Keeping up with the times

Convention venues are finding innovative solutions to stay relevant in a constantly evolving and challenging market

Recent years have seen the meteoric rise in large industrial warehouses, museums and libraries pivoting as venues, spurring convention centres across Asia-Pacific to stand out in an increasingly competitive business events sector.

What has resulted are both hardware improvements – such as innovative modular spaces and the addition of a go-kart circuit – and software upgrades such as sustainability policies and a locally-focused menu offering.

IMPACT – a commercial complex in Bangkok, Thailand comprising an arena, convention centre and exhibition halls – hosts over 490 events and 15 million people annually, but Loy Joon How, general manager of Impact Exhibitions Management, told TTGmice that sometimes creativity meant taking events outside.

“In keeping up with creative requirements from event planners and clients, we are constantly looking beyond our private function spaces, especially at outdoor or non-conventional indoor venues that we can use to support unique meetings,” said Loy.
Aside from its 140,000m2 of indoor space, the complex is also home to an outdoor waterfront area, sports club, tennis academy, and electric go-kart racing circuit. These spaces can be arranged for private use.

Over in Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has chosen to bring the outside in. Its junior ballroom now sports a zen garden patio.

A number of its medium-sized function rooms have also been reconfigured, and can now be combined into a junior ballroom, with a capacity of 420 guests in a round-table setup.
Such enhanced spaces will cater to an emerging style of “experiential business-leisure events”, accompanied by “more demand for inspirational ‘TED Talk’ style conferences over conventional technical content or keynote sessions”, described an RWS spokesperson.

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces events online and encourages hybrid online/offline events to take root, it is no surprise that venues are boosting their technology capabilities.

As part of RWS’ ongoing transformation into RWS 2.0 – a S$4.5 billion (US$3.2 billion) mega expansion project, the Resorts World Convention Centre has welcomed Singapore’s largest 270-degree projection screen in the Resorts World Ballroom, and state-of-the-art large venue projectors with the widest colour spectrum in the industry.

Also in Singapore, SingEx Venues – the venue operator of Singapore EXPO and MAX Atria – introduced a suite of new facilities and services in January 2020.

These include smart, sustainable and acoustically-treated modular spaces FleX; as well as high-tech plenary hall ApeX with customisable audiovisual and digital elements, telescopic seating and a 54x5m configurable screen. The venue’s F&B has also been upgraded with research and development capabilities, while its central production kitchen able to cater for more than 1,000 guests concurrently.

SingEx Venues has also evolved beyond its initial function as a venue provider to provide Xpert, an in-house event planning service for event organisers.

Across the causeway in Malaysia, Angeline van den Broecke, director of global business development and marketing at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, shared that technology adoption and integration has always been a “major investment priority”.

She indicated this commitment to remaining agile has been “particularly advantageous in current times”, where there is a growing demand for virtual audience participation and remote access to content, event programmes and digital communication tools.

For years, convention centres have realised that they have to be more than just venues, and intensified competition from unique spaces has made this reality even more true.

Darwin Convention Centre has chosen to find its way to delegates’ heart via the belly. It launched its Seven Seasons menu, based on cultural practices by the traditional owners of the Darwin region. The concept moves beyond Aboriginal food to include a visual and sound experience for a sensory cultural immersion.

Similarly, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) has also evolved its dining to offer EAT stations that theatrically displays food options so that charcuterie can “literally fall on your plate”.

The stations are a more sophisticated version of elevated food platters that echo cafe or street food, with a goal of transporting guests to Chinatown or Melbourne’s laneways.
Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre serves up a Malaysia on a Plate culinary experience, featuring authentic local flavours both on its events menu as well as at its F&B outlets, Parkview Cafe and Cafe88.

In addition, Van den Broecke shared that the Centre is part of the Malaysia Iconic Experience in Kuala Lumpur with KLCC Property Holdings, which “promotes the integrated precinct as a tourism destination with several attractions and recreational facilities”, helping to expand the visitor experience beyond a conference programme.

RWS too, is aiming for a similar integrated precinct selling point. As part of RWS 2.0, the resort is enhancing its existing attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore and S.E.A Aquarium, and will be introducing a new waterfront lifestyle complex with two new destination hotels and an adventure dining playhouse.

In terms of sustainability, Australia’s convention centres have pushed the boundaries by having more than sustainability policies in place.

MCEC and ICC Sydney both appointed a full-time sustainability staff to demonstrate their commitment to the cause.

“Sam’s brief is simple,” said MCEC’s CEO Peter King of his recently-appointed sustainability manager Samantha Ferrier.

“To seek out best practice in green, eco-friendly options and make it easier and more cost-effective for customers to incorporate eco-friendly practices into their events.”

To that end, Ferrier shared that MCEC has appointed Australia’s first 100 per cent tree-to-cup carbon offset coffee company as their official supplier. “We’ve (also) installed 36 permanent Food Cubes on our courtyard that will become an event focal point. Each cube can grow 25kg of produce and will be used to grow herbs and other food for (our cafe),” she elaborated.

Meanwhile, ICC Sydney’s commercial kitchens are being serviced by solar hot water, while event planners are given a Sustainable Event Guide checklist that helps them work towards environmental goals, such as a plastic-free event.

Adelaide Convention Centre and Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre have made their environmental credentials known by becoming joint winners of the first venues in the world to achieve the coveted EarthCheck Platinum Certification.

Adelaine Ng, Pamela Chow, S Puvaneswary and Anne Somanas contributed to this article

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