MICE: Showcasing Sarawak’s strides into the future
by Justin Yap, email@example.com. Posted on August 5, 2012, Sunday
A mix of ‘private and public’ sector interest
Perhaps more than any other sector, the usual pattern in the meetings industry is a mix of public investment and private enterprise.
There are core features such as convention centres which are typically government investments because of the need for ‘patient’ investment in an environment where the returns only occur many years after the sale and the economics are such that benefits are widely disbursed.
On the other hand, there are suppliers and clients who typically have an intensely competitive, private sector orientation. Both are essential but the interface could be more interesting.
“Similarly, governments can have huge impact on the industry too without even knowing it is happening. Decisions in areas like taxation, immigration, borders, security or transportation can be the life or death of the industry,” said Cameron of AIPC.
BizHIve Weekly carried out a series of interviews with hoteliers and travel agents including 360 Hotels Group managing director Steve Ng, Four Point by Sheraton Kuching general manager Paolo Campillo and Wah Tung Travel Service executive director Patrick Sim.
All concurred that the industry still needed a boost in terms of land transportation and air connectivity to take it to the next level in terms of vibrancy and numbers.
Asked if Sarawak was ready for bigger MICE markets, Ng said in terms of accommodations, “We have more than enough. What we need now is get the people to work together and create a lifestyle experience for business visitors. I believe Sarawak has much more to offer.”
Industry figures showed that there were approximately 3,500 hotel rooms from all categories in Kuching alone. On top of that, 360 Hotels Group had plans to add another 500 rooms which would be more in the budget category.
“Everybody will stand a chance to gain, but of course the hotels that work harder to lobby the conventions themselves will gain more. At the very least, think of it this way, the business is at your doorstep, it’s up to you to grab it,” Ng shared his view.
In terms of contributions, Ng highlighted that it was not as significant as he expected it to be. “At this point, we estimate it only to be 10 per cent of our occupancy rate at most. I’m looking towards achieving 20 per cent of occupancy from the MICE industry alone soon.”
One of the projects undertaken by the 360 Group that is in the limelight is the upcoming Plaza Merdeka shopping mall and the ‘ARTrageous Hotel’ that is attached to it. The mall is scheduled to open its doors on November 11 and the hotel would commence a year later.
“We will not just stop there. Our plans for Kuching include a bus shuttle service from all the historical places and from hotel to hotel, picking up tourists and boosting the local economy in return. I believe that business tourists will love it too especially when they are here for pre-events,” Ng concluded.
Campillo echoed Ng views on the city shuttle service, saying it was a great plan because it would add a boost to the tourism industry especially. “The spinoff will be every where, everyone will get a piece of the pie especially the local community,” he added.
“MICE business represents about 23 per cent of our business and it is growing steadily each year. I can’t wait to see more coming into Sarawak and I believe the hotel accomodations in Kuching are not an issue at the moment,” said Campillo.
Four Point by Sheraton Kuching has the largest number of rooms under a single roof. “That’s our advantage when it comes to large numbers of convention delegates. We are all competing for business but when it comes to MICE, I belive every single hotel will reap the benefits.”
“The challenges that we are facing are the after-activities – what do we do and where do we go? We need more specialised products in Kuching for business travellers. In terms of food, I believe it is not an issue, people want to eat like the locals if they are here in the country.
“Our main concern is the food hygiene as westerners are very particular about clealiness. If we are handling a group of delegates, we have to make sure that they can attend the meetings without any problems,” Campillo said.
Sim, on the other hand, zoomed in on his view on the issues of air connectivity and land transport when it came to the MICE industry. “It’s not about the sector, it is about the availability of the resources that we have to handle convention delegates if there are more than 2,000 people.
“There are no problems with the hotels and convention centre but there will be a challenge for the people who handle it,” Sim highlighted. The challenge would be in terms of bus transport to ferry the delegates if there are more than 1,500 persons.
On top of that, Sim also pointed out that Sarawak lacked international event management companies that have the knowledge to handle international business events. “We are still new to the MICE industry and I believe it takes time to educate people on how it should be done properly.”
As a travel company, he explained that everything moved along with the travel industry. “We are a very fragile industry. An international disastrous event, be it caused by nature, a recession or outbreak of diseases will impact our industry severely.
“Even a minor currency fluctuation will also affect the industry in certain regions. I believe the MICE industry is on the same boat with us too,” he added.
Cameron said a lot of things could impact the MICE industry, “many of which are outside of our control.” Global economics, political turmoil, pandemics and security issues could all bring things to a grinding halt on an international scale while tax policies, transportation issues or sudden changes in visa requirements could have the same effect on an individual country.
“We’ve seen both at work earlier this decade, where international events precipitated many different impacts, creating both winners and losers as events sought a ‘safe haven’ and, in some cases, changed the way the entire industry works,” he explained.