More than just venues

Asia-Pacific’s top convention centres are proving to be more than just spaces for hire, as they play a bigger role in connecting event organisers and attendees with meaningful experiences in the destination. By Karen Yue, Rachel AJ Lee, and S Puvaneswary

As the business events landscape develops and competition for quality events intensifies within and among destinations, industry players have seen an evolution in the relationship between vendors and clients. A simple buy-and-sell approach no longer cuts it; both have to be partners committed to the shared goal of delivering a memorable and fruitful event to their stakeholders.

This partnership mentality has resulted in convention centres becoming more deliberate in their efforts to support event organisers, ultimately benefitting event attendees and the local community.

Take for instance International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) in Australia, which is committed to supporting local farmers and food producers while bringing the freshest state produce to its guests. Today, the venue is also a prolific supporter of the New South Wales wine industry, selling more than two million glasses of wine from the state since its opening in 2016.

ICC Sydney CEO and ASM Global (APAC) group director – convention centres, Geoff Donaghy, said: “Since our pre-opening days, we decided to feed our delegates healthy meals to keep everyone awake after lunch. Feeding Your Performance started out as a nutritionist-designed menu, but we soon realised that it was also benefitting our farmers and small producers. Feeding Your Performance feeds their performance and our local economy,”

ICC Sydney presents First Nations art

A qualitative research conducted with the University of Technology Sydney found that ICC Sydney has been able to give farmers “certainty of business”, which allowed farmers more time to give back to their community instead of having to worry about business, according to the venue’s director of corporate affairs, communication and sustainability, Samantha Glass.

“Some sustainable farmers are taking time to teach their neighbours how to farm more sustainably,” added Glass.

ICC Sydney also connects clients and their attendees with the destination’s heritage and people meaningfully through the arts. It offers its Gadigal Dreaming – The Sacred Country of the Gadigal People augmented reality experience content to event planners hosting at the venue. Content comprises eight scenes covering gathering, fishing, corroboree, crafting, tracks, hunting, camp life and cosmology legends of Sydney’s original custodians, and can be enjoyed on the audience’s own devices through QR codes.

Gadigal Dreaming, created by Bilbie XR Labs, an award-winning First Nations digital storytelling enterprise and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, with the support of Investment New South Wales, was first launched in September 2022 to bring the stories of the Gadigal People to members of the public passing through the Darling Harbour precinct.

Using art and media to “amplify First Nations voices, share the experiences of the world’s oldest living culture and preserve the history of the land on which our venue stands” is just one of the many ways ICC Sydney is using its “sphere of influence” to support Aboriginal community development, said Glass.

The venue’s support for the Aboriginal community extends to a First Nations procurement strategy, which provides business to First Nations organisations; employment programmes with education partners to benefit Aboriginal individuals; and hosting of events that connect Sydney’s business community partners with First Nations-owned businesses to result in opportunities for collaboration.

Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) in the Malaysian state of Sarawak is also leveraging its commercial influence to drive meaningful interactions with NGOs. It provides NGOs with complimentary space to exhibit and sell their products, such as handcrafted souvenirs made by members, to conference delegates. BCCK supports a range of NGOs, including the Association for the Welfare of Sarawak Mentally Retarded Children, Kuching Autistic Association, Sarawak Deaf Association, Penan Women Association, and Sarawak Blind Association.

Organisers are encouraged to commission conference materials, such as speaker gift bags and delegate lanyards, from these NGOs. Notably, massages offered by members of the Sarawak Blind Association have gained popularity among conference organisers and delegates, according to BCCK’s CEO, Eric van Piggelen.

Singapore Expo brings fun to meetings

Over at the Malaysia International Trade & Exhibition Centre (MITEC) in Kuala Lumpur, a fabric recycling campaign was launched in October 2023 in collaboration with Kloth Cares, a pioneering textile-recycling movement in South-east Asia.

Initial collections garnered through the campaign, held in conjunction with the prestigious CIMB Artober Art & Soul 2023 and CIMB Artober Fashion Week 2023 at MITEC from October 5-8, were sorted through Kloth Care’s recycling centre. High-quality fabric items were either exported or donated to charities, while the rest were upcycled or transformed into products like industrial wiping cloths and processed engineered fuel.

The 2023 campaign concluded successfully and MITEC continues to work with Kloth Cares this year; a fabric collection bin is placed prominently at the venue’s North Foyer. Taking this circular economy initiative a step further, MITEC will be organising quarterly thematic collection drives in 2024 to encourage personal donations from the centre’s visitors and local community.

As event attendees value fun experiences, convention centres are getting creative with networking concepts.

At Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld-Expo, organisers are gifted with EXPOtainment CUBE, where an array of visitor engagement programmes are customised based on the nature of the event – for free.

For a recent event, it organised a jazz performance for attendees. It took place around the end of the event show day, just in time for relaxed networking. Finger foods were thrown in.

Khoo Yew Jin, Constellar’s vice president for marketing for Singapore Expo, Singapore’s largest purpose-built events venue, told TTGmice: “Attendees today have grown far more selective about the types of events they attend, and in relation, the kind of activities they get to enjoy and participate in. Event organisers also want to create informal, casual moments where participants can gather, have fun, and at the same time make meaningful connections.”

Singapore Expo has strategies to elevate business events in such ways.

For instance, the venue integrates festivalisation into events hosted on-site. With Food&HotelAsia – Food & Beverage 2023, Singapore Expo created the first-of-its-kind Beer Yard @ FHA as a delegate networking event. The outdoor beer and networking zone, hosted in an outdoor atrium, invited delegates to connect over a selection of craft beers from local taprooms, fill their bellies with treats from food trucks, and enjoy daily live music and nostalgic games.

This networking concept enhanced the overall vibrancy of the show and visitor experience.

Khoo said more leisure offerings would be revealed in the year ahead.

MITEC upcycles with Kloth Cares

A venue for everyone
Another invaluable evolution of the role of convention centres is how operators regard their spaces today. More are recognising that their centre is not solely for business events, and having daily visitors through its doors benefits tenants and the local community.

The Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC) in Bangkok, Thailand, aims to become a community hub.

“As the city changes with more developments, we too, need to change to ensure we remain part of the community. We would like to serve nearby residents, office workers, and exercise lovers, and not just be a venue for people to convene in,” said Sutichai Bunditvorapoom, executive vice president – marketing, sales and operations division.

Out of its total space of more than 300,000m2, an area of 11,000m2 has been carved out for retail such as bookstores, convenience stores, and a spectacle shop. They fit into the Bangkok Active Lifestyle Mall concept, comprising co-working spaces, shower stations, spa, and F&B outlets.

According to Sutichai, the calendar is filled with “regular entertainment”, where temporary art pieces from the Bangkok Art Biennale are on public display alongside permanent art installations.

“We are partnering with Benjakitti Park (next door) to organise activities for visitors, covering music, sports, and recreational activities. People who visit Benjakitti Park are also welcome to use our facility (to wash up and hang out),” Sutichai added.

Meanwhile, visitors to the sprawling Singapore Expo will soon discover that the centre is also a destination for good local food. Work is underway to launch a new dining experience in 1Q2024. The project, in partnership with established F&B group BMP Food Concept, will bring Singapore’s aspiring hawker-preneurs, live sports, music and performances together in a communal food park space.

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