As economies around the world disintegrates and business confidence hit by the economic slowdown, Malaysia’s tourism industry is re-imaging its products mix.
Malaysian tourism’s aim to cement itself in the meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition (MICE) market has resulted to a new program called “Myceb (Malaysian Convention and Exhibition Bureau). At the launching, Najib Razak, chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Tourism, said, “Myceb will be Malaysia’s one-stop center to co-ordinate the needs of exhibition organizers who want to bring their programs and activities to Malaysia.”
In pursuit of its objectives, the new bureau will have the cooperation of other relevant government agencies to draw up “attractive customized incentives” in its efforts to attract MICE organizers from around the world.
Najib said the country cannot “insulate” tourism from what is happening to the world economy, further adding emphasis will nevertheless be given to the MICE sector of the industry. “The government will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign to promote tourism despite the adverse world economic conditions.”
Emphasizing the government’s intent following the latest move, Rosly Selamant, an experienced industry marketing man who has been tapped to head the new bureau, said: “It’s a giant step for Malaysian tourism. Despite the small budget compared to what Singapore and Thailand is spending in the market, we will strive to bring more cohesion, create more impact and synergy in the MICE market.”
Despite its small share of total visitor arrivals, the MICE market has been seen as a lucrative market due to its higher per-ca pita expenditure.
In its sector market report among member countries, the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) said event buyers look for “innovative, high quality products, offering an authentic experience in a well-managed environment” and are willing to pay if the product is right. “Higher yields associated with business event clients make the sector attractive to suppliers such as hotels.”
Malaysia will have to wind its way through established competitors, from near-neighbors Singapore and Thailand as “working” models. Other competitors in Asia range from Macau, Hong Kong to Sri Lanka, India and Australia in Asia Pacific.
Brussels-based Union of International Associations ranks Singapore as the top convention city in Asia for the 19th consecutive year, and the fifth in the world for the third consecutive year.
Claiming a 70 percent success rate, it is ready to spend “big” to attract high “profile” events. Its success in hosting the IMF – World Bank forums in September 2006, together brought an estimated 15,000 delegates to Singapore.
Long seen as a strong regional hub for health and medical tourism, it holds more than 350 medical-related conferences between 1990-2001, attracting over 175,000 participants.
Thailand will provide strong competition due to its history of hosting the annual IT&CMA ( Incentive Travel & Conventions, Meetings Asia ) event, one of Asia’s most important gatherings of buyers and sellers of MICE products and services.
Its post-conference tours to neighbouring ASEAN countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam is another big puller, in addition to its appeal as an affordable shopping destination.
The establishment of its high-profile Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau has helped the private sector improve the quality of their bids, public relations and marketing, MICE experts say. “With no further negative political news coverage, we are well positioned to tap into this growing market and drum up demand for our products and services, ” said David Barret from Diethelm Events
“The goal is to make each show bigger and better every year,” said Khun Benjawan, president of Thailand’s Trade Exhibition Association. “Business travelers often return to the country later in the year to pursue deals initiated at the exhibition. Unlike meetings, incentives and congress which are unlikely to return to the same destination after 5 -10 years, exhibitions return to the same location every year once set.”
Claiming to have Asia’s largest exhibition and convention center, Thailand is also home to the UNCC (United Nations Conference Center), built to UN standards, and having one of the best translation facilities in the country. “Thailand is attracting these events because of a surge in convention and convention space, and the increased competition to fill it.”
The 91st Lions Clubs International Convention in June 2008, boasting itself as the world’s largest convention, brought an estimated 30,000 delegates during its five days of activities. Thailand also claims to have a big cost advantage, estimated by industry experts up to 30 percent, over rivals Singapore and Hong Kong.
Australia’s strength in infrastructure and meeting facilities has been responsible for its MICE industry to target decision makers of business incentive travel and corporate meetings. Most of its success in attracting almost half a million business visitors yearly comes from attracting Asians from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Malaysia.
With its tagline “Choose Australia – Your Best Business Partner,” it has managed to attract direct selling, insurance, pharmaceutical and IT companies from Asia, USA and Europe.
According to the International Congress and Convention Association, Australia is second to the USA for the number of meetings per country in 2002.
Malaysian tourism started its “big” push into MICE by positioning itself as the region’s premier MICE destination in a partnership between Tourism Malaysia and the country’s MICE suppliers.
At the launching of its “Meet and Experience” campaign in September, 2002 Malaysia guaranteed “special offers and prices” for specific products and services over a period of time to attract organizers planning to hold meetings in the country.
During its Global Meet 2002 held in Kuala Lumpur, the show attracted 107 buyers from Europe, UK, Australasia, North America, Chinas, the Middles East, Africa and the ASEAN states. “We want to lower dependence on the big boys who dictate terms,” opined a seller.
“The government’s move has been a long time coming,” said Dr Nor Ain, a senior lecturer from UiTM, one of the country’s leading hospitality and tourism schools, as well as a committee member of tourism related IMT-GT regional grouping.
As organizers of an average of two tourism related conference a year, she said the bureau has given Malaysian tourism and conference organizers a “shot in the arm.”
Despite plans to embark on an aggressive marketing campaign, Malaysian tourism is lowering its projections to “around” 18 million visitors in the coming year, after admitting visitor numbers have fallen short by around 500,000 visitors in 2008 from the projected 22.5 million. “We’ll most probably see around 18 million visitors. Between 1996-1997 there was a drop of up to 13 percent, related to security, health and economic issues,” added Najib.