By now, you’ve heard the predictions for exponential growth in the travel and hospitality industry in Asia. While China and India are arguably the two most well-known names on the international stage for the meetings industry, Malaysia is quickly solidifying its place as a hub for international business, too.
At Convening Leaders in Orlando, I sat down with Ho Yoke Ping, General Manager, Sales and Marketing, Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau, to hear more about the country’s expanding role in the global meetings and events industry. A native of Malaysia, she grew up near the seaside in Kuantan. Today, Ho lives in Kuala Lumpur where she recognizes just how promising the future is for meetings and incentives in her home country.
“The association meetings and incentives industry here is still relatively young, so there are so many opportunities for us,” Ho says.
Many members of the meetings industry are already capitalizing on this land of opportunities. This spring, the Women Deliver Conference 2013 will welcome more than 4,500 attendees to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. In 2014, Malaysia will host the Toastmasters International World Convention, which will take advantage of the expansion of the convention center slated for completion at the end of this year. Plenty of other notable groups have their sights set on the country in the near-future, too, including the World Marketing Summit, the Million Dollar Round Table and the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention.
Attracting Association Business
While many association planners are already noticing how Malaysia can fit into their growth plans, Ho says that MyCEB is making big steps toward helping fuel that growth even faster.
Professionals from all fields in the US are accustomed to joining and engaging with associations, but Ho says that the association model in Malaysia is not quite as mature and developed. In order to accelerate is development, MyCEB has unveiled a new association development program - - a program that’s already paying off and encouraging many travel leaders to take note of Malaysia’s place on the international stage.
“Malaysia certainly has a strong future as a hub of dynamic associations,” John Peacock, General Manager of Australian-based Associations Forum, says.
As more planners look to Asia for the next wave of membership opportunities, that future is taking shape now.
“Many US-based planners are working to understand the differences in culture and business in Asia,” Michelle Stoddard Crowley, Manager, Global Development and Programs, PCMA, says. “Malaysia provides a chance for planners to take a step into the region and get comfortable with it.”
For US-based medical associations, it’s an ideal time to get comfortable. Ho highlights that the medical sciences are rapidly expanding in Malaysia, and the country is welcoming many conferences such as those geared toward nutrition, diabetes management and obesity prevention.
An Audience in the Backyard
With more than 55 percent of the world’s population in Asia, Kuala Lumpur is an easy trip for many business professionals. Kuala Lumpur ranked fifth among all destinations in Asia Pacific in the International Congress and Convention Association rankings in 2011, and the city’s state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre - saw a 15 percent year-over-year increase in the number of events it held between 2011 and 2012.
For the attendees who do get to experience Malaysia, Ho says that there is no equal for the country’s rich history and culture - - a culture shaped by more than 600 years of trading between Arabs, Chinese, Indians and Europeans.
“When you come to Malaysia, you can experience all of Asia in one country,” Ho says.
Experiencing the entire continent is cost-effective, too. In 2011, the World Economic Forum ranked Malaysia the third most competitive country in the world for travel.
Where the Government Wants Meetings
Cost isn’t everything when it comes to determining where to take your group internationally. Kristin Mirabal, Director, Global Programs, The Optical Society, says that it’s critical for US-based planners to consider where the local government is supporting the meetings industry.
In Malaysia, that support is alive and well. Still considered a developing nation, the government is focusing on achieved developed status by 2020. Reaching that goal relies on a healthy tourism business, and MyCEB is fully supported by government funding. With the objective of increasing international business tourism visitors from five percent to eight percent by 2020, it’s clear that the government has plenty of incentives to entice meeting planners to Malaysia.
The local government is focused on more than uncovering new business opportunities, though. Malaysia is putting social responsibility on an equal level with a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by the end of the decade.
The Big Picture
As more planners make site visits to Malaysia, the country is destined to be a go-to location for the international meetings community. In the long-term outlook, planners will be able to take advantage of a range of big benefits. From a new low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to a mass rapid transit system in the city’s capital to a 42-kilometer series of connected pedestrian walkways, 2020 will look much different in Malaysia.
While the country is focused on the big picture, Ho stresses that the country will never lose sight of its biggest asset: its culture.
“Malaysians are relaxed,” Ho says. “When people chase too much for development, they lose identity. It’s this country’s unique spirit that makes it such an attractive place to bring people together who want to learn together and discover the world.”
For more information on how your organization can introduce your attendees to that unique spirit, visit the official MyCEB website.
Photos courtesy of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau.