Interview: Mike Cannon
What is being done to improve Sarawak’s global standing as a destination for conventions?
MIKE CANNON: Since the establishment of the SCB in 2006, the business events industry in Sarawak has shown tremendous growth. This has contributed to opportunities for education, research, export trade, foreign exchange and corporate social responsibility (CSR) through the conferences that have have been held in the state. As active members of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and the Union of International Associations, we have access to an extensive database made up of associations that could help us in our search for leads and activities, thereby expanding our business network.
Furthermore, Sarawak has also developed a diverse range of options for incentive programmes, team-building programmes and ideas for themed parties based on culture and ecotourism. Topical CSR programmes are very popular among meeting planners here, including the Heart 2 Heart programme with orangutans and Habitat for Humanity, which involves getting acquainted with people from Sarawak’s traditional longhouse communities. Other opportunities unique to Sarawak include the SCB’s Tribal Wisdom Speaker programme, where speakers from some of the state’s most successful businesses who are members of ethnic tribes share their life experiences with their audience. By providing an insight into how their tribal ancestry has influenced their success, they are able to highlight the state’s distinctive heritage while preserving an air of authenticity that can be passed on to delegates.
In which sectors do you see most potential to develop the exhibitions and conferences segment?
CANNON: The exhibitions and conferences segment could have lasting economic benefits for Sarawak that go beyond the specific sectors being addressed. Business event visitors currently yield 5.7 times more in economic terms than the average visitor, and 3 times more once the currently lower-yielding Chinese visitors are taken into account. The core aim, however, will be to secure conferences relating to three of the health, education and security sectors. At the same time, we are also targeting conferences related to the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, in addition to agriculture, engineering and finance.
Collaboration with industry partners has resulted in Sarawak winning an increasing number of business event bids. From 2006 onwards, Sarawak has secured a total of 312 business events that are expected to attract 135,990 delegates between the years 2006 and 2021. These events are estimated to generate direct delegate expenditure of nearly RM285m ($86.7m) for Sarawak. During 2014, the SCB secured 60 bids that will contribute RM31m ($9.4m) in direct delegate expenditure, and this number is expected to grow in the coming years. However, it should be noted that the value of winning these bids goes beyond short-term economic benefits for Sarawak. As a result, the SCB’s focus is not only on hosting high-yielding events, but on those specifically that will nurture Sarawak’s events sector and create new business opportunities.
In what ways will the business events sector benefit from hosting the 55th ICCA Congress in 2016?
CANNON: Hosting the 55th ICCA Congress for Malaysia will play a crucial role in promoting Sarawak as a business events destination. For a period of up to a decade following the event, the SCB will be able to concentrate on sales and bidding activity to win events, rather than marketing and branding alone. Expected to attract between 700 and 1000 delegates from around the world for a five-day event, the congress will cost Sarawak and Malaysia around RM1m ($304,200).
However, the event is estimated to lead to nearly RM2.6m ($790,920) in direct delegate expenditure and, importantly, RM5m ($1.52m) worth of branding and public relations. Indeed, the primary value of the congress is that it will earn Malaysia and Sarawak credit on the international stage as serious industry players.
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