Malaysia: what comes next?

Now firmly established on the international conference landscape, Malaysia is looking at the wider impact for the local community of hosting major events. Angela Antrobus reports

Malaysian destinations are beginning to consider the legacy international conferences leave behind. MyCEB (Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau) has launched a legacy advocacy programme and recently organised a Legacy Clinic attended by 20 representatives of 12 national associations hosting world congresses in Malaysia this year. The aim was to help them understand the power of legacy and explore creative ways to leave a lasting impact beyond tourism.

International congresses they are hosting include the IFLA World Library & Information Congress, the World Cancer Congress and the International Solid Waste Association World Congress, all of them in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (the Centre).

In its winning bid document submitted to the Union for International Cancer Control, the National Cancer Society Malaysia stated, “This is the region where cancer control, better advocacy on cancer prevention, care and support are needed most. This will ultimately be the legacy from this world congress.”

Sarawak, the Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, puts its own slant on the legacy impacts of congresses through its Redefining Global Tribes campaign. “Legacy building has always been at the epicentre of Sarawak’s business events,” says Amelia Roziman, COO of the Sarawak Convention Bureau. “We have always harnessed the power of the community and shared purpose to ensure that legacy building is here to stay.”

Last July, 550 delegates attended the 29th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (WCIASP) held in Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) in conjunction with the 21st Malaysian Conference of Psychological Medicine (MCPM). It was led by local host Sarawak Mental Health Association which has invested in efforts to remove negative connotations towards mental health and highlight its presence.

One of the outcomes was a pledge by Sarawak’s chief minister to increase funds allocated to create awareness of mental health problems and urge professionals to conduct more research on suicidal behaviour to provide a clearer picture of the extent of the issue in the state.

With its growing confidence and presence on the global conference stage, Malaysia is growing its infrastructure in order to accommodate more business events.

The long-awaited expansion of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre will be completed next year. It will add 11,000 sqm of multi-function space to the present 22,659 sqm, giving more room for larger international association meetings and exhibitions and for concurrent events and help attract more international events to Malaysia.

In Sarawak, the BCCK is located on an isthmus eight kilometres from the capital Kuching which necessitates bus transfers from the city hotels. Now the 16-storey UCSI Hotel has finally opened just behind the convention centre and, with 209 rooms and suites and extensive meetings and events facilities, is a valuable new amenity close by.

Following in the footsteps of Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, other destinations are beginning to put their mark on the business events map.

The Setia SPICE Convention Centre in the tiny state of Penang has been open for business since March last year. The world’s first hybrid solar-powered convention centre has a subterranean, pillarless ballroom which can seat 8,000 theatre-style or be subdivided, plus four additional meeting rooms. Together with Setia SPICE Arena it hosted 16,000 delegates of V-Malaysia in April and was supported by the recently formed Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) to prove that Penang is capable of hosting large-scale events.

Last year, the PCEB surpassed its RM1 billion (over US $250 million) target for business events, a 25 per cent increase over 2016. It works with all the local business events suppliers which make up Team Penang and encourages them to pursue leads in areas outside their conventional markets. New hotels are opening, new outdoor activities being introduced and there are plans to expand Penang Airport by 2025.

Heading north to Langkawi, one of Malaysia’s most popular islands, Langkawi International Convention Centre has been open for over three years. Set in lush, tropical rainforest, it’s a 20-minute drive from the airport and three kilometres from Kuah Town, the island’s shopping and commercial centre. The ballroom, seating 1,500 theatre-style, can be divided into three and there are seven additional meeting rooms.

The centre is managed by Westin and within walking distance of the beachfront Westin Resort Langkawi and the St Regis Langkawi where private dinners and parties can be held.

Sabah International Convention Centre in Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah on Borneo, should be fully operational by early next year. A major tourist destination and industrial and commercial centre, Kota Kinabalu is one of Malaysia’s fastest growing cities and currently gearing up for future conference business.

The centre, 20 minutes from the international airport, comprises five storeys, with a 5,200 sqm convention hall, a performing arts hall seating 1,200 people, further meeting rooms and a 7,000 sqm open plaza.

No challenge too complex for KL

The success of this year’s World Urban Forum (WUF9) in February in Kuala Lumpur was testament to the expertise of the teams at Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (the Centre).

They worked with Urbanice Malaysia (an arm of the Ministry of Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government) and the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) to organise the event which was attended by 24,333 participants from 165 countries, including 100 ministers and deputy ministers. The exhibition was the WUF’s largest ever with 100 booths from some 50 countries.

The UN Protocol required the Centre to be handed over to the UN, making the venue and its immediate surrounds UN territory during the seven-day Forum. This meant the Centre’s security team, which usually works closely with the Royal Malaysian Police, had to liaise directly with the UN-Habitat’s security experts, who are some of the best in the world, and gained invaluable knowledge which will enhance the safety of delegates at the venue in the future.

The biennial Forum has been held since 2002 and this year’s was themed ‘Cities 2030, Cities for All’. Its aim was to mobilise members of governments, civil servants, the private sector and academia to share knowledge and solutions for sustainable urban development and commit to the New Urban Agenda, in particular the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Cities 2030. Commitment to the 10 recommendations in the declaration was to be the legacy.

One challenge for the hosts was late visa applications by some participants from countries with no Malaysian embassies or high commissions but the immigration department of the Ministry of Home Affairs managed to obtain visa exemptions for WUF9 participants.

The sheer number of delegates and so many diverse cultures and languages, together with the need to string together quality programmes and events, presented a coordination and communications challenge for the organisers but they dedicated time and effort to understand what was needed and put on a good show for everyone.

A strong emphasis was placed on IT requirements and during the event over 36,000 devices were connected to both the Centre’s wired and wireless network, the most since it opened. The Centre’s IT team stepped in when there was a need for an on-site network point installation or relocation or find a solution when some of the exhibitors’ devices were not able to support the 5GHz bandwidth and they couldn’t access the high-speed internet connection. They also supplied replacement devices when there were insufficient laptops and laser pointers provided by the organiser’s third-party supplier and sort any the technical issues.

Unlike most conferences, pre-organised food and beverage were not part of WUF9’s requirements and the Centre’s culinary team anticipated there would be increased demand at its two public cafés. To meet this challenge, in the month before the event they held regular discussions to understand the profiles of local and international delegates and visitors so they could finalise the menu options, logistics and traffic flow. The cafés served 33 different multicultural items which gave attendees a taste of Malaysia and also offered some international food staples. In the end they fed over 3,000 people daily, the highest number ever at its public outlets, and the planning had helped ensure an accurate estimate of the expected demand, minimising wastage.

Urbanice representatives said that both MyCEB and the convention centre had been great partners since they won the bid for WUF9 in 2014. CEO Nortiza Hashim added,

The assistance MyCEB gave to steer us in the right direction and the subvention assistance it provided enabled us to promote WUF9 throughout the world which successfully brought an event of this magnitude.”

Thanking Malaysia for being such a good host, Ana Moreno, WUF secretariat coordinator, said, “WUF is a conference that is very difficult to explain, so to have partners and sponsors who understand what we are going to achieve is very important.”