It may be advertised around the world as “Truly Asia”, but Malaysia also has plans to star on the silver screen. According to Pinewood Studios, one of the global film industry’s leading production services players, Malaysia is the hot new filming location. The studio recently opened a state-of-the-art film and television studio facility in the southern state of Johor, and the Malaysian government is offering financial incentives to filmmakers to shoot movies here. Hollywood directors Michael Mann and Luc Besson are among the eminent names already scouting the country for locations.
Such Hollywood hype means that Malaysia is probably about to become the number-one destination for meeting and incentive programmes. Buyers should try not to be fashionably late to this party.
Malaysia certainly boasts blockbuster landscapes, ranging from the fast-changing urban dynamism of the capital Kuala Lumpur (known locally as KL) to the colourful colonial architecture of Georgetown; the pristine rainforests of Sarawak and Sabah to the beautiful islands just off the east coast. These natural and man-made backdrops are also increasingly being incorporated into business events and incentives programmes.
In 2012, Malaysia welcomed more than 25 million tourist arrivals, with tourism receipts of US$20.2 billion, up 4 per cent from 2011. The country is now targeting 36 million annual arrivals by 2020, and a key sector identified for growth is major sports, art and entertainment events. High-profile annual events currently include the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix and the Future Music Festival Asia, while top European football teams – which this year include Chelsea and Barcelona – visit KL each summer to play pre-season matches.
Riding the events wagon
The business events sector is benefiting from this focus on major events. The prestigious Toastmasters International World Convention 2014 will be held in the Malaysian capital, and KL will also host the 127th International Olympic Committee meeting in 2015, during which the 2022 Olympic Winter Games host city will be announced.
To entice meetings, incentives and exhibitions planners, the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) offers the so-called Malaysia Twin Deal programme in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The deal aims to enhance the success of visits by offering rewards to groups. Taking its name from the Petronas Twin Towers, the “twin” aspect of the deal is the two categories: one for groups of 50-500, and the other for groups in excess of 500. Rewards range from a range of Malaysian cultural performances for gala dinners to team-building activities, city tours and shopping vouchers.
Malaysia’s event managers are witnessing increased demand for creative events. Jonathan Seevaratnam, founder of KL-based Jiggee Event Management, says: “Inbound events are strongest from China and India, especially for incentives groups. This has been a rising trend for the past decade.” In 2012 Jiggee Event Management was one of only three firms from Asia nominated for the Special Events Gala Awards held in Chicago. Jiggee’s recent projects have included a “Chicago” themed gala dinner for Hess, a “Superheroes & Cartoons” party for Henkel, and a launch event for Simplysiti cosmetics.
“In terms of events facilities and supplier services, KL is world class now,” says Seevaratnam. “One slight drawback is that most new technologies typically hit Singapore, Jakarta and even Bangkok first before reaching our shores, but KL is still the cheapest city in Southeast Asia to produce business events. You get the most bang for your buck here.”
Talk of the town
KL’s status as a hub for international businesses to network within Southeast Asia and beyond is encouraging clients to be more experimental. Ajay Gorasia, managing director of KL-based Big Bash Media, says: “Event themes are strongly influenced by what is considered to be trending and hip at that moment in time. Having an event that is different and unique drives mileage with the media and hopefully brings new business opportunities, so clients are being more selective about the venues they choose. Being the ‘talk of the town’ is key.”
One of Big Bash’s recent projects was a branding event for Eli Lilly, targeting key medical professionals. The challenge was to build the event around the product’s main branding symbol: a jet plane. “We managed to secure a location on the tarmac of the private jet terminal at Subang Skypark Airport in KL,” says Gorasia. “Speakers introduced their products, on a stage designed as a small runway, to the backdrop of private and commercial jets taking off. Obviously the venue isn’t used to hosting events, so we had to carefully coordinate our schedule with the airport flight plans so as not to disrupt their ground traffic.”
Location variation is ever more important. As event creativity diversifies, over the next five years KL will boast a strong upscale hotel market and a greater range of event locations. That’s not to say the current landscape isn’t impressive. Jiggee’s Seevaratnam says: “At the moment, I’d say Zebra Square KL [facebook.com/zebra.sq.kl], Marini’s on 57 [marinis57.com] and Heli Lounge Bar [facebook.com/heliloungebar] are smart venues that are in strong demand.”
Also in demand is Federico Asaro’s Samadhi Retreats portfolio of two boutique hotels – Villa Samadhi in KL and JapaMala Resort on Tioman Island – plus restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore. In particular, Tamarind Springs, [samadhiretreats.com] which is surrounded by dense rainforest just 15 minutes drive from KL, is a coveted venue for dinner-based events.
Asaro, who is also a co-founder of the Secret Retreats hotel collection says: “We’ve hosted many types of dinners, ranging from F1 to fashion shows and most of the multinational companies based in KL. Our dinners are customised to guests’ requests, and we also have our own thematic dinners under the ‘Dine by Design’ tagline. These special events can be anything from flying guests out to specially selected areas for an amazing rainforest trek followed by a gourmet lunch or dinner, to a ‘dream state event' set in one of our venues, where guests are surrounded by live statues.”
