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Malaysia: Cosmopolitan city life, beaches and rainforests

Despite offering an attractive blend of cosmopolitan city life, beautiful beaches and a 130 million-year-old rainforest, Malaysia faces stiff competition from Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand as a meetings and incentive destination.

Behind the benign smiles, there is steely determination and cold hard cash pumped into making this south-east Asian country a major player in this part of the world.

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (the Centre) is expanding and due for completion this year, adding an additional 11,000sqm of flexible and multi-purpose space. This will allow even more events to take place simultaneously and give existing clients the opportunity to grow the size of their events.

“In tandem with the expansion, the Centre is consistently advancing a major refurbishment of the facility in line with changing meeting design and technology adoption,” says Alan Pryor, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s general manager.

You can’t talk about Malaysia without mentioning the food. The Centre is fully stocked in this arena, with 52 award-winning chefs who work at the 12 food stations who cater for up to 1,000 guests concurrently. “We also recently unveiled a brand-new line of 12 live cooking stations as part of a RM1 million (£185,650) investment in our state-of-the-art kitchen facilities and technology to ‘future-proof’ our capabilities and enhance the guest experience,” Pryor said.

Malaysia in pictures: Festivals, food and funiculars

In 2018, the Centre hosted six major events from the UK, including Girls Not Brides Global Meeting 2018 with 450 participants, Rail Solutions Asia (5,000 participants) and Wire & Cable Malaysia 2018 (8,000 participants).

“We achieved our highest-ever economic impact delivered to Malaysia of RM888 million (£166m) – an 80 per cent or RM395 (£73.3m) increase from 2017 – and largest number of participants welcomed in a calendar year, with 2.18 million (up 700,000 guests or an increase of 49 per cent from 2017),” Pryor said.

“Overall, we also hosted 1,485 events, a 17 per cent increase in number of events compared to 2017.”

In a major coup, Malaysia won the bid against China for the International Primatological Society (IPS) Congress 2022. This will be the first time the biennial congress will be held in Malaysia, and around 1,200 delegates are expected to attend. Borneo Convention Center Kuching will be the event venue.

A major factor was Sarawak’s proximity to Sabah and Indonesia, where there are primates living in the wild, as well as conservation centres which makes it convenient to hold congress training trips as a pre- or post-event.

Pearl of the Orient
Penang, on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, has attracted more than 1.4 million international visitors for the last two years. For a small island, it packs a punch with venues such as the Subterranean Penang International Convention and Exhibition Centre (SPICE), which is the largest outside Kuala Lumpur and caters for up to 10,000 delegates.

It is also the first hybrid solar-powered convention centre in the world. There’s also the Straits Quay Convention Centre, the Sunway Carnival Convention Centre and Seberang Prai Arena. The list is set to expand with the 25,083sqm Waterfront Exhibition and Convention Centre when it is completed in 2021.

“Penang hosted more than 2,000 business events in 2017, with the largest convention hosting 16,000 delegates from 70 countries,” Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) CEO Ashwin Gunasekeran said.

Malay is the official language in Penang, but English is widely spoken due to the fact the island was the first in Southeast Asia colonised by the British. For a taste of history, the E&O hotel, built in 1885 has had such luminaries as Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham stay here. In the Victory Annexe, there is the 300-seating capacity Macalister Ballroom.

Penang is directly accessible from 22 major local and regional airports, and over 100 local and international destinations via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2). The Penang International Airport is only a 30 minutes’ drive away from the heart of George Town, and a 50 minutes’ flight from KLIA.

Daniel Bainbridge, Malaysia Airlines’ regional manager UK, Europe & North America says the UK market remains a core part of Malaysia Airlines 2019/2020 strategy. “We offer two daily A350 aircraft from Heathrow Terminal 4 to Kuala Lumpur and onward connections through Malaysia and beyond. Malaysia Airlines also offers a dedicated UK-based support line for group bookings.”

Although better known as a beach holiday destination, Penang is keen to cash in on the meetings and incentive market. Beating off competition from 12 other destinations, Penang won the bid to host the first ICCA Asia Pacific Summit which will take place between 5-6 December 2019.

According to Gunasekeran, the UK is an important and growing target, “especially for corporate meetings and incentives segments. We recognise the potential of the UK market, hence our participation in The Meetings Show London where we debuted the Penang Pavilion in 2018, with seven partners. We return this year with a bigger pavilion and more partners to woo the UK market.”

New hotels to watch out for include Almari Penang with 453 rooms which opens in late 2020 and the Marriott Executive hotel in March 2022.

BUYER’S EYE
Alana Hamilton, business development manager, Black Tomato Agency

“A quality always found in a Four Seasons property is how well it adapts to its surroundings and seamlessly transports you from the busy streets to an urban oasis or from a sleepy road past the paddy fields to a hidden jewel beyond the high walls and towering palms.

I would most definitely continue to recommend twinning Kuala Lumpur with Langkawi – a night in the city really does enhance the ultimate chill once you reach Langkawi.

I have already spoken to some of our longstanding clients about my excursion and the notes on our trip have been very enthusiastically received.

From Harleys to heavy metal, from Yee Sang to Bijan, quad bikes to fishing boats and yachts, from mangroves and monkeys to sky bridges and satay – it was incredible and I am so looking forward to creating similar programs when I return with my clients.”

CASE STUDY
Sasha Loo, events director at S Events

The venue: Grand Hyatt

The event: Gala dinner for StellaTech, a blockchain company

Guests: 300

In summer 2019, S Events is organising a gala dinner in Kuala Lumpur for Stellatech, a launch event for investors to showcase products and services. The venue at the Grand Hyatt was chosen as Loo was impressed with the hotel manager. “As a small company, we really rely on relationships. I’m here in the UK and I can rest assured that everything is taken care of until it is necessary for me to be there. We want to make sure the delivery is spot-on.”

Everyone stayed at the Grand Hyatt, which has 411 guestrooms and suites and located in the heart of city, within walking distance to Golden Triangle shopping, dining scene and entertainment district. Most of the attendees are from KL as well as Hong Kong and Japan. “KL is somewhere I really want to continue to do a lot more work,” says Loo. “Logistically there are good flight options and it’s not too expensive. The infrastructure is good and it’s easy to get to, right in the middle of Asia.”

Who to contact

Email: Angeline van den Brocke

Director of global business development & marketing

Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau