With the country‚Äôs main airport close by and an inventory of business hotels and accessible entertainment, Selangor is the new darling of event organisers, discovers S Puvaneswary
The MICE sector in Selangor is starting to see a rebound in business following a tough 2014 when two air tragedies and a slowdown in travel led to a dip in arrivals to Malaysia.
Recovery has been attributed to Selangor‚Äôs infrastructure developments and the depreciation in the ringgit. Trade players believe that the destination‚Äôs close proximity to two major gateways into Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and low-cost carrier terminal klia2, is a contributing factor.
The new klia2, much bigger and far better equipped in terms of safety and comfort features than the former budget terminal, enabled low-cost airlines using the facility to expand their frequencies and introduce new routes, thus improving opportunities for inbound players to tap new secondary markets for business events.
Access into Malaysia through klia2 has improved this year, with AirAsia raising its frequency from Manila from twice to thrice daily; AirAsia and Malindo Air both starting the new Kuala Lumpur-Visakhapatnam route; and AirAsia X commencing a new service from Chongqing with four weekly flights.
Ganneesh Ramaa, manager of local DMC Luxury Tours, said: ‚ÄúThe aggressive expansion of low-cost carriers…opens new markets for business events.‚ÄĚ
Ramaa said business hotels in Selangor are benefitting because they are close to these gateways, have large meeting spaces and guestroom inventory, and are cheaper compared with hotels of similar star rating in Kuala Lumpur.
‚ÄúHoteliers (in Selangor) are also more flexible with rates,‚ÄĚ he remarked, adding that it is ‚Äúeasier to promote Selangor‚ÄĚ than Kuala Lumpur to MICE clients.
Arokia Das, senior manager of Luxury Tours Malaysia, said the rates for business events held at four- and five-star hotels in Selangor were ‚Äúeasily 30 per cent lower than the rates (of similar hotels) in the outskirts of Bangkok‚ÄĚ.
Adam Kamal, CEO of Rakyat Travel, said: ‚ÄúRegional or international conference organisers with two- or three-day events don‚Äôt want destinations too far from the capital city, such as Penang or Langkawi which require an additional flight. At the same time, they may choose not to do it in Kuala Lumpur, as there are too many distractions. So Selangor is an obvious choice.‚ÄĚ
Citing an example of how valuable accessibility is to clients, Kamal told TTGmice that Bank Rakyat, the organiser of an international conference on Islamic finances in August, had chosen to host the event at Putrajaya Marriott Hotel because the hotel was close to KLIA and klia2, had large conference facilities, and was near Putrajaya, enabling a day tour to the administrative capital.
Rakyat Travel was the groundhandler for the conference which was attended by 150 delegates from all over the world.
Putrajaya Marriott Hotel also provides free shuttle services for its guests to the nearby IOI City Mall, allowing meeting delegates to end their day with shopping and entertainment.The mall features more than 300 outlets, including an ice skating rink, a cinema with 13 halls, and an indoor Apocalypse themed adventure park known as District 21 which provides challenges and obstacle courses for adults.
Putrajaya Marriott Hotel and IOI City Mall are part of the IOI Resort City, which also includes the four-star 151-key Palm Garden Hotel.
According to Lydia Mae Hendroff, assistant director of marketing at Putrajaya Marriott Hotel, IOI Resort City is being marketed as a single destination this year, resulting in growing interest especially from China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei.
Hendroff said: ‚ÄúCluster marketing provides convenience for meeting planners as their main point of reference is the sales team who will liaise with the different entities within IOI Resort City (on their behalf).‚ÄĚ
Another hotel that is benefiting from its close proximity to the airports is AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort. Pamela Yew, its director of sales and marketing, said event organisers found the hotel convenient for time-strapped foreign delegates, especially speakers who would often fly in to make their presentation in the day and leave at night.
The seafront property also appeals to event planners with its seclusion from the busy city centre and access to two ballrooms. Its location allows the provision of an ‚Äúextreme park‚ÄĚ with paintball courts, a go-kart track and ATV rides. Corporate teambuilding activities can be arranged on site. The two ballrooms are pillarless and have high ceilings. They can accommodate 1,000 and 400 pax respectively.
Yew said: ‚ÄúMany competing MICE hotels only have one ballroom which is used for the main conference, leaving not enough venues for private dining.‚ÄĚ
Also playing to Selangor‚Äôs advantage is the steady depreciation of the Malaysian ringgit this year. At press time on August 14, it slumped to its weakest level in 17 years, and reached a historic low of 4.03 against the US dollar.
Kamal observed that the weak currency has made Selangor a more attractive destination for business events, and said his company had seen increased enquiries from ASEAN member countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, for the second half of 2015.
