Penang’s big plans

Industry sentiment in the Malaysian state is at an all time high, with stakeholders optimistic that there will be significant growth

Penang’s business events sector is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, buoyed by improvements in air connectivity, a new reciprocal visa-free policy, as well as proactive marketing promotions by the state government.

Last year, Penang saw numerous direct air connections between the city and China, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Indonesia, and Qatar. For instance, on October 29, 2023, Qatar Airways commenced flights to Penang via Phuket, while Flydubai’s daily Dubai to Penang will commence on February 10, 2024.

Funicular train on Penang Hill

Francis Teo, head, convention centres for S P Setia, stated that these new connections will not only attract business event organisers from the Middle East, but also from Europe.

He remains hopeful that this year will bring with it improved connectivity from northern Asia to Penang as well.

Penang also aims to ride on Malaysia’s new reciprocal visa-free policy. The policy, which commenced on December 1, 2023, came about due to the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

As such, Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) is planning to organise a roadshow to India, specifically to Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kochi.

Notable conferences in the coming months include the 45th International Advertising Association World Congress in March; the International Tin Conference in May; both the 3rd ASEAN Conference of Healthy Ageing 2024 and 21st International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade Conference in July; and the 35th Annual Scientific Congress of Malaysian Oncological Society in October.

In anticipation of an increasing number of regional and international events at Setia SPICE, the Setia SPICE events team has also established channels for event organisers and associations looking to leverage their gatherings to bring about a positive impact on the local community.

Teo shared: “We have compiled a list of local organisations in Penang and their specific needs. We aim to act as intermediaries, connecting international and regional event organisers with the local community, fostering meaningful collaborations.”

Teo also plans to work with other secondary destinations in Asia, in his capacity as chairman of the newly-formed Asia Venue Alliance.

The Asia Venue Alliance was founded by five convention centres – Ariyana Convention Centre Danang, Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center, International Convention Centre Tainan, Borneo Convention Centre Kuching and Setia SPICE Convention Centre – where a Memorandum of Cooperation was officially signed on December 7, 2023, in conjunction with the 8th edition of BE @ Penang 2023.

The official signing of the Asia Venue Alliance at BE @ Penang 2023

Regarding the benefits of the alliance, Teo stated: “We aim to leverage the collective strengths of our members and tap into the growing international business events market to generate robust business leads for rotating conferences and association meetings.

“Traditionally, one might consider securing 10 to 12 leads per event at trade shows as fortunate. Through this alliance, our goal is to significantly surpass this benchmark,” he added.

Noorazzudin Omar, general manager of the 453-key Amari SPICE Penang, highlighted the hotel’s direct connection to the convention centre at Setia SPICE, underscoring its advantages for business events.

Noorazzudin revealed that he is anticipating a busy 1H2024, as the hotel has confirmed numerous bookings for small- and medium-sized meetings from both local and regional associations, as well as corporate companies.

Moreover, the hotel is experiencing a surge in enquiries for accommodation requests from both local and international event organisers who are planning events at Setia SPICE for both this and next year.

Similarly, Christina Tan, director of communications at G Hotel Kelawai and sister property G Hotel Gurney, also reported strong corporate bookings from the domestic market, as well as from Singapore and Indonesia for 1H2024.

“We are quite optimistic about finishing the year with significantly stronger booking figures in contrast to 2023. We have observed a marked increase in bookings for meetings and conferences from the medical and engineering sectors,” she shared.

Tan pointed out that the recent reopening of G Hotel Gurney allows the team to capitalise on both properties, and attract larger meetings that require many breakout spaces.

“Event organisers now have the option to maximise the potential of both properties due to their proximity. For example, during major exhibitions at G Hotel Gurney, G Hotel Kelawai’s smaller breakout rooms can cater to smaller group discussions, run parallel workshops, and host specialised sessions.

In 2022, Penang hosted 3,762 events, achieving an estimated economic impact of RM1.5 billion (US$323.1 million). Although this was short of 2019 levels, it was considered a relatively successful year.

While the final figures for 2023 were not available as of press time, it is estimated that the state hosted approximately 2,500 events, drawing in 260,000 delegates, and yielding an estimated economic impact of RM1 billion.

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