Business events seen as an enabler of environment conservation

(From left) Katherine Chua and Allen Tan

Operators of two of Penang’s most prominent natural attractions are banking on the city’s fervent courtship of business events to help conserve the destination’s natural environment.

In an interview with TTGmice, Katherine Chua, managing director of Tropical Spice Garden, an educational and recreational attraction in Teluk Bahang, Penang, said: “When you bring in congresses and meetings, you bring in attendees who are cultural investors and intellectuals, and (are able to) bring new depth of understanding of what Penang has to offer.”

(From left)Tropical Spice Garden’s Katherine Chua andThe Habitat Penang Hill’s Allen Tan

Chua is certain that “attracting corporate groups is one of the solutions to ensure the conservation of Penang’s natural attractions” while raising the quality of visitors the destination attracts.

Allen Tan, managing director of The Habitat Penang Hill, agrees, saying that “business event delegates are a higher calibre visitor who will more easily appreciate the natural qualities of a destination”.

He believes that there is an opportunity for Penang to “gain stronger environmental recognition that will also result in the preservation of natural assets” by courting more corporate, association and specialist groups passionate about the same causes.

Taking a proactive stance on this, Tan said the owner of The Habitat Penang Hill has formed a not-for-profit arm called The Habitat Foundation. The latter had in October sponsored a “bio blitz” that brought 117 scientists from around the world to Penang, teamed them up with local scientists primarily from Penang’s University Science Malaysia School of Biological Science, and set them off into the rainforest.

“They documented 1,700 species of biodiversity in just two weeks. They found a potential new species of scorpions and several other species that have never been reported on the island before,” revealed Tan.

An even bigger project is in the works, said Tan, revealing the creation of a rainforest research centre that will position both Penang and Penang Hill as a destination and centre of excellence for rainforest conservation and research.

At the same time, Tan believes that growing the number of business event visitors will push Penang out of the current backpacker rut it is in.

He said: “Penang has always been one of the stops on a typical backpacker trail. What frustrates me is that these backpackers would spend on experiences in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or wherever, but when they are in Penang, all they want to do is to sit on Chulia Street, pay RM10 (US$2.50) for a Tiger (beer) and wait for their Thai visas to come through. We are stuck in this zone and need to push through, and I think that business events will be a major catalyst for Penang’s elevation as a destination.”

At Tropical Spice Garden, corporate groups make up 20 to 25 per cent of its business, a figure Chua hopes to grow by finding the right DMC partners that recognise that the attraction “is a place of value, a place where event attendees can learn something about Penang’s spice trade, agricultural history, or biodiversity”.

This article was updated on February 1, 2018

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