With more than three decades of travel and event management experience under his belt, Arokia Das Anthony, director of Luxury Tours Malaysia, has seen the evolution of Malaysiaâ€™s business events industry. He lays bare what irks and worries him
Take me quickly through your journey in this business please.
Iâ€™ve been in the travel industry for more than 35 years, and in business events for more than 20 years. I have watched it grow from its infancy to what it is today, with a federal CVB setting a clear direction to take the industry forward and state bureaus working in tandem with the federal bureau and industry players to attract more business events to Malaysia.
I love incentive events the most because there are so many things we can do to make them exciting for clients. And every incentive event is different. There are always new problems to solve. There is never a dull moment and work is never routine.
I enjoy being part of a team and doing stuff that is innovative. It gives me an adrenaline rush.
How has the landscape changed over the years?
I started my career with Destination East, the largest incentive operator in Malaysia at that time. We had top of the range clients such as Airbus and Standard Chartered. They demanded and received excellent service, products and innovative ideas.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Malaysia received huge incentive groups from Europe and the US, with sizes ranging from 1,000 people. Now these groups have dwindled to around 40 to 60 people. This is due to flight connectivity. In the past, we had better connections to Europe and the US.
The huge incentive groups today are coming from Asia, namely China and India. Both markets used to be mainly leisure, but their economies have strengthened and there are more small- and medium-sized enterprises and multinational companies based out of China and India that are incentivising their staff.
Malaysia benefits because it is a medium-haul destination and perceived as an affordable destination with diverse offerings.
When European and American incentives dominated the landscape, the focus was on local culture. Delegates were interested in sampling local food and watching local performances.
The requirements for Indian incentives are different. At the most, delegates will want to try one or two local dishes. Even when overseas, they stick to authentic Indian food. Most of them will bring their own chefs. For entertainment, they will bring their own performers and DJs.
In the 1980s and 1990s, RFPs were based on what you could offer. Creativity was critical. Now the fight is on budget, with creativity coming in at a far second. This change is due to more players in the market and more countries regionally vying for the business. Profit margins have shrunk from 30 per cent to eight to 10 per cent. Some make even less than this.
What do you dislike most about the business?
There are a huge number of half-baked agents claiming to be destination management companies. They provide inferior service and, as a result, are hurting the entire industry and giving the country a bad name.
There is also a lack of professionalism throughout the chain, from guides to the agents. For the industry to grow, there needs to be stricter enforcement of regulations, as well as more training programmes so that service in the industry can be improved.
What keeps you awake at night?
Strong regional competition. Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia are constantly being refreshed with new products that are suitable for business events, whereas Malaysia doesnâ€™t have any new products of international standard for the past decade. Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia also deliver better service than Malaysia.
Bearing all of this in mind, I worry that we will lose out to regional destinations if we donâ€™t buck up in terms of service delivery and invest in new tourism products.
What is the way forward for Luxury Tours?
We have developed new markets that are untapped by the mass majority of players in Malaysia.
For the current financial year ending March 31, 2019, we are focusing on the North African markets, namely Tanzania, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt for incentive events. These are countries that are doing well economically, compared with the rest of Africa. A majority of the people in these countries are Muslims and Malaysia can easily cater to their Halal diet.
We are working on promotions with Air Mauritius to tap the North African market.
As well, India is our major market and we plan to do more sales calls to secondary and tertiary cities in India. We will also work on joint promotions with Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau to further tap the Indian market.