Unfazed by a new and unfamiliar market, industry players in Sabah were up to the challenge of meeting the needs of its first corporate incentive group from India and ensuring delegates had a memorable experience.
A Bengaluru-based incentive house was looking for a suitable destination in South-east Asia for its client, an automobile distributor from Bengaluru, which wanted to conduct an overseas meeting and incentive programme for its top achievers.
Sabah Tourism Board, together with Destination Explore, a DMC based in Kuala Lumpur, managed to convince the incentive house that Sabah’s state capital, Kota Kinabalu, had much to offer and would readily welcome them. It helped that the clients were keen to visit Sabah, and explore a new destination.
While the Indian market is the second largest medium-haul market for Malaysia pre-pandemic, Indian tourists mainly visited Peninsular Malaysia, and not East Malaysia.
On the first day in Kota Kinabalu, delegates visited Mari Mari Cultural Village, which offers glimpses into the lives and lifestyles of the five major ethnic groups in Sabah – Dusun, Rungus, Lumdayeh, Bajau and Murut – by showcasing each group’s distinctive houses, costumes and traditional skills.
The group also learnt how Sabahans cooked with bamboo shoots, learnt to play traditional games such as congkak (a type of board game) and watched a cultural dance performance.
The second day comprised a half-day meeting at Sutera Magellan Resort followed by lunch and a two-hour city tour. The day ended with a gala dinner and awards recognition ceremony held at the resort.
On the morning of the third day, delegates were treated to water sports activities such as jet skiing, parasailing, banana boat rides and snorkelling at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. The itinerary for the day wrapped up with a leisurely sunset dinner cruise.
The next day, they took a local flight to Kuala Lumpur and checked in at Sheraton Imperial Hotel, and were taken out for city sightseeing.
On their fifth day in Malaysia, delegates went on a day trip to Resorts World Genting to enjoy the cool air, theme park, shopping, where some even tried their luck at the casinos.
The incentive trip ended on the sixth day, when delegates flew back to India.
There were a number of challenges while the delegates were in Kota Kinabalu. For instance, Destination Explore had trouble finding restaurants that could cater to the palates of the South Indian delegates as the few available served only North Indian cuisine and were too small.
Also, Sutera Magellan Resort, where the delegates were staying, did not have Indian food in their breakfast offerings. This is not unusual for hotels in Sabah as Indian tourists to the state were few.
Overcoming these challenges, Ganneesh Ramaa, vice president, Destination Explore, recalled: “We settled for a North Indian restaurant facing the Waterfront. The owner was flexible and was willing to create a special South Indian menu for the group and include popular dishes such as sambar and Indian curd. They also liaised with a neighbouring restaurant and pub to use their seating facilities.”
Ganneesh also reached out to the F&B director at Sutera Magellan Resort who agreed to have a special Indian station so the group could enjoy a South Indian breakfast at the hotel.
A request for a garland of flowers to be placed on the standing brass lamps for the lighting of the lamps ceremony was made in the late evening of the eve of the event. Ganneesh rushed to the Hindu temple in Kota Kinabalu and after some persuasion, managed to obtain one to be delivered to the hotel early on the day of the group’s arrival.
Another challenge was not being able to get sufficient airline seats for the group to travel together. Thus, the group had to be split with some travelling on Malaysia Airlines from Bengaluru to Kuala Lumpur, while others travelled on IndiGo from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur.
Batik Air mounted special charter flights to take the group from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu on April 14, and later, on April 19, to take them back to Kuala Lumpur.
Event A meeting and incentive for an automobile distributor from Bengaluru
Organiser Destination Explore
Destinations Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur
Dates April 14-19, 2023