Kuala Lumpur is a city on a mission. As the main gateway into Malaysia, it carries the bulk of the load in the country’s quest to become a top Asian destination for business events – specifically to reach the top five in Asia-Pacific by 2015 in the coveted list issued by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).
“The majority of meetings in Malaysia are conducted in Kuala Lumpur, where there is a huge concentration of five-star hotels and meeting facilities like the Sheraton, The Ritz-Carlton and Le Méridien,” notes Billy Leung, managing director of BMC Travel.
“Also, because most delegates are coming from various regional destinations – Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Manila and Singapore – it’s easiest for them to congregate in the capital.”
BMC Travel has worked on events for companies such as Allianz, Canon and L’Oréal to name a few.
If time permits, the company normally encourages clients to go for a multi-city itinerary – to see at least one Malaysian destination outside Kuala Lumpur. Perhaps, Malacca for history, Penang for heritage or Langkawi for nature.
“Kuala Lumpur offers a lot of texture. For example, there are now many traditional Chinese clan houses that are being leased out for events. So for an authentic Chinese-themed dinner that simulates a Chinese New Year celebration, a clan house would serve as the perfect venue.”
However, event experts like Leung are unanimous in saying that besides the official meetings and conferences, groups also prefer Kuala Lumpur for shopping, dining and entertainment.
The famed Pavilion, in the heart of the city, is a self-contained lifestyle district offering a surfeit of all three pleasures. It has six precincts, occupying an area of 120,774sqm.
“If you come for the shopping, there is no other place than Kuala Lumpur. It has become a shopping mecca,” says Leung.
Furthermore, any activity themed around food is very popular in the capital.
“One of the things that we can do is block off an entire street and invite all the hawkers in so that the group can enjoy all types of street food.”
With the Malaysian ringgit averaging about MYR3.5 against the US dollar, Leung points out that a budget of US$5 per person gives the event planner choice from a wide range of cuisines.
“The prices might be comparative with other Asian cities, but Kuala Lumpur has top quality and many more options are available,” Leung adds.
“The international and regional markets for business events have the highest yield, so we are switching into a proactive mode in business development and marketing role,” says Zulkefli Sharif, CEO of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), the events arm of Tourism Malaysia.
In ICCA’s 2008 rankings, Malaysia was placed eighth just behind Hong Kong, Australia and India, which were ranked fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. It has to overtake these territories to achieve its goal, and this will not come easy. Australia and Hong Kong are mature markets.
In four years, MyCEB expects to host 120 international conventions with visitors’ numbers reaching nearly 1.4 million and incentive groups numbering more than 300,000 participants.
“We want to maximise the number of delegates, maximise spend and maximise the length of stay,” Sharif says.
With the impact of the global economic crisis and the H1N1 scare in the past year, meetings professionals were feeling the pinch when many companies cut back drastically on spending and deferred their planned events to a later date.
The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (the Centre), the city’s premier conference and exhibition venue, found a creative way to bring corporate groups in without compromising quality and service standards.
“We offer value creation instead of discounting,” says the Centre general manager Peter Brokenshire. “We give fresh and flexible value-added options that cater to different budget size and types of functions.”
This was done through the “We Have a Deal For You” campaign launched last year, which synchronised clients’ needs with the Centre’s signature meetings products such as TenOnCall, a dedicated space of ten rooms for meetings organised on the fly, as well as Day Conference Packages that provide additional perks for larger groups on a full- or half-day meeting.
The Centre, which opened in 2005, has hosted 2,960 events in four and a half years with the number of participants exceeding 8.3 million. These events contributed an estimated MYR2.3 billion (US$691.82 million) to the national treasury.
The year 2010 is shaping up well for The Centre with some 44 conventions and exhibitions already on the events calendar by the end of February. These will bring in an estimated one million delegates. These, however, do not include banquets, meetings and entertainment performances.
Andy Soo, deputy general manager and head of the inbound division of Mayflower Acme Tours, is also expecting a better year for meetings and incentives of the business events market – his team’s primary bread and butter for the past 15 years.
Mayflower clients come mostly from the pharmaceutical and insurance fields.
“Budgets will be better than last year and group sizes will be slightly bigger,” he says. “There will be more incentive groups coming because of the pent-up demand from the previous years.”
His main concern, however, is putting a fresh and creative itinerary that delivers unforgettable experiences of the destination.
“I think business groups will be more cost conscious so that they can stretch their dollar. They may save on the trip by downgrading from Business to Economy Class or perhaps fly on a low-cost carrier. They will cut cost in certain areas so that they can spend more on the experiential element.”
Fortunately, Kuala Lumpur is a multi-faceted city gifted with a diverse landscape.
“We have everything in the city and all is within reach,” Soo says. “We have the access to Kampung Baru and nature even here in the city. Our venue options are varied from shopping malls to museums. Kuala Lumpur can easily meet any requirement.”
