No specific provisions made in Budget 2021 for the industry to help it stay afloat amid the pandemic
by HARIZAH KAMEL
MALAYSIA’S business events industry is not only eyeing for future recovery post-pandemic, it is also working to ensure survival in the present.
Before the advent of Covid-19, the industry contributed RM3.9 billion in direct expenditure to the country and generated RM9.2 billion in economic impact in 2019.
The year 2020 had been unprecedented, albeit for the wrong reasons due to the unforeseeable circumstances brought by the virus.
The Business Events Council Malaysia (BECM) was formed as a single-unified body that represents the business events supply chain in government engagements and advocacy to further advance and recognise the industry in its own right.
In an interview with The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently, its chairman Alan Pryor said BECM is determined to proactively engage and support the government in developing policies that will help business events, not only survive the current crisis, but thrive in the future.
Business Events Left Out?
Pryor, who is also Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre GM, told TMR that there were no particular allocations provided in Budget 2021 to support the industry.
“We commend the government on Budget 2021 that focuses on the rakyat’s wellbeing, business continuity and economic resilience amid Covid-19. Regrettably, there were no specific provisions made in Budget 2021 for the business events industry.
“Like many sectors, our industry has been hit hard with event cancellations or postponements that affect the whole supply chain from event planners and exhibition organisers to the accommodation, retail and aviation sectors, to name just a few,” he said.
He pointed out that some allocations were made for the Meet in Malaysia Campaign launched by Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau in September. Pryor reiterated that the continued subvention funds are extremely important.
However, he said the funds will not be enough to assist the industry supply chain to stay afloat, especially venues, hotels and even the airlines sectors, which have been badly affected throughout these past months and are struggling to survive.
“The meetings and events sector has been deeply impacted by the continuously evolving Covid-19 pandemic landscape, simply because of the human engagement element that is strongly attached to the business events industry.
“The resumption and extensions of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) have dampened all efforts to revive and recover the business events industry,” he told TMR.
According to a recent survey by the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers, business events industry players have experienced revenue losses of RM2.25 billion, a drop of 90% since the MCO started.
A total of 5,610 employees have been laid off since March, equivalent to 17% of the total industry workforce. Venues have had to survive since March with almost zero revenue.
There has been wage assistance for the lowest-paid workers by the Social Security Organisation, as well as the waiver of the Human Resources Development Fund fees as stated in Budget 2021.
There was also a 15% relief on electricity from the government which ended in September.
“Without purposeful assistance, the business events and leisure tourism markets might end up facing more closures, increasing job losses in the near future,” said Pryor.
As the business events industry drives growth and provides thousands of jobs, Pryor proposed several recommendations to help industry players, going forward.
He suggested the government to consider easing restrictions imposed on business events in areas under the CMCO.
“We have stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place; these have already been approved by the National Security Council. Our events are organised and executed in a safe, controlled and regulated environment, which means we can adjust participant numbers according to alert levels and venue size.
“Allowing even small groups to meet will help sustain the industry and limit the damage of a complete shutdown,” he said.
Apart from that, he suggested the government to help drive stimulation programmes for the industry by scheduling meetings and events, when the time is right, to help demonstrate and instil confidence that it is safe to meet.
Pryor said the government’s endorsement that venues are a controlled and safe environment could also further inculcate the openness for businesses to conduct meetings and events related to their trade.
He said the government can also facilitate the reopening of international borders for business travel, when safe, and encourage other such measures, when appropriate, and with the approval of the Health Ministry.
He also recommended the government to consider allocating funds towards grant and subsidy for the industry supply chain.
“An initial suggestion would be to seriously consider tax breaks and a reduction in utility costs, ease the burden of licensing and permit red tape. For example, it is now crucial for the venue sector to survive let alone recovering and for this, we need some significant assistance.
“Any reliefs or subsidies in tax and utilities would be a good place to start. Certain parts of the industry supply chain, such as hotels, do not have to pay Sales and Services Tax, but the venue sector still does,” he said.
Concerns also lie in advocating the benefits and value of the business events sector to the country both economically and as an employer, directly and indirectly, said Pryor.
He noted that regional counterparts such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand understand the true value of business events and support their business events industry with various stimulating programmes and initiatives.
“Without strong support from the government, Malaysia will collectively lose its regional market share and competitive advantage to neighbouring countries,” he said.
Voice for the Industry
As the voice for the industry, Pryor said BECM’s priority right now is to ensure absolute adherence to the SOPs to convince the government that the industry is ready to resume business.
“It has been the most rewarding journey to witness how our industry has pulled together and taken a proactive approach in engaging the government.
“A priority focus throughout the pandemic has been on delivering industry SOPs that are comprehensive and implementable, and could drive business continuity and build trust and assurance,” he told TMR.
He explained that it is the highest level of collaboration secured in the industry and can benefit the recovery process, as well as strengthen Malaysia’s business event supply chain and competitiveness.
Before helping the industry get on its feet, he said, they must first get the domestic market active as borders are still closed.
“Once the restriction is lifted, we need to stimulate the regional market, and the last phase would be the international market once global recovery is evident and travel becomes accessible to all.
“Throughout this process, we need to keep Malaysia top of mind as the ideal choice for business events,” he added.