The business events industry is one of the fastest growing segments within the tourism industry. Competition to host events is stiff with each destination trying to draw visitors into their hotels, restaurants and malls. Ahead of Routes Asia, The HUB Daily spoke to Mike Cannon, managing director, Sarawak Convention Bureau to learn more about the business of the events industry.
“The important thing for any city to realise is that with today's connectivity and technology, meetings and conferences can be held anywhere in the world. What makes a city special is not its accessibility, its convention centres or its hotel rooms (although these are very important starting points),” he explained.
What is key and which is sometimes overlooked by many destinations, according to Cannon, is that the destination must cater to the business of the event. “None of the 47 bids that Kuching won in 2013 would have happened if Kuching did not also cater to the business the function is involved in. We can’t possibly host an Obstetrics and Gynaecology conference if we do not have medical facilities offering Obstetrics and Gynaecology services in Kuching, he said.
Kuching is at the centre of commerce and industry in Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state, and probably of the whole of Borneo. It caters to a variety of businesses within industries ranging from handicrafts right up to aluminium smelting. Having said that, Kuching has found a niche among the education, health, technology, environmental and cultural sectors because of strong government involvement in these areas. Event organisers in these sectors are drawn to Kuching because they know these very sectors are addressed in a big way by the government.
“About 82 per cent of our events go to Kuching although we do receive a fair amount of events in Miri and Sibu,” said Cannon. “Each city has its own unique features and attractions and the choice ultimately depends on a client's requirements and preferences. Kuching is simply a more established destination and is able to accommodate larger scale events compared to Miri or Sibu.”
What enhances Kuching’s value as a host city even more is that it offers something extra. “Customers today are fussier and are looking for something different. Kuching has been described as fresh and novel by those who have held their events here. In their minds an event held in Borneo has an appeal of its own because of the association with nature, wilderness and adventure. The creativity of the many different cultures that live in harmony in Sarawak is also a big attraction,” said Cannon.
“Added to that is the incredibly warm and welcoming reception that one gets the minute they step off the plane whether it is at the immigration counters, the hotel or the conference venue. The natural charm here is amplified as we are still a young destination. We welcome anyone with open arms who can exchange knowledge, enhance local expertise and provide new experiences for the people living in Sarawak,” he added.
It is not always the capital cities or metropolises that win the bid and Kuching being a smaller city has the advantage of being less crowded, less polluted with fewer traffic jams, according to Cannon. “Delegates are in a more cozy setting and find meeting people and networking easier,” he added.
However, he acknowledged it has its limits as a second tier destination due to the lack of direct flight connections from key catchments. “But with Kuching hosting events like the ASEAN Tourism Forum in January and now Routes Asia, it would indeed be great news if more airlines fly into Kuching,” Cannon added.
Since appearing in the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Asia Pacific and Middle East City ranking in 2010, latest figures show that Kuching shares the 38th spot with Colombo, Chennai, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta and Tel Aviv outperforming many of the established second tier cities such as Canberra, Nagoya, Chengdu and Osaka.
“We will fare better in the future as more people come to know Kuching and what it has to offer for business event buyers. Sometimes all it takes is a visit here or to just hold an event here once. We have a significant amount of returning clients who are continuously bidding for new events to be held in Kuching,” said Cannon.