by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
This blog has been going since January 2011 but prior to that I wrote occasional pieces for MICE industry magazines. The first of these was a piece on Malaysia Business Events written, I think, about 2007 after @SuperGreybeard and I attended an MCI Board meeting hosted at Traders Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2009 and 2010 I was back in Malaysia but we didn’t cross paths again until this week when I participated in the inaugural Client Advisory Board (CAB) of the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau – MyCEB , convened by the ineluctable Gary Grimmer of Gaining Edge. So, for me and Malaysia, it’s a kind of 10 year anniversary and definitely a suitable time to check out a top 20 country on the World Economic Forum’s (WEC) 2017 ranking for Travel & Tourism competitiveness.
My fellow CAB members might cavil at the relevance of a ranking on a “travel & tourism” list. A key concern within the MICE world, of course, is whether governments should categorise business events under tourism-related ministries or trade-related ministries. This blog has given this topic an airing on more than one occasion (see Should Meetings be categorised with travel & tourism?) so I’m not going there now – suffice it to say there are convincing arguments on both sides but a much longer tail on the side of MICE as a tourism concern.
When you drill down into the details of the WEC ranking, however, some interesting facts about Malaysia emerge and, in particular, about how the country is shaping up as a serious player in the Business Events arena. Malaysia is actually ranked No 1 in Asia and No 3 in the entire world (out of 136 countries) for price competitiveness. While we tend not to use “price” as the seminal criterion in Business Events, we do always seek “value for money” and KL has the best value 4 and 5 star hotels in all of South East Asia.
The Hilton Kuala Lumpur, where we stayed, was certainly amongst the best “value for money” experiences I’ve ever had. For the equivalent price of a budget property in Europe I had a mega-capacious, light filled room with a super-sized bathroom that opened right into the guest room allowing you to shower with framed views of the KL skyline (if you were so inclined!) The breakfast buffet, too, merits a word. Live chef stations featuring Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Western breakfast delights were complemented by delectable displays of cereals, bakery items, juices and all manner of fruit. Barista-crafted coffees were served direct to your table where, if you were lucky to get a window seat, you could watch KL come to life in the sun drenched early morning.
Hilton Kuala Lumpur is co-located with the Marriott – flagged Le Meridien and a host of other 4 and 5 star hotels at KL Sentral, a business and retail zone about 10 mins by car from the Petronas Towers. It connects by air-conditioned walk-way with the transport terminal from which fast trains depart every 20 minutes for KL International Airport. Our MyCEB hosts kindly arranged for CAB members to avail of the super-efficient VIP service whereby a smartly uniformed young person accompanied me directly from baggage claim to fast train and onwards to the awaiting limousine. It was a lovely, reassuring touch and one that would be appreciated by any decision maker considering KL for a business event.
On our first morning we took an early AM walk on the wild side and over a couple of hours saw something of KL’s rich colonial past as well as a touch of her deep spiritual traditions. We were taken to the very origins of the city at the confluence or nexus of two muddy rivers, an apt symbol for KL that today is a meeting point for ethnic, social and cultural diversity.
We traded the posh 5 star standards of the Hilton for the authentic edginess of the Café Old Market Square, in operation since 1928 and now a designated heritage building. We had a whole nine yards there – the Nasi Lemak Ayam (spiced and fried chicken with peanut paste and rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf), the classic toast and steam bread and the Hot Cham Coffee – which made it difficult to eat again at the Hindu temple where delicious veggie delights were distributed for consumption – but without utensils. Between the two locations we visited we had a short course in all manner of dried fish, vegetables and exotic fruit at a traditional market store.
KLCC and MITEC
KL is a place of stark contrasts. Go around the corner from the temples, the street markets and the food stalls and you’re at the Petronas Towers surrounded by a contemporary steel and glass development comprising extensive residential, commercial, retail and hospitality infrastructure. The multi-award winning Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC), developed and owned by Petronas, is at the beating heart of a purpose built “convention city” that’s currently in major expansion mode, adding another 9 exhibition halls or almost 9,000 square metres of space.
We also visited the newly opened Malaysia International Trade & Exhibition Centre (MITEC), a multi-purpose venue set to put Malaysia firmly on the map for very large scale exhibitions. Extending to a staggering 45,000 square metres, MITEC is the anchor building of Metropolis, a brand new 75 acre city district whose residential, retail, commercial and hospitality development will only be complete in 2023. Meanwhile MITEC is already open for business having hosted the South East Asian (SEA) Games in August.
More to Malaysia
When I wrote about Malaysia for the first time in 2008 I said “there’s so much more to Malaysia than Nasi Goreng, Langkawi, Proton cars and politicians wearing funny hats.” Malaysia has truly become the complete MICE destination with easy connectivity via KL International Airport, great infrastructure for small, large and very large groups, pleasant year round climate, stunning beaches, majestic mountains, and finally all the exoticism and palpable excitement of an ethnic melting pot where Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim, Chinese, Indian, indigenous Malay and Ex Pat all co-exist in healthy, harmonious tension.
And it’s also great value!
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events industry.