BE Penang: “We are looking now at experiential meetings in Penang!”

15th Mar, 2023

There are quite a few innovations and new projects happening in Penang's meetings and events sector in recent months. Apart from the "BElong in Penang" destination marketing campaign launched in early 2022 and the preparation of "BE @ Penang 2022" - Malaysia's largest business events conference - we dig into what Penang reckons as beyond legacy.

HQ met with Ashwin Gunasekeran at IMEX Las Vegas in time to talk about his candidacy for the ICCA Asia Pacific Board of Director.

The much-anticipated reopening of Malaysia’s international borders early in the 2Q of 2022 has also rung the bell for the public launch of a new campaign run by the Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB). “BElong in Penang” sought to instil optimism in the local business events industry while laying the foundation for continued domestic hybrid event funding in the run-up to the return of international clients and events. According to PCEB, the campaign concept revolved around three key messages: readiness to host the first post-pandemic wave of business events; reinforcing uncompromised hospitality; and ensuring that all health and safety measures remained in place. “BElong in Penang was envisioned as a pick-up campaign to build trust and excitement between our clients and the destination. The campaign became Penang’s cure for tomorrow − we didn’t talk so much about what destination had to offer but rather gave a hand to our partners with the aim of giving back to the industry,” PCEB CEO, Ashwin Gunasekeran tells us. The campaign which basically means “your events belong in Penang”, sends a strong message on the various aspects that have influenced a new iteration of post-pandemic events. “We are talking about social, economic and political aspects that we cannot predict so far because everything today goes on a different scale and value. There is a lot of wisdom behind the decision that takes a particular event to a destination. It’s a question of what’s in return and what’s there for a potential congress.”

What the Malaysian bureau has noticed is that meetings have moved to a different level, where delegates now demand to experience a specific destination in many ways, for the benefit of both parties − they either want to actively contribute at a meeting or they expect something substantial to come out of that meeting. “In short, we are looking at experiential meetings and that is very important for Penang. Meetings are way beyond grants and fees − if you compare the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic requests, they have definitely changed,” says Gunasekeran. Although they allocate a certain kind of support, the most important thing at this point is to understand how Penang can play a role for a congress by looking at the flip side, where that same congress can also contribute to the destination. “All this means that meetings have become much more selective and have a high value for both ends. It is true that every conference leaves a certain mark on a destination, but here in Penang we are already talking about something beyond legacy. That’s what today’s meetings industry is all about − experiential meetings are the complete package for the future of the industry,” Ashwin declares.

"All this means that meetings have become much more selective and have a high value for both ends. It is true that every conference leaves a certain mark on a destination, but here in Penang we are already talking about something beyond legacy"

As further explained by our interviewee, most meetings leave something that adds value to a particular destination and that can take the form of a donation, a post-event campaign or scientific/social outcomes for the community. A key development for a school or an infrastructure for a particular area or community. “When we refer to beyond legacy, we are looking at the long-term investment of conferences and associations. Let’s say we have a congress related to a specific industry that might drive the creation of a research centre or a manufacturing plant. If we consider the contribution of such an investment we will be open to directly and indirectly improve society in the form of future manpower and other professional development opportunities. This is basically a high-value, high-impact event strategy − not just a one-off legacy but an ongoing fuse that acts as a value proposition for a meeting.”

BE @ Penang 2022: BE Forward, Evolution and Beyond

“BE in Penang” started as an industry related meeting in 2016 with the aim of opening the discussion for the development of congresses and Penang’s capabilities as an event destination. The idea of this conference was to educate, train new professionals and continually share perspectives on current and future trends in the industry. In other words, what can you expect from the future? For Ashwin, much will be owed to education: “This year we are going to talk about the future, so the core theme of the conference will be “BE Forward”, referring largely to the aspect of labour and its scarcity driven by the pandemic, and the current situation of the world economy. We will also talk about technology, robotics, how the human dimension and the future will come together − as is already happening in the manufacturing industry. So, when will this happen in the service industry?” The 7th edition of BE @ Penang 2022 will bring experts from various latitudes who will share their thoughts on future winning technologies, cybernetic evolutions, robotics with bold predictions on how man and robots can peacefully coexist in our daily life. This year’s edition will take place at the Setia SPICE Convention Centre on the 8th and 9th of December.

Ashwin Gunasekeran to Stand for ICCA Asia Pacific Board of Director

On another note, our respondent Ashwin Gunasekeran also had a chance to comment on his official candidacy for the ICCA Asia-Pacific Board of Director, presented last month. According to a video posted in support of the candidacy, its aim is to lead the chapter towards a “value- driven, member-centric direction” for the entire region while also emphasising the professional commitment to the meetings and events industry. The candidacy will focus on four main pillars of action: youth empowerment and development; call for collaboration; government- to-government alliances; and training and knowledge growth. It should be noted that, in 2019, the inaugural ICCA Asia-Pacific Summit was held in Penang under the theme “Journey of Discovery”, an event that served as a brainstorm for innovative ideas, relevant discussions and to unveil important partnerships that, according to Ashwin, led to this candidacy. “Finding out what Asia- Pacific members wanted to experience at the inaugural summit was quite inspiring. We cultivated partnerships with corporate partners and I was able to gather significant insights into how ICCA Asia-Pacific Chapter should lead and move forward,” he concluded.

Other Articles

About Us

Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.