The practicality of CEB collaboration in Southeast Asia

Participants at the two-day BE @ Penang conference, held from Dec 6-7.
Participants at the two-day BE @ Penang conference, held from Dec 6-7.

Should convention and exhibition bureaus (CEBs) join hands or go their separate ways when it comes to bidding for an event or meeting?

Panellists at the conference at this month's BE @ Penang conference, organised by the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) from December 6 to 7, largely agreed that collaboration could benefit Asian MICE countries. But they also cautioned against a one-size-fits-all solution.

Jason Yeh, CEO of Taiwan's GIS Group, put forward the case study of the CEBs of Barcelona and Vienna who used 'co-opetition' (collaborate and compete). Since both organisations had the same marketing representative in the US, they decided to share exhibition booths and also organised joint sales trips. Yet they still offered different products as they were geographically far apart from each other.

What made this arrangement work, Yeh said, was the high level of trust and good personal relationship between the heads of the two CEBs, as well as the cities' similar infrastructure and quality levels. "It is good to start with smaller projects and not have a contract but a 'gentleman's' agreement," he said.

In the case of Asia, collaboration between CEBs may not be as straightforward as the European model.

PCEB CEO Ashwin Gunasekeran pointed out that emerging destinations should focus on marketing the destination first and country second. He noted that since business events are held on a rotation basis, it is important for CEBs to have a presence in the region first. 

Agreeing with Gunasekeran, Gordon C. Yapp, CEO of Sabah Convention Bureau, noted that Asia is not yet as mature as Europe as a regional MICE destination.

Nichapa Yoswee, vice president - business, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), said collaboration between CEBs could work in a few specific areas. She cited how Thailand has already offered its expertise at establishing standards for MICE venues, with TCEB looking at the physical setting, technology and service provided. It accredited and adopted 222 venues in 2016. Currently, there are 13 other ASEAN venues outside Thailand that have been certified for MICE events.

The idea for CEB collaboration had already started as far back as 1983, with the establishment of the ASEAN Convention & Exhibition Bureau. But little progress had been made since then. 

According to Nichapa, in 2008 eight of the ASEAN countries' CEBs reactivated a collaboration to look at rules and regulations for the industry. Through this partnership, they were supposed to share information with one another, but as time passed it only fostered greater competition among the CEBs.

"How do we go back to our government and say we lost a bid to another country?" asked Nichapa. It also did not help the cause that the president of this CEB group - who is also the head of the Malaysia CEB - had not changed for the past 10 years.

Nichapa reiterated that instead of collaborating on bids, CEBs should instead focus on three key areas to cooperate - education, research and professional standards, which they should strive to elevate. She cited the example of Thailand successfully implementing guidelines for carbon neutral programmes and sustainable programmes.

She also added that the ASEAN Tourism Forum could push for ease of travel within the region by regulating visa requirements.


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