He said: ‚ÄúThe depreciation of the ringgit had resulted in clients using their savings to (add value to the programme), such as by organising a gala dinner outside the hotel or requesting for entertainment options.‚ÄĚ
Yew too is seeing increased enquiries from companies based in Singapore, India and China for 2H2015. While demand is up from financial service sectors, Yew noted that it was the reverse with oil and gas clients. She explained that the weaker currency had impacted the latter‚Äôs revenue.
She remarked: ‚ÄúThe devaluation of the ringgit has helped business as organisers want to stretch their budget. During the low season, we are able to provide value adds such as room upgrades, complimentary rooms, coach transfers from airport to hotel or from hotel to the city centre, and flexible room rates and meeting packages.‚ÄĚ
Selangor‚Äôs Sunway Resort Hotel & Spa group director of brand marketing & communications marketing, Farizal Jaafar, said the integrated resort is now more affordable to its main markets from the Asia Pacific region which contributed 60 per cent of its guests in 2014.
Rakyat Travel‚Äôs Kamal agrees. ‚ÄúIn the past, the total package price of holding an event at Sunway was beyond the budget of our clients. Now with the devaluation of the ringgit, it (is affordable). This is also a good option for clients who have already done Kuala Lumpur and are looking for a new destination.‚ÄĚ
Meanwhile, the two-year-old Setia City Convention Centre in Selangor‚Äôs Shah Alam is banking on the integration of ASEAN as a single community to further drive business, said its senior manager, Francis Teo.
Currently, part of its business comes from multinational corporations in Shah Alam and Subang Jaya who prefer to do their events at the centre which is nearer than venues in Kuala Lumpur.
Journey into the capital‚Äôs past
MICE planners having an event in Kuala Lumpur should incorporate this 50-minute live performance in English into their programme as it gives foreign visitors a lively introduction into the early beginnings of the city.
Everyone who watches this show will have their hearts go out to the colourful, multiracial settlers who lost their homes and their possessions when the Great Fire of Kuala Lumpur broke out in 1881. To further add to their misery, The Great Flood that year destroyed the city and settlers were left with two choices, leave and start anew elsewhere or rebuild the city and their lives. Thankfully they chose the latter.
While the characters are fictional, the story is based on historical accounts from the 1850s during the tin mining boom which promised riches and attracted an influx of pioneers from Asia to the muddy junction of the two rivers, Lumpur River (now known as Gombak River) and Kelang River.
What also makes the show interesting is that the audience can choose to participate, and by doing so, they become part of the unfolding drama. For instance, they can form a line and become volunteers to pass pails of water to help put out the ravaging fire of 1881.
The intensity of the fire is projected through visuals on the LED screen.
It is fitting that the tale of Kuala Lumpur is staged at Panggung Bandaraya, built in 1901. Panggung Bandaraya is located at Merdeka Square, the heritage area of Kuala Lumpur where buildings are more than a century old. This was the ‚Äúnew‚ÄĚ city of Kuala Lumpur then.
Mud: Our story of Kuala Lumpur is the longest running musical in Kuala Lumpur; it will be staged till end-2017. There are two performances daily, at 15.00 and 20.30, except on the second and fourth Monday of the month.
This musical is the perfect post-lunch/dinner entertainment. If an afternoon show is chosen, the programme can include a horse carriage ride ‚Äď provided the group size is small. The ride starts and ends at KL City Gallery, which is within walking distance to Panggung Bandaraya.
Drawn by Friesian horses, the carriages will take visitors past the old parts of the city, where buildings date back to the 1800s. Visitors will be able to see some of the architecture that will be featured in the musical. The ride lasts 20 minutes and a carriage can fit up to four people.
With advance bookings, Kuala Lumpur City Hall can prepare up to five carriages to take groups around at any one time.
Ganneesh Ramaa, manager of Luxury Tours Malaysia, points out Malaysia‚Äôs many attractions that delegates must experience
Malaysia has a lot to offer to visiting MICE delegates. There is an old world charm to experience in Penang and Malacca, beautiful beaches to play at in Langkawi, Terengganu and Sabah, and a lively city centre to explore in Kuala Lumpur. Good highways, rail and air links make travelling from one state to another easy.
Explore cultural diversity in Malaysia by sampling different food and experiencing the way of life of locals. Homestay programmes allow delegates to spend a night with locals, while day trips to villages and longhouses promise memorable experiences for foreign delegates.
Be one with nature
Many opportunities for nature-based pre/post-show activities are on offer. For example, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia in Kepong is one of the top eco-tourism destinations in Malaysia, and offers the excitement of walking along a 150m canopy walkway, suspended 30m above the ground. Dark Cave in Batu Caves and Tempurong Cave in Gopeng, Perak are also waiting to be explored. For venues with a twist, planners can pick The Lost World of Tambun‚Äôs 400 million-year-old Kepura Cave which can accommodate meetings. To escape the tropical heat, head up to Cameron Highlands and explore Endau-Rompin National Park on a four-wheel drive or bicycle.