Malaysia could do a lot more to lure high-spending business travellers by strategically marketing the country meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) facilities.
While its focus in the past has been to promote conventional tourism, many tourism experts, who recently attended Asia's largest tourism fair, ITB Asia 2009, in Singapore, said Malaysia shoud aggressively promote itself in this sector.
Long-haul leisure tourism is fast becoming a luxury for many in the traditional markets, given the rising costs, declining incomes, high unemployment and a general mood of economic gloom and doom.
But business travel will continue to be popular despite the increased cost consciousness of many corporations that are in a penny-pinching mood and are aggressively cutting costs.
"However, companies recognise while they must cut costs they still need to avail of the MICE facilities in attractive destinations.
"Malaysia, unlike Singapore, needs to bolster its image on the international circuit as a MICE destination.
"It has beautiful landscape, beaches and wild life, not to mention golf courses which would appeal to corporate representatives," said Lothar Marzinger, a German/Swiss MICE specialist who "overwhelmed" by Malaysia's sheer natural beauty.
Tourism Malaysia, which has been promoting the country in a number of markets has yet to make an impact on the MICE business.
Though many American and European MICE delegates participated in events in Malaysia, - the KLCC in Kuala Lumpur is a popular venue for Western professionals.
The "hit-or-miss" approach would not be quite effective in the long run, given the fierce competition Malaysia faces from Singapore and Thailand.
Vietnam, Indonesia and others are also equally interested in joining the fray to capture a larger slice of the MICE pie.
Zalizam Zakaria, the Director of Tourism Malaysia in Singapore, was candid enough to acknowledge that his office would aim for more incentive programmes from ASIA.
MICE, according to Zalizam, accounted for only 5 per cent of Malaysia's tourist arrivals.
"We want to increase the share (of MICE participants in the overall arrivals in Malaysia) to 10 per cent," he said, adding that a special MICE body called MyCEB has been established and performance is expected to improve.
A bright spot for Malaysia was the interest generated amongst some MICE planners with the recent opening of the Borneo Convention Centre in Kuching.
Sarawak tourism representatives told Bernama at the ITB Asia 2009 in Singapore that they expect to see more high-end hotels opening in Sarawak, predicting that some 1,686 four-star hotel rooms would be added in 2010.
One of the new hotels under construction, according to the Sarawak Tourism Board, is the 33-storey Kuching Tower adjacent to the convention centre.
A hotel will occupy the top 18 floors of the building, scheduled to open in 2010.
The Borneo Convention Centre is currently rated as the largest meeting venue in Kuching, with a total floor area of 36,500 sq metres; its pillar-free Great Hall has a capacity for 5,000 delegates.
Several other impressive properties recently opened in Kuching including the Novotel with 388 rooms while a number of properties have been given a facelift such as the Damai Puri Resort in Damai and the Hornbill Borneo Highlands Golf Resort which are premium properties on the outskirts of Kuching.
Tourism Malaysia could, for example, make a strategic bid at next year's ITB Asia in Singapore where the organiser, Messe Berlin, which also organised the world's largest tourism show called ITB Berlin, will hold a two-day "Associations Programme @ ITB Asia 2010".
Malaysian players in the MICE sector would have an opportunity to establish contacts with international experts such as the American Society of Association Executives, The Center for Association Leadership and Suntec Singapore.
The initiative, according to Messe Berlin, will attract exhibitors such as convention centres, resorts and hotels, professional conference organisers, destination management companies, solution providers and convention and visitor bureaus from the Asian region.
An impressive speaker line-up, according to Messe Berlin, is being compiled for the Associations' programme.
"The MICE world is very large," said Martin Buck, Vice President of Messe Berlin (Singapore), in an interview with this writer.
"Within it, our focus will be on expanding ITB Asia by introducing the growing associations' meeting sector. We will invite a compelling international group of speakers.
"They will share their real-case experiences with the industry and it should greatly benefit everyone joining the programme," he added.
ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership will provide valuable content for the Associations Programme through their expertise on topics such as global trends in association management and resource development for small to medium associations.
Buck, an expert on Asian markets, said: " Over the next couple of months, we will put top-level partnerships in place. The objective is to have a strong association programme that will add an exciting new component to ITB Asia from 2010 onwards," he said.
ITB Asia 2009 attracted 679 exhibitor organisations to the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre.
The majority of exhibitors were from the leisure travel segment with MICE exhibitors and corporate travel coming in second and third respectively.
Source : Bernama
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