Penang: spice of life

The tiny state of Penang is emerging as one of Malaysia’s top business event destinations, especially now the whole SPICE complex is complete. Angela Antrobus reports…

Setia SPICE Convention Centre is the world’s first hybrid solar-powered convention centre and part of the SPICE project which also includes SPICE Arena, SPICE Canopy and the SPICE Aquatic Centre. Although many years in the construction process, all the elements of the complex are now in operation apart from a 453-room business-class hotel, the first of two, due for completion in 2019.

The solar panels are on the roof of the aquatic centre and light up the common areas of the convention centre, reducing the venue’s carbon footprint.

The centrepiece of the convention centre is a 4,459 sqm, subterranean, pillarless Grand Ballroom which seats 8,000 theatre-style or can be subdivided into four smaller ballrooms. There are four further meeting rooms and two VIP rooms and organisers can use the beautifully landscaped 2.42 hectare roof garden which also serves as a park for recreational activities and features Malaysia’s largest urban spice garden.

Penang is partly on the mainland coast and partly an island. SPICE and the capital George Town are both on the island, once an ancient port city and British outpost – hence its rich colonial character combined with a potpourri of Asian cultures. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and both a busy metropolis and a city where Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian people live side by side, just the way their forefathers did.

Many of its historic buildings are now unique event venues. It’s famous for its hawker street food but fine dining is available as well. Penang has over 12,000 hotel rooms and most service suppliers provide value-for-money experiences. Penang Airport, 16 km south of George Town, is a half-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur or one hour from Singapore.

Hosting international business events was recognised by the government as a driver for development in the state and Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) opened last year. Its first annual review revealed that many of the business events hosted reflected the sectors the state has an interest in, such as education, culture and ideas and industry.

 A great choice

IMC delegates at the SJKT Jalan Sungai School


Penang wasn’t among the first destinations considered for this year’s 6th International Mobility Conference (IMC) by IMC World. “During our preliminary research, we identified Bali and Jakarta in Indonesia, Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Singapore,” says IMC general manager Patricia Jade Ooi, who is based in Shanghai. “We worked with both the Malaysia and Thailand convention bureaux but ended up in Penang during the final management decision as we had good vibes from the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau and trusted them with their impartial recommendations and efforts.”

The delegates were high-level personnel from moving, relocating, logistics and freight forwarding businesses. The aim of the event was to facilitate networking between them while introducing them to a different part of Asia.

Business sessions took place in the modern five-star G Hotel Gurney and most of the 204 delegates stayed there or in the G Hotel Kelawi, both well located between two shopping complexes and with hawker stalls nearby. Others chose the Gurney Resort or the Evergreen Laurel.

“We did not need any PCO or DMC because PCEB was there to assist,” explains Ooi. “They are very good at providing personalised services and their venue recommendations were the perfect fit for our conference objectives. The bureau’s involvement was critical to our success in hosting the best conference we’ve ever had.”

The gala dinner was held in the Majestic Theatre and the Company Dinner in the Kebaya Restaurant at the Seven Terraces Hotel. Discovery Overland Operators offered some half-day tours. Just before the event, delegates visited the local SJK(T) Jalan Sungai school where they had funded the building of a new playground, as part of IMC’s CSR programme.

“The delegates were very happy with everything,” continues Ooi.

Even though I am Malaysian I knew little about Penang until the PCEB took us around. I liked the Macalister Mansion, Cheah Kongsi House, Farquar Mission House, the Blue Mansion, Fort Cornwallis, Peranakan Museum, Little India and Kek Lok Si temple. Months later, we are still basking in the wonderful experiences of the food, sights and venues of Penang.”