Offering more for MICE events

THE proposed Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, to be launched Tuesday, will add another landmark to the capital city. 

Located next to the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) development, this centre is expected to enhance Malaysia's image as a leading venue for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) in the region. 

The choice of location cannot be better as the KLCC is an internationally renowned development boasting the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers, the Suria KLCC shopping centre and a lovely park. 

The exterior of the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel.

Although there seems to be some fears that this centre may further crowd a competitive market, the upside is that a bigger and better centre, backed by professional organisers, managers and good networking, can take Malaysia onto another level in MICE management and clinch more high-profile international events. 

The stakes are high. According to Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Mohmad Shaid Mohd Taufek, the number of MICE events and participants had been growing steadily in recent years and receipts generated from MICE in Malaysia in 2000 amounted to RM1,164.6mil, almost 7% of total tourism revenue for that year. 

Today, in a two-part article on this new centre and its likely impact on the local MICE industry, this column will take a look at one of the successful MICE “destinations” in the country: the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel and its “sister” facility, the Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. 

The first is a five-star hotel while the second is in a leading shopping centre. Both are linked by a passageway and are part of the popular RM1.1bil Sunway Lagoon Resort. 

Business has picked up since the 1997 recession. The hotel has been enjoying high occupancy, thanks partly to the convention delegates staying at the hotel.  

Instead of allocating too many rooms for a specific event and also to ensure guests with a choice of hotel rates, there have been times when the hotel recommended alternative nearby hotels to event organisers. 

However, as the hotel's director of marketing Farizal Jaafar said, this would change once the hotel's expansion plans to increase its room inventory from 441 to over 1,200 rooms and suites were completed. 

Delegates can shop at the Sunway Pyramid shopping centre (it has a 48-lane bowling centre and 10 cinemas) or have some fun at the Sunway Lagoon wet and dry theme parks. One can also take a monorail ride around this resort that boasts of the world's largest surf wave pool, a bigger replica of South Africa's Sun City. The Sunway Medical Centre is also a walking distance away. 

Business had been good the past three years. There were 384 local and 126 international meetings/events held at the hotel in year 2000. The figures were 426 and 188 respectively for 2001, and 687 and 221 respectively for 2002. 

Among some of the major events held at the hotel were the Malaysian Institute of Accounting (1,480 persons/95 rooms used); Asia Pacific Military Medicine Conference (400 persons/135 rooms), Amway China Incentive Tour (400 persons/115 rooms), Viva Life Science Malaysia (1,000 persons/217 rooms), AIA Convention 2002 (1,800 persons/290 rooms), IFCA & IFSA Asia Pacific Conference (300 persons/168 rooms), Pantene Hair Asia 2002 (1,000 persons/168 rooms) and the 13th Asia Pacific Sales Conference (Public Mutual) (800 persons/90 rooms). 

Several major events would be held at the Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre this year. They include the World Ten Pin Bowling Championship (Sept 2003), National Heart Annual Scientific, Liver Update and 7th World Chinese Chambers of Commerce. 

Farizal said several regional conferences from Australia and Singapore had also been secured and they would benefit from the new addition to the hotel's room portfolio.  

He said despite a certain degree of saturation in the hotel and MICE market, the hotel was able to position to suit the corporate and leisure markets. 

“The market is ever changing and hotels are required to pre-empt trends and establish them; ultimately driving the market rather than allowing the market to drive them. We review our strategies constantly to ensure we stay ahead of the competition,” he said. 

He said the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel was among the few hotels in the country capable of hosting major exhibitions and conferences simultaneously.  

“Our ballroom and convention centre is able to accommodate heavy equipment and machinery. The hotel has seen several car launches and exhibitions, and defence exhibitions. Heavy equipment have been transported onto the hotel's cargo lifts and into the ballroom and convention centre,” he said. 

There should also be aggressive promotions and advertising of Kuala Lumpur as the conference and exhibition destination in this region. 

“We should also further enhance an integrated and user-friendly public transportation system that is easily accessible. This is already visible with the ERL, LRT and various other networks in the city.  

He also suggested the creation of a central convention bureau to serve as a “one-stop” centre on MICE matters. 

He said the proposed Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre would not pose a significant threat to the hotel's convention business as “we have shifted our focus and strategies to sell the hotel as a destination rather than just a venue”. 

“Our advantage is our positioning as an integrated resort development which encompasses hotel with varied meeting facilities, shopping, theme park, hospital, and educational facilities.” 

Farizal sees a need to establish a strong marketing alliance with the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre where some of the activities of major conferences held at the new convention centre could be spilled over to the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. 

“Our hotel can be used for social functions away from the city; ideally used for pre and post functions. We do not foresee a complete shift since client requirements may differ and our hotel may be the optimal venue for some.” 

“With the new Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre there will be potential for the country to woo back major international air carriers into KLIA as demand may increase based on the secured regional and global conferences taking place here,” he said. 

Farizal also said that there should be continued aggressive promotion of Malaysia as a convention destination to take the edge away from destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and Thailand. 

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