Penang’s progress

MENTION Penang and images of Peranakan architecture and colourful trishaws come to mind. After all, George Town’s historic value merited inclusion in Unesco’s World Heritage Convention in 2007 for the colonial town’s unique blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures with European elements. But today, a new energy is alive in Penang.

Apart from being a heritage site, the state is also becoming an exciting arts destination. Since 2010, it has hosted the annual George Town festival, a month-long event featuring acts from Asia, Australia and beyond.

In 2012, festival director Joe Sidek commissioned Penang resident, Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic to create six murals. His art went viral. A steady stream of tourists now queue up daily to have their photos taken with the works. When the project is finally completed, George Town is expected to have 52 street sculptures from various artists on display, 24 of them already installed.

Sidek is not the only progressive thinker in Penang. Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, is determined to make the northern Malaysian state a world-class destination and manufacturing hub for electronics, with Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai providing inspiration.

The state is establishing itself as an emerging destination for incentive travel, with business tourists wanting to get a taste of Penang’s heritage. The Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) recognises the meeting and incentives industry as vital to Penang’s economy. Last year, business tourists visiting Penang for exhibitions alone spent an average US$3,500. That is more than double the usual national average spending of business tourists, at around $1,750.

Striving for the state to become a preferred location for the business events in the region, the Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) was set up in January this year to serve as the focal point for the co-ordination of meetings industry activities, assisting planners every step of the way.

Three months after the establishment of the PCEB, the bureau launched two publications: The Destination Experience Brochure and the Penang MICE Guide 2016-2017. The experience brochure makes it easier for planners to visualise the appeal of Penang, while the guide is a useful listing of more than 50 venues, including hotels and convention centres.

Penang will soon have new convention centres. The Setia Spice – Subterranean Penang International Convention and Exhibition Centre – is expected to be a game changer when it is completed in 2019. The 25-acre development comprises five components; the Spice Arena, Spice Aquatic Centre, Spice Canopy, Spice Convention Centre and Spice Hotel. It will be Penang’s largest indoor venue with a 13,000-person capacity, four ballrooms and a dozen function rooms. Also in the pipeline is the Penang Waterfront Convention Centre (PWCC) featuring a 10,000 sqm, column-free multipurpose hall that can be converted into a 9,000-seat arena for concerts.

As well as the convention venues, Penang has many hotels suitable for business events. The Eastern and Oriental Hotel Penang has always been a favourite among events planners for its historic legacy dating back to 1885, with 232 suites, two ballrooms and 10 function rooms. And the 221-room Lexis Suites, which opened this year, has a grand ballroom for 450 banquet guests, and four meeting rooms.

The Olive Hotel, across the road from the Spice site, is a 228-room property built to cater for meetings, conventions, banquets and other events. Its grand ballroom can sit 900 theatre style and there are seven meeting rooms. On the mainland, The Light Hotel is a five-star 303-room property with nine function rooms and a grand pillarless ballroom that can accommodate 1,200 people for a banquet. Also on the mainland is the recently opened 415-room St Giles Wembley Hotel with 3,000 sqm of meeting space comprised of a grand ballroom and 10 function rooms. The new
G Hotel Kelawai’s 208 rooms and six function rooms, and adjacent sister property, the 312-room G Hotel Gurney, have both been upgraded to stylish hotels after a $8.6 million renovation.

By the end of the year there will be a Hilton presence in Penang with the 317-room Double Tree Resort, equipped with a ballroom for 350 banquet guests, and three function rooms.

Shangri-La is also strengthening its presence with the rebrand of a 443-room property into a Hotel Jen Penang. This historic George Town district hotel has a ballroom for 320 banquet guests and nine function rooms.


Teambuilding activities

PCEB recently launched an “Experiences Unfiltered” campaign, aimed at giving business tourists a deeper appreciation of Malaysia’s oldest British outpost by allowing them to engage with the history, architecture, cuisine, and culture of Penang. Here are six of the best ways to do it:

1. Amazing Race Penang 

Launched last May, this activity is just like the TV show. Participants dash around the heritage streets of George Town on foot or trishaw to sample what local Penangites experience, with pit stops and challenges along the way.

2. Cooking school challenge at Tropical Spice Garden 

Penang is the home of Nonya or Peranakan cuisine, a blend of Chinese ingredients with Malay and Indonesian cooking techniques and spices plus more than a touch of Indian cuisine. The Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School teaches teams how to cook traditional Penang fare, such as Otak Otak (steamed fish custard in banana leaf), Malaysian classic Beef Rendang, and a South Indian Curry dish.

The group class is for a minimum of six and maximum of 20 people, with workstations designed for two to share. Companies like Dell, Schwabe Pharma, Osram, and Fox have held teambuilding events there.

3. DIY at Batik Factory 

One of northern Malaysia’s largest traditional Batik manufacturers offers the chance for groups to try their hand at the skill of hand drawing, hand blocking, or a combination of the techniques called hand painting. A tour of the factory gives a glimpse of the techniques and processes that go into this elaborate art.

4. Back to nature at Entopia, Penang Butterfly Farm 

Getting out of the office and into Entopia is definitely a breath of fresh air. With more than 15,000 butterflies and more than 200 species of plants, plus waterfalls, trails, and ponds, the venue is a natural paradise. Penang Butterfly Farm, Malaysia’s largest butterfly and dragonfly farm, is visited by more than five million local and foreign tourists yearly. It was rebranded as Entopia last year – a nature-learning destination. Groups can now work together to solve adventure quests while appreciating the venue’s natural beauty.


5. Nature trail at The Habitat 

This nature walk doubles as a history lesson. Starting at the top of Penang Hill Funicular Railway, the 1.6km trail passes through Penang’s oldest historic bungalows and through the theme park’s gardens, with lookout points to best appreciate Penang Hill’s rainforest and views of the Andaman Sea.


6. Extreme play at Escape 

Escape offers the exhilaration of extreme games in a natural setting, with activities that include negotiating  a three-level rope course, soaring high on a kite flyer, crawling through an underground burrow, or swinging through the trees like Tarzan.



Tel: +603 2034 2090


Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau

Tel: +604 261 6161


The Setia Spice

Tel: +604 643 2525


Tropical Spice Garden 

Tel: +604 881 1797



Tel: +604 888 8111

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