Case study: Clowning around in Sarawak, Kuching
In late February, the city of Kuching in Sarawak played host to the 2013 World Clown Association Convention. Some 160 clowns from around the world gathered together for five days of jovial networking, skills workshops, fun performances and, of course, colourful costumes and makeup.During the event, the Share a Smile Day saw small groups of clowns from Malaysia, Japan, India, the US, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada and the UK take their performances into local hospitals, schools and care centres to bring some laughter into people’s lives.
A charity clown show was also held at the host hotel set against a Sarawak rainforest themed backdrop, with guests including kids from a number of local children’s homes.Chew Chang Guan, general manager of the Sarawak Convention Bureau, says: “It was probably the most vibrant convention we have ever hosted. It was the first time the World Clown Association has held its convention in Asia, and it enabled clowns from the region to take part and learn new skills – which added to the multicultural nature of the event. Everybody laughed a lot and had great fun, and the association was also able to entertain people in local communities, which was a key objective.”
Adventurous incentives in Sarawak
Malaysia’s business events sector is diversifying and there is an increase in demand for business events beyond Kuala Lumpur, explains Ho Yoke Ping, general manager of sales & marketing for MyCEB. “Penang, Langkawi, Sabah and Sarawak are becoming increasingly popular among the incentives market,” he says.
A relatively unknown destination a decade ago, the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo is increasingly appealing to conventions and incentives managers. Philip Yong, managing director of Borneo Adventure, says: “Facilities in Sarawak have improved significantly in recent years. The Borneo Convention Centre in Kuching is an excellent facility that can host large events that were previously not possible.”
Sarawak’s myriad offerings include forested national parks, caves and beaches, ethnic cuisines and unique, abundant wildlife, plus excellent infrastructure. Chew Chang Guan, general manager of the Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB), says: “Sarawak is a land of natural beauty, history and culture. We try to differentiate Sarawak by highlighting the unique elements of adventure and exploration.”
The SCB’s recent focus on association business has seen it win events ranging from the 2015 Asia and Oceania Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology to the 13th Asia Pacific Orchid Conference in 2019. Incentives also offer significant potential. “Clients in Asia and worldwide are looking for fresh destinations that are less ‘big city’, especially if they can deliver strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities that add real value to the programme,” says Guan.
Sarawak’s community-based initiatives include conservation programmes such as Heart to Heart with Orangutans, which enables delegates to work with a park ranger at the Matang Wildlife Centre, which rehabilitates orphaned and rescued orangutans, followed by a visit to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, where older orangutans live semi-wild in the jungle. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity enables delegates to help with home construction in local villages, and other forestry preservation projects are popular with incentives groups.
Another intriguing element is the Tribal Wisdom Speaker programme, where successful business people and artists from Sarawak’s ethnic tribes share their life experiences with delegates, revealing how their tribal ancestry has influenced their success.
ACCESS Most groups visiting Peninsular Malaysia fly to the impressive Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which will open a second terminal, KLIA2, later this year
(klia.com.my). Groups heading to Sarawak fly to Kuching International Airport, which is a only a short drive from the city (malaysiaairports.com.my/index.php/international/kuching-international-airport).
CLIMATE Malaysia has an equatorial climate with hot, relatively uniform temperatures up to and over 30?C during the day and
20-24?C at night, high humidity and abundant rainfall. The wettest months are November to February, though it can rain at any time of the year.
VISA Most nationalities are allowed visa-free entry to Malaysia for periods ranging from two weeks to three months. Passports should have six months’ validity on entry. For more details visit malaysia.visahq.com
LANGUAGE Bahasa Melayu is the lingua franca, though English is spoken fluently in the business and tourism industries. Cantonese and Mandarin are widely spoken in Chinese communities, and Indian languages are well represented.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Opened in 2012, this luxurious 412-room hotel is adjacent to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. The hotel’s six meeting and events venues include a Grand Ballroom and the residential styled Grand Residence.
The Majestic hotel
Reopened in 2012 after a major revamp, this heritage hotel first opened in 1932. Located opposite the old Moorish rail station, its offerings include the Majestic Ballroom, with seating for up to 1,200 guests, plus a total of 16 meeting and banquet spaces.
Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Opened in early 2013, this 482-room hotel is located in the KL Sentral business district near the main rail hub. The funky design features and a rooftop pool are combined with eight meeting and function spaces, including an impressive Grand Ballroom.
Scheduled to open in 2013 is the 513-room Pullman Kuala Lumpur in the Bangsar district. It will feature two ballrooms and 11 meeting rooms. Late 2014 will see the opening of the 200-room The St Regis Kuala Lumpur at KL Sentral, including a Remède Spa.
Further ahead, the 150-room W Kuala Lumpur is projected to open in early 2016, while the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur at KLCC is scheduled to open in 2017. In 2018, KL is also slated to become home to the Harrods Hotel Kuala Lumpur, the first of three super deluxe hotels being developed by the London department store’s Qatari owners.
Jiggee Event Management
Big Bash Media
Borneo Adventureemail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau:
Malaysia major events:
Sarawak Convention Bureau:
Borneo Convention Centre Kuching: