Business events have an impact that extends far beyond the attendees and participants seated in the conference room. That was one of the main takeaways from "The Collaboration of Business Events and International Trade," a panel discussion at Malaysia Business Events Week (MBEW). It was part of an education-filled day organised by the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), showcasing Malaysia's MICE offerings and wider lessons about how business events add value to the region.
One of the two panelists, Datuk Isham Ishak, secretary general of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for Malaysia, who had for the past 25 years worked at the Ministry of International Trade & Industry, emphasised how important it was for the country to be a leader in attracting business events and stay competitive in the APAC region.
"I'm a more business-oriented person. I look at ROI, benefits that are not only direct but indirect," said Mr Isham. "We have almost 1 million SMEs. For them to travel abroad - to Europe, U.S., China, Japan - it costs money to them. If we can bring these major events to Malaysia, we will help them reduce the cost of transportation and accommodation."
He pointed to Malaysia's advantages as a MICE destination, including a "stable economy, good governance, a strong awareness about what business is all about - trade, industry - and we have high confidence," he said. "Look at the foreign direct investments coming into Malaysia and infrastructure around us."
But these ingredients won't sell themselves, he added, urging "close collaboration between businesses and government," and stressed the need to demonstrate to government ministries both direct and "intangible benefits apart from the ROIs" that the business events bring to Malaysia.
"Government officials in this room, please speak to your private-sector friends who are in this room. Ask them, 'what are these business events all about?'" he said. "Multinational companies, major associations, please look at Malaysia because of these advantages."
Alan Pryor, chairman of the Business Events Council Malaysia (BECM), shared Mr Isham's enthusiasm for fostering dialogue between government and business. He described how his organisation's mission, working in collaboration with MyCEB, is to do just that, gathering data to help demonstrate the impact that business events are having in the country.
The worth of business events
"We have to prove to government, and help Datuk prove to the different ministries, what is the value of business events to this country," said Pryor.
He outlined how business value is made up of the direct spend made by a delegate on accommodation, food and beverage, retail and more, as well as indirect benefit - the spend on the venue, A/V, IT and more.
"There are a lot more benefits that derive out of business events and we need to start with collecting data to build our case and convince government of the value of our industry," said Mr Pryor.
Mr Isham added that benefits go in both directions and organisers and attendees coming to Malaysia not only gain business value in the form of new contacts, investments and opportunities, but are enriched by "the experience of Malaysia hospitality - the beaches, the food, the durian, the kampongs, diving experiences."
Combining data with good storytelling
Mr Pryor pointed out that likewise, while data about the value of business events is important for making the case to the government, there is also a "need to tell the story."
"With good storytelling, we can add that to the data and really convince our ministers and ministries of the fantastic value of business events," he said. "I honestly believe that if we can explain the value that we can contribute and collaborate together…there is so much value to be derived."