How Malaysia stays a step ahead in the world of business events

A Q&A with Datuk Zulkefli Haji Sharif, CEO of MyCEB

Datuk Zulkefli Haji Sharif, CEO of MyCEB.
Datuk Zulkefli Haji Sharif, CEO of MyCEB.

Last week offered a chance for Malaysia to show off how much it has to offer organisations, associations and planners seeking to bring their business events to the region. At Malaysia Business Events Week, held on Aug 28. at the Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, attendees learned how the destination has been meeting and succeeding expectations, what sets it apart as a meetings spot and what new developments are on the horizon.

No one made this case better than Datuk Zulkefli Haji Sharif, CEO of Malaysia Convention & Exhibitions Bureau, which organised the gathering. M&C Asia spent a few minutes speaking with Mr Zulkefli about what groups who visit the destination are looking for and how these demands have been changing. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

What's next for MyCEB? You're 10 years old this year and its sounds like you have lots of plans for the next decade.

Our plan was originally based on the first 10 years. We had a plan from 2010 to 2020. We surpassed our targets in the first five years. I believe the second part of the 10-year programme will also be strong, if not better. So in 2016, we began embarking on a programme called "Beyond 2020", looking at what we want in the future: Collaboration, strong commitments with all the government ministries. If they've worked with us, we want them to work with us even more so we can go out and get more events. These associations will get more events to our destination and at the same time complement the relevant ministry's objectives.

If we push and work for it, go through the association, we might get that business.

By 2025, we expect the country will become a different nation. So all the industry players must work hard in order to achieve that target. We have seen that if you just wait, 10 years will happen and you will be left behind. Our goal is to ensure that we get the dollars and cents, but beyond that, it's the economic impact and legacy for every single ministry that helps with that event.

There is a lot of development happening throughout Malaysia, not only in Kuala Lumpur but destinations like Sabah and Sarawak. How will these new offerings enhance meetings and conventions held in Malaysia?

From the perspective of business tourism, it's good to have increasing numbers of facilities, not just confined to the big cities. There are now secondary cities offering the same - that are capable of handling good-sized events. Once they have that opportunity to host, then the city is enhanced internationally thanks to the international people coming to the city for that event.

We are trying to spread the benefits of business events beyond the first-tier cities. By going deep into secondary cities, they will enjoy not just direct benefits and the legacy left behind from the events. We often encourage visiting groups to do CSR programmes that benefit the local community - volunteering projects, helping the poor or native people finish homes. If an event is held in other cities, we try to get those people involved in supplying those either through food or handicraft or in some way supporting the event.

When an event comes to these cities, it's not just the big hotels that benefit - it's the people at the small souvenir shops, the handicraft people, taxi drivers or guides.

A lot of people now live in the cities, so they want to see something different, to get back to nature. They want to enjoy that, to bring their families with them. We provide the opportunity and look at the capabilities of the second-tier cities and leave it to the organiser to decide.

What are you hearing from international groups that are looking to hold events in Malaysia?

This morning, we were talking about green and sustainability. The destination has to be eco-friendly and practise this. For example, programmes held here, if there is untouched food, we can partner with local company to distribute to the native people. You have to recycle - give materials a second chance, converting buntings or banners into bags or a folder, so they still can be used.

We have our own programme, "Let's Meet & Green." For example, we'd propose that every single delegate participate in planting a tree either by contributing $10 in their registration form, or at the event they can contribute on site and pledge "for this event, we have this contribution from delegates, which we can dedicate to planting a tree." We do this through Forest Research Institute Malaysia, which creates dedicated areas for those who plant trees. And in the first three years, if anything happens to the tree, they will replant it.

What are the priorities of international groups and what is attracting them to Malaysia?

Delegates coming in are also looking for healthy activities. After the opening night, there might be a run early next morning. Organisers want to encourage delegates who come to be healthy, and at the same time, to feel the ambiance of that city.

We have requests for technical tours - it's not new, but they are looking for something new we can add on that's relevant to that group. When we have that, we are also educating society or the place we want to promote.


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