The Centre focuses on domestic biz events

‘Idea Lab’ is formed to brainstorm new ideas for the current climate and potential new revenue streams

by HARIZAH KAMEL / pics by HARIZAH KAMEL

MALAYSIA’S entire business events industry has been deeply hit by the evolving Covid-19 landscape; its supply chain suffering terribly and major challenges arise concerning business continuity and revenue losses.

For the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Convention Centre (the Centre), the number of events in 2020 saw a drastic drop of 460 events (72%) compared to 2019 where it recorded over 1,600 events which generated over RM800 million.

The Centre had only managed to conduct about 100 events this year whereas last year in the same period, it hosted 321 events.

In an interview with The Malaysian Reserve (TMR), the Centre’s GM Alan Pryor (picture) reflected on the challenges brought by the pandemic, his strategies to restore business operations and his outlook on the business events industry.

Facing Adversity

The implementations of tiered-Movement Control Orders without clear indication on business events reopening negatively affected the Centre’s revenue generation, including venue maintenance, operational sustainability and staff retention.

Pryor said the gruesome low margin of revenue had forced businesses to fold, lay off employees or implement pay-cuts to keep their staff.

“This extended snooze is now a catalyst to the growing invisibility of our business events market among our regional and international counterparts, who are actively resuscitating their business events sector as a standalone industry that contributes to driving the national economic recovery.

“Another primary challenge we faced as a venue was that clients and organisers look to the venues for updates, developments, counsel and solutions and the expertise in handling this unprecedented critical situation,” he said.

Adapting to Pandemic Challenges

Pryor told TMR his team had exercised phased operational cost-cutting across the organisation and this included halting the hiring of all part-time workers and optimising in-house workforce through inter-departmental operational assistance, reskilling and up-skilling.

Up to 200 management and administrative staff were trained to perform operational duties including catering, security, stewarding and other support services.

He said a team of passionate and professionally diverse staff members at the Centre were selected from various departments to form an “Idea Lab” to brainstorm new ideas for the current climate and that can create potential new revenue streams.

This resulted in the establishment of collaborative partnerships with several clients and industry partners that led to the first consumer exhibitions to take place in KL since the pandemic began, the Sip ‘n’ Paint weekend family activity to help drive footfall into the Centre, among others.

“We needed to stay connected with our stakeholders and provide a more efficient means of communication.

“Our website went through a massive overhaul to include a digital concierge, Skye, a chatbot tasked to welcome and help users navigate within the website and respond to queries, combined with an interactive floor plan and virtual tour of our venue,” he said.

Product offerings were diversified by transforming existing spaces into virtual and hybrid studios that are fitted with production-grade audio and visual equipment combined with 400MB of Internet bandwidth, two separate power supplies, a dedicated network backbone and a qualified team of technical experts to advise and deliver any virtual and hybrid event needs.

“We turned to the industry supply chain for camaraderie, support and collaboration which led to many successful initiatives including the reopening of the business events sector and the development of industry-standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“We also formed joint-partnership events on a profit-sharing basis with organisers to help stimulate the events economy and to protect jobs. This saw the returning of a series of entertainment events and consumer exhibitions,” Pryor explained.

Most recently, the Centre was utilised to support the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NCIP) as a mega vaccination centre (PPV) and is the largest PPV in Malaysia at about 33,000 sq m, vaccinating around 8,000 people daily.

“Our role as a PPV gave us a sense of purpose amid the uncertainties of the pandemic. We managed to put our collective resources, knowledge and expertise to help the government make the best use of the venue.

“This is also a reflection of how the new norm SOPs could facilitate face-to-face events in the future and a test run for us as we prepare for market reopening upon lockdown relaxation,” said Pryor.

Recovery and Resumption Plan

As part of its business recovery and resumption plan, the Centre conducted a training exercise to cross-and up-skill its entire 200-member team, covering various aspects of front-and back-end servicing of events and building operations.

The training involved classroom sessions and hands-on and roleplay exercises to familiarise the team on how to support some of the key areas of the Centre’s event operations namely kitchen, stewarding, security and safety, health and environment.

Pryor noted that the Centre launched a combination of initiatives aligned to its “We are here for you” Engagement Programme designed to support business recovery and continuity.

These included new digital solutions under the banner of “STAY CONNECTED”, a brand-new website, and comprehensive health and hygiene guidelines, in line with stringent adherence to government-approved SOPs.

Through collaboration with industry partners and the collective supply chain, the Centre undertook various industry engagements and initiatives including the recent sponsorship of the Business Events Council Malaysia (BECM) and the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) launch of the “BE-READY” initiative.

The Centre also offered its support for the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and International Association of Professional Congress Organisers WebEDGE initiative, to help enhance the professionalism of the industry supply chain.

Industry Outlook

“There is light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination rates in Malaysia and the world continue to increase, but it all depends on how the local and global Covid-19 situation evolves.

“We fully support and are encouraged by the NCIP as this will give us a better reputation as a safe destination as we look to the world to visit and re-engage with Malaysia,” Pryor said.

It is crucial for the industry to resume business events and for restrictions to be lifted coupled with absolute compliance and adherence to industry SOPs.

The Centre is working with MyCEB to promote Malaysia’s market presence and to continually uphold its stringent SOPs, consistently demonstrating the industry’s capabilities to deliver safe, professional, regulated and successful meetings and events.

It is also increasing engagement with strategic partners’ industry associations through collaborations in advocating and implementing stringent compliance to deliver a “Safe Malaysia” business events destination proposition.

Pryor mentioned as part of this, some industry sectors including the venues have pushed for and started the process for “Safe BE” accreditation to increase client and market confidence for business acquisition upon industry reopening.

“Once restrictions loosened, our immediate focus will be on safely hosting domestic business events. This will remain our short to medium-term focus, while customer confidence and support increase.

“When the situation allows, we will welcome back regional and international events and attendees, although the timeline on this is unclear right now.”

Cooperating with Govt

Commenting on the recent change in Malaysia’s leadership, Pryor and key industry players like MyCEB, BECM and MACEOS will continue to liaise with the government to highlight the importance of business events as one of the key drivers of the national economy.

“We hope that our advocacy and proactive ongoing engagement with industry stakeholders will result in increased government support through initiatives and incentives for the industry in Malaysia, to strengthen its market position to attract more international meetings and events when the situation allows,” he said to TMR.

Pryor recommends the government help industry players by distinguishing business events apart from general “mass gathering” and “public events”, allowing business events to resume as they are highly organised and proven SOPs, helping drive stimulation programmes for the industry to instil confidence that it is safe, facilitating the reopening of international borders for business travel, allocating more funds towards grant and subsidy support for the industry supply chain, and increasing engagement and open dialogue.