Sarawak Convention Bureau

Drumming up business for Sarawak

The Malaysian state of Sarawak is fast becoming a serious player in the MICE industry with the opening of a Convention Bureau in Kuching, the capital. This comes at an opportune time with the state government structuring itself to focus on convention tourism. – By Julia Douglas

Conference organisers and meeting planners looking into Sarawak as a venue for their event should check with the

Sarawak Convention Bureau. It acts as an official point of contact for general enquiries ranging from locating unique venues, inspection of site, hotel accommodation and transportation facilities to confirmed events. As the coordination office, organisers can rely on the Convention Bureau in getting the support of local authorities for their event or convention being held in Sarawak.

The Bureau is able to assist organisers in the processing of visas, customs clearance and provide useful contact addresses and links to other industry related associations. It has information on local suppliers, interpretating services, sightseeing companies and stand contractors.

More than just an information centre, the Bureau also helps in publicising and promoting an event through creating e-mail campaigns, supplying boards and banners around the city during the congress as well as listing the congress on its online events calendar giving direct link to the website of the congress. At the same time, the organiser has free use of the Bureau’s other promotional materials such as posters, films and videos.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Mr Jimmy Nais (Business Manager),
Mr Dylan Redas Noel (Research Manager),
Ms Anedia Kahar (Public Relations Officer),
Mrs Jill Henry (CEO), Ms Amelia Roziman (Sales Co-ordinator),
Mr Geoffrey Lee (Regional Manager, Malaysia),
Ms Christina Wendt (Director of Sales) and
Mr Chew Chang Guan (Business Development Manager)

ABOVE Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh, Sarawak’s Minister of
Finance (II) and Minister of Urban Development beating the
drum to mark the launch of the Sarawak Convention Bureau.
On his left is chairman of SCB, Dato Sri Dr Leo Michael Toyad
and Jill Henry, CEO of SCB.

In terms of financing an event or convention, the Sarawak Convention Bureau is in a position to provide pre-financing of events or guarantee funds to organisers.

So, if you are thinking of Sarawak as your next venue, the Sarawak Convention Bureau is the natural starting point. It is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for independent information and assistance with unbiased and neutral advice on all aspects of hosting and organising conventions and business events within Sarawak. The services of the Convention Bureau are usually free of charge.

In an exclusive interview with Mice In Asia, Sarawak Convention Bureau’s (SCB) chief executive officer (CEO) Jill Henry shares her work enthusiasm and ideas on what she and her team will be bringing into the MICE industry of Malaysia’s largest state.

– By Laura Lee

Q: How do you see the role of SCB?
A: We try to take a fresh approach. Everything we do at SCB is new like packaging products that have not been packaged before. We are slightly more than six months old (as at press time) but we were up to full strength a month after our operations were set up in May 2006. We are looking at working with the key industry suppliers and capturing the corporate meetings, incentives, associations and conventions business of about 500 persons. It takes more than the work of a bureau to achieve all these things. It requires an association to issue an invitation and support the funding to put on a competitive bid. Government support would be involved for the larger conventions.
Q: Your team comprises all locals except yourself. How do you feel about it?
A: I believe in using the local people. The chairman of SCB’s board of directors, Dato Dr Leo Michael Toyad, has been very supportive although he is not working full time. He will be responsible for connecting us to the federal government.
Q: Who are the key people whom SCB will be working with?
A: International meeting planners, travel agents who handle large corporate accounts and those who are involved in putting proposals for corporate meetings, best venue advice and new products. Those who successfully bid for a meeting will be given an Anak Sarawak Honorary Convention Ambassador award.
Q:  Who are your competitors in this business?
A: Everyone in the region and globally. It includes Sabah, which has got its act together so far as the corporate business is concerned. Kuala Lumpur is another major competitor for us although we are not positioning ourselves to compete with the bigger cities and mega meetings.
Q: The Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) had a MICE division. Is SCB taking over the role?
A: STB’s approach to MICE marketing follows the style of leisure marketing, which involves doing trade shows. SCB’s strategy is more on personal relationships. A lot of the things we do are behind the scenes, like establishing links for the industry players. We recognised that a key need is to develop the right kind of product and experience, up selling rather than discount selling.
Q: SCB has drawn up top 10 incentive ideas in Sarawak. Would you care to elaborate on some of them?
A: Priceless Legacy Sarawak Experience, which entails spending time to improve the quality of life for the longhouse community or a remote kampong, has the potential to grow. Although this will take some effort, the rewards will be worth it for the incentive group looking at the smiles on the faces of those in the community who have benefited. SCB did the White Rajahs theme party for a group of buyers recently where dinner was served in a courtyard inside the old court house built by the Brookes in 1874. The idea was to take them back to the era of Sarawak’s White Rajahs. We had everybody wear something white as part of the theme. What we were focusing on was the experience.
Q: What is your outlook for 2007?
A: I do not expect to see a lot of changes in the convention business. 2007 will be a year to track and establish benchmarks for SCB. We have four key goals, which include looking out for new convention bid opportunities and converting them into short-term businesses with higher yields. We are targeting 50 national and international associations and hoping to convert five of them into potential MICE business for SCB in the first year. We are also working with the industry to develop new products. At the same time, we need to get baseline statistics and manage our budget to maximise our opportunities. With 2007 being Visit Malaysia Year, we are encouraging certain events to be opened up for corporations to participate in.