Tan Lay Teng, Mayflower account manager for MICE international sales, notes: “Virtually all programmes that we run are custom-fit to a specific group. We always try to showcase Malaysia’s multi-racial elements. North American and European groups love cultural elements in their itinerary. If it is an Asian group, we take note of the nationality because a predominantly Chinese group may not want an activity set in a Chinese temple. They would rather experience something they know of but haven’t actually seen.”
The Mayflower event teams make it a point to refresh their programme portfolio and get ideas overseas and tweak them for local application.
One of its highly commended programmes was an Amazing Race-type of activity that had a group of 300 people taking the local trains to go to Little India and Chinatown to experience tasks connected with the local ethnic community from learning how to tie a sari to making a flower garland.
Adam Kamal, managing director of Tina Travel and Agencies, observes that upscale hotels in the capital are on a par with their counterparts abroad in terms of quality and services and they surpass them in terms of flexibility. Tina Travel specialises in handling groups from India, which have requirements beyond the normal scope.
Kamal explains: “The peculiar thing about groups from India is that things often get changed in the itinerary at the last minute. Based on experience, we do not get the final rooming list until the group arrives at the destination. So we negotiate with the hotel to add or subtract five rooms as we go along.”
He adds: “Our groups require vegetarian food and sometimes they require the food is prepared a certain way. Fortunately, many hotels in KL now have one or more Indian chefs.”
Another challenge is that Indian groups start dinner late.
“The pre-dinner cocktails usually start at 8pm and last until 9:30pm. The kitchen normally closes at 10:30pm, so we ask them to prepare in advance the food that is most popular like rice, roti and naan.”
Many argue that one area where KL hotels do need to improve is their meeting package elements.
“Some items, such as the LCD projector and the lapel microphone, which are part of a standard meeting package in most hotels overseas are chargeable,” says Kamal.
Local meetings experts claim that the breadth and depth of the country’s portfolio of hotels gives companies a lot of choices even in places just outside Kuala Lumpur. For one, the Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside offers not only a range of meeting facilities but also a unique open-air amphitheatre – perfect for a creative event.
For Sydney Chua, sales and marketing manager of MP Travel and Tours, hotels in the Malaysian capital offer good value for money.
“You can get a four-star or five-star accommodation at around US$60 in Kuala Lumpur. In Jakarta, they can charge about US$80 for a stay in a four-star hotel, Bangkok averages between US$40 and US$50 and Singapore is around US$110.
Events professionals, faced with a Singapore revitalised by the opening of the integrated resorts this year, are unfazed by the intensified competition posed by its neighbour.
“There is enough business to go around. I think the cake is big enough,” says Soo of Mayflower.
Leung of BMC Travel agrees: “We are not afraid of competition. We welcome competition because we can excel in a situation where there is competition. “ n
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
Groups can learn how to make pewter the traditional way at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, writes Gigi Onag
Kuala Lumpur traces its roots back to a tin-mining community in the 1850s. So it is perhaps inevitable that one of Malaysia’s iconic brands is the 125-year-old Royal Selangor. This is the world’s largest pewter manufacturer and retailer, whose product catalogue has since diversified to include elegant tea sets, captivating photo frames and intricate desk accessories. Tin is the main component in making pewter.
Groups with time to spare should make the 20-minute drive from the city centre to the company’s headquarters and factory at Setapak Jaya to visit the 3,716sqm Royal Selangor Visitor Centre.
The free half-day tour provides a glimpse into the Malaysian capital’s history from a unique perspective.
Built six years ago, the visitor centre is part of the company’s commitment to educate people on the country’s heritage in pewter-making. The facility is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Right at the front of the foyer by the centre’s entrance, visitors are greeted by the world’s largest tankard. With a 1.7m width, a height of 1.98m and weighing 1,557kg, it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records. The tankard was made to mark the company’s centennial in 1985. Its resting place is now a favourite spot for picture taking.
To enter the building, visitors step on a travelator that moves up to the main entrance. Gradually, a wall lined with hand prints cast in pewter comes into sight. The hand prints belong to factory staff who have stayed in the company for five years or more.
The tour has three sections: the gallery and museum tour, the factory tour and the retail outlet tour. The centre is staffed with guides fluent in English, Malay, Mandarin and Japanese.
The gallery traces the history of Royal Selangor through photographs of the company’s first stall in downtown Kuala Lumpur as well as vintage photographs of the landscape from the late 19th century all the way to the present. The museum exhibits pewter artefacts from decades past and old-style pewter-making tools. The museum also has an experiential zone – The Hall of Finishes display panels of different pewter surfaces that visitors are allowed to touch, while the Chamber of Chimes allows visitors to discover the sound emitted by a chime made of pewter as opposed to a chime made of wood, plastic or bamboo.
The factory tour comes next and visitors are acquainted with the different processes involved in pewter-making. While the manufacturing processes have largely been mechanised, a significant amount of handcraft is still employed in creating the final product.
