Lion City sets pace with Malaysia in pursuit
Singapore has a head start on Asian rivals, but Kuala Lumpur is rapidly becoming a choice destination for business events, writes Eileen Lian
While every country in Southeast Asia is scrambling to secure a larger share of the market for corporate events and exhibitions, Singapore appears to be slightly ahead of the rest.
The MICE sector is big business in the Asia-Pacific region, which is expected to attract more than 100 million business travellers and MICE visitors by 2015, up from 40 million in 2002.
Singapore, recognised for its safety and cleanliness, is leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit of a larger share of this market.
According to Aloysius Arlando, assistant chief executive, Business Travel and MICE Group at the Singapore Tourism Board, the board aims to raise the contribution from business and MICE visitors to at least 35 per cent of total tourism receipts, or a projected S$10.5 billion (HK$54.2 billion), by 2015, up from the current 30 per cent, or S$3 billion.
Last August, the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau, a specialist group of the city's tourist board, earmarked S$170 million, drawn from the country's S$2 billion tourism development fund, to help the local MICE industry submit competitive bids and win a critical mass of business events, under its 'Business Events in Singapore' scheme. The Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau also launched a marketing initiative late last year, called the corporate outreach programme, aimed at influencing the decision making on corporate events among the more than 7,000 multinational corporations in Singapore.
The bureau also started a conference ambassador programme last December to strengthen its relationship with individuals, mostly opinion leaders in their respective fields, who organise business events in Singapore on a voluntary, non-professional basis.
The exhibition and convention bureau also has a 'strategic cluster approach', which it defines as creating, attracting and growing business events that are centred around the nation's key economic clusters such as biomedical sciences, ICT and digital media, environment and water technologies, banking and finance, transport and logistics, and tourism.
This well-thought-out and broad-based approach has been reaping rewards for Singapore. It has hosted some of the world's most prestigious events, including the World Economic Forum Asia Roundtable and the 117th International Olympic Committee Session in 2005, 2006 Annual Meetings of the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group (Singapore 2006) and the Forbes Global CEO Conference last year.
This year, Singapore has played host to the Asean Tourism Forum and will welcome an estimated 18,000 foreign delegates to the Herbalife Asia Pacific Extravaganza in July, just one of many MICE events that it has lined up.
Singapore was ranked second in the world after Vienna as the city that had the highest number of international meetings and the top convention city in Asia by the Amsterdam-based International Congress and Convention Association in its global rankings for 2005.
'Singapore is definitely one of the best MICE destinations within the region. In my personal opinion, it could possibly be the best,' said Thierry Douin, area manager and general manager of Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore.
For the Shangri-La group, MICE is a key market segment, accounting for nearly 20 per cent of its total business in Singapore last year.
'Relentless efforts have been made to keep the hotel's MICE facilities relevant to the changing needs of today's discerning travellers,' said Mr Douin.
Recently, the hotel fitted out its ballroom with the latest intelligent lighting system, audio equipment and specially commissioned artworks, to the tune of S$7 million, and also put in the fastest bandwidth broadband internet access for a Singapore hotel.
When Singapore's integrated resorts open their doors, the entire MICE landscape is expected to undergo a transformation. Marina Bay Sands, scheduled to open in 2009, will add 100,000 square metres of MICE space that will include a 9,200-square-metre column-free grand ballroom that will be one of the largest in Asia.
Resorts World at Sentosa, scheduled for 2010, will offer enough facilities to host 12,000 delegates, with seven indoor and 10 outdoor incentive venues.
Across the causeway, neighbouring Malaysia is also gearing up to secure a bigger chunk of MICE spending.
'Malaysia is increasingly becoming a choice venue for MICE and the industry continues to look competitive,' said Farizal Jaafar, group director of marketing at Sunway Resort Hotel and Spa, which provides an integrated 'resort within a city' for MICE events.
As a convention venue partner of Tourism Malaysia, Sunway Resort Hotel and Spa, together with the Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre, offers more than 10,000 square metres of meeting space and 50 meeting rooms. It is complemented by a theme park with water attractions, and a shopping and entertainment mall.
At last September's Global Meet Malaysia 2006, a joint effort by Tourism Malaysia and national carrier Malaysia Airlines to market the country as a MICE destination, Tourism Minister Adnan Mansor said that about 20 per cent of the ministry's US$60.17 million advertising and promotional budget for this year would be allocated for MICE promotions.
The nation, which this year celebrates its 50th year of independence and its third 'Visit Malaysia Year', has lined up a series of events and festivities to entice MICE visitors, including the new Malaysia International Aerospace Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in June, the World Music Festival in Penang in July, the World Lion Dance Invitation in the Genting Highlands in August and old regulars like the FormulaOne Grand Prix.
Malaysia had the infrastructure necessary to cater for an increase in MICE arrivals, expected to double this year to 10 per cent of tourist arrivals, Mr Adnan said, adding that the country was out to capture US$1 billion of the US$30 billion worldwide MICE market.
In the past, the country has successfully hosted international summits such as the 13th Non-Aligned Movement Conference in 2003, the 10th Organisation of Islamic Conference 2003 and Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, Commonwealth Travel Mart 2004, Asean Tourism Forum 2005 and the Pata Travel Mart 2005.
Already on the MICE calendar for Malaysia are several significant conferences and exhibitions, including the Air Cargo Forum 2008, World Congress on Information Technology 2008 and the World Gas Conference 2012.
For the delegate with time on his hands, Malaysia offers multicultural and colourful attractions, from coastal resorts to excellent cuisine in a country Mr Farizal described as a 'unique melting pot in Asia'.