Business Events (BE) and tourism sector workers were prioritised by the Malaysian state of Sarawak for vaccination back at the end of June under the Sarawak State Disaster Management Committee’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic. Nevertheless, although the state authorities are aiming for 80% of the population to be vaccinated, like most destinations, incoming visitor numbers have shrunk.
Amelia Roziman, CEO of BE Sarawak, sees the silver lining amid the Covid clouds and says now is “a good opportunity” to lay down the groundwork for the industry by providing initiatives for homegrown events and event postponement management, while effectively developing national and international business.
She wants her team to be a step ahead on what to do when Sarawak reopens again fully.
Flexibility in funding has allowed BE Sarawak to support homegrown events which, in turn, have helped support the key venues and hotels, some of which had diversified to become quarantine hotels.
There has been financial support for planners and hybrid events, as well as value boosters such as complimentary city tours for delegates. And there are venue subsidies to help planners with cost management and help the hotel industry kickstart business again.
Although the convention bureau notes there have been few outright major event cancellations for 2020, with around 90 events moving into Q4, 2021, postponements also mean a certain economic loss, although Roziman prefers to highlight the upside of maintaining connections and living to fight another day and to host the events in the future.
Another fresh approach is the bureau’s corporate meetings and corporate incentives (CMCI) programme listings (under the newly formed CMCI unit).
“Our strategy,” says Roziman, “is to align CMCI with our current campaign – Tribe Legacy Sarawak where we want to emphasise ‘tribe’ and ‘legacy’. These are two meaningful words that enhance the experience of Sarawak’s culture, adventure, nature, food and festivals – and also wisdom.”
The ‘Seven Wonders of Sarawak’ incentive itinerary includes opportunities to kayak along the Semadang river to a surprise location in the jungle where a tribal welcoming ceremony can be performed, with delegates tasting shots of Sarawak’s iconic rice wine (tuak) and experiencing traditional dances.
Delegates can also explore native cooking and meet the Ring Ladies of Sarawak, a sub-tribe of the Bidayuh people. Their distinct characteristic is the wearing of copper rings on their necks (called Tumbih).
Sarawak Economic Action Council is also backing business events as one of the ten industries in the state to be supported as social gamechangers and the BE Sarawak Legacy Initiative has projects for planners under 7 Key Focus Areas of Development, all run in tandem with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Although international events are likely only to resume from 2022 onwards, Roziman says that the Legacy Initiative “is ready when you are”.
Big incentive for skilling up
Sarawak claimed the most number of qualified professionals in Malaysia for the international Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS) designation with 26 local industry partners graduating from the latest virtual CIS course run from Bangkok, 8-9 July 2021, and accredited by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE).
Sarawak Business Events (SBE) association’s president, Frederick Ho, says the aim is “to enhance the skill level of our industry partners” for when business returns.
Sarawak has also become the first Malaysian state to join the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) for Business Events and Tourism by launching the GDSI Partnership Programme – Sarawak Region (GDSI-Sarawak Partner).
The Index is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and Kuching city has been selected for a pilot project.
Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, minister of tourism, arts and culture Sarawak and GDSI-Sarawak Partner’s patron, says: “A trusted system such as this will give us the necessary information and tools to help us make better decisions, improve business strategies, foster collaboration and innovation, and promote Sarawak on a higher scale.”
Amelia Roziman again: “More event planners are making decisions based on sustainability performances, evaluating social inclusiveness and the return on investment of their events. These factors also affect delegates’ decision to visit Sarawak for business events.”