While there, depending on the time and day, groups may see Royal Selangor craftsmen creating made-to-order corporate gifts.
The last part of the tour is a visit to the retail outlet, showcasing the company’s current products on sale. The range of products now includes fine jewellery under the Selberan Jewellery brand.
An optional part of the tour, but a must-have for groups visiting the centre, is taking part in the centre’s School of Hard Knocks. It is a group activity where each individual gets a first-hand experience in the art of pewter making by using traditional tools: hammer, mallet, wooden mould and scraper.
An experienced pewtersmith is on hand to guide the group through the processes of forming, scraping, polishing and packing their personal pewter dish that they engrave with their own initials.
At the end of the exercise, the group also takes home their “apprentice pewtersmith” apron and a personalised certificate of their newfound skills.
The workshop costs RM50 (US$15) per person and can be organised in groups of five to 50 people simultaneously. For larger numbers, groups can be divided so that they alternate the tour and workshop.
Groups can also hold their functions at the visitor centre. It has a theatrette, equipped with the latest audiovisual equipment, and can hold 120 people.
Groups can end their tour at the recently opened The Café on the centre’s ground with light lunch or afternoon snacks. Items on the menu include Western or Asian set lunch, pastries, cakes and coffee. N
BERJAYA TIMES SQUARE KUALA LUMPUR
Ideal for groups looking for a meeting venue right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s central business district . With easy access to the monorail just outside its door, this 650-room property has a 1,764sqm pillarless ballroom that can hold up to 2,000 people. For smaller meetings, eight function rooms of various configurations can seat groups from 20 to 170 people.
HILTON KUALA LUMPUR HOTEL
The hotel’s Level Seven, a multi-event venue, is renowned for its communal space where groups can gather in a relaxed non-competitive setting. It has three suites and a capacity for standing cocktails of 180 people. The comforts of home are recreated with spacious living rooms and a plush lounge to offer meeting participants the ultimate relaxation during coffee breaks. A unique feature is the switchable “magic glass” panels, which give aesthetic and functional flexibility to internal wall partitions. Wall partitions can take on a clear or opaque appearance, where daylight transmission can be regulated, or can become a massive flat-screen with remarkable image clarity – all at the flick of a switch.
HOTEL NIKKO KUALA LUMPUR
A stone’s throw away from the Centre, the Nikko features an extensive meetings and conferences facility on level two with a Grand Ballroom that can cater to a group up to 1,300 delegates and a Junior Ballroom that can hold groups of up to 300 people. Both ballrooms boast high ceilings measuring nine metres and eight metres respectively. There are five breakout rooms available that can be configured to host gatherings of 18 to 70 people. There are also three function rooms on level one for intimate meetings between ten and 50 people.
MANDARIN ORIENTAL KUALA LUMPUR
This upscale property is adjacent to the convention centre, making it an ideal base for groups attending events at Malaysia’s premier conference and exhibition facility. But the hotel has an impressive portfolio of meeting spaces too, spanning three floors. The Grand Ballroom is large enough to hold a Boeing 747 and frequently hosts car launches with convenient access from its loading bay. It has glass panels overlooking a green park.
TRADERS HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR
This Shangri-La property has a direct access to the convention centre. With the hotel located within the centre, groups of any size have the venue’s diverse meeting spaces at their disposal. There are six function rooms in the business centre on level eight that can hold groups of between ten and 15 people. Traders Club Lounge on level 32 allows for slightly bigger gatherings of up to 30 guests.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s main gateway, offers options for multi-modal travel.
More than 40 international airlines, including flag carrier Malaysia Airlines and home-grown budget airline AirAsia, connect the country to the world. There are also ferry services that provide sea links to Thailand, Singapore and the Indonesian islands of Batam and Sumatra. For great train journeys, rail operator Eastern & Oriental Express links the cities of Singapore and Bangkok, passing through Kuala Lumpur and includes a tour of Penang’s capital Georgetown.
Warm weather all year-round with temperatures between 21ºC and 32ºC.
Most nationalities do not require an entry visa, but they must have a passport with a minimum validity of six months beyond their intended period of stay in the country. Check the www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my website for more information.
Malay is the official language with English being spoken widely. Different ethnic groups also speak local dialects, including Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tamil and Hindi.
Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB)
MUST SEE AND DO
Petronas Twin Towers
Get on the Skybridge on the 41st floor for a breathtaking view of the city
Visit the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve and eat at the Seri Angkasa Revolving Restaurant
The famous Independence Square is a good starting point to explore the city’s heritage sites
Watch the daily changing of the guards at the resplendent residence of the King of Malaysia
The Heritage Centre
Join a guided tour to gain an insight into Malaysia’s architectural heritage
tel: 603 2161 1448
MAYFLOWER ACME TOURS
tel: 603 9232 1888
MP TRAVEL & TOURS
tel: 603 2142 7177
TINA TRAVEL & AGENCIES
tel: 603 4257 8877