopt technology as a prerequisite to enter the realm of adding value as a true professional.

“The ability and will to obtain more knowledge and the know-how, especially in the congress industry, is still somewhat lacking in Penangites. But I believe that persistent education and sharing may be one of the keys to overcoming this crippling barrier.”

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