A Conversation with Ashwin Gunasekeran, CEO of Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB)


~ Drive In New Normal – Penang Here for Tomorrow ~

What has been your biggest task since the COVID-19 situation erupted as a global pandemic? What are some of the challenges for Penang’s MICE industry, as well as the challenges faced by you and your team?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major postponements in the meetings sector that were supposed to be held in Penang. Currently, PCEB is working towards realigning business strategies, and reconfirming future events that are being postponed and canceled for the year 2020.

What are some of the trends inherited from this pandemic that might shape the MICE industry of tomorrow?
One trend that has been constantly the topic of conversation is the heavy investment in technology for the sustainability of business events. Another trend includes securing major alliances in shaping the MICE industry.

The innovation of technology has grown to great levels with its endless possibilities, and it has shown a significant and vast implementation in the events industry. Hybrid events will be the choice format in further connecting delegates and organisers, with state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment and faster and more stable internet connection.

In your opinion, what are the effective plans to ensure the Penang tourism revival and continue to boost domestic and international tourism?
PCEB has been carrying out its rejuvenation plan in line with the Penang State Government through various efforts:

  • Further collaboration and engagement with industry partners and clients to create inclusiveness,
  • Enhancing existing support programmes for meetings, conferences & exhibitions which includes bid support for future events,
  • Constant branding and marketing of Penang as a choice destination and its offerings through the hospitality and creative industries.
  • Explore and invest in digitalisation efforts for the destination in terms of improving the community, connectivity and event management.

What will be your idea of “Turning Crisis into Opportunity” in Penang and Malaysia?
The pandemic has truly forced businesses to rethink sales and marketing strategies, to tap into more creative measures to continue staying relevant.

The said crisis has provided us the opportunity to gain extra knowledge in an unexpected crisis management and to look at the same things differently. This has also allowed us to take the necessary actions with the community and clients’ interests in mind.

What is the trend for meetings that are currently organised in Penang, and how is Penang taking advantage of this approach for future events?
Meeting trends have fallen drastically with the existence of the pandemic. However, we are glad to see the number of meetings making headway during the recent month with the new trend of implementing the hybrid model to increase engagement and audience conversion.

PCEB is constantly engaging closely with our partners and clients with available event support, while encouraging them to move along with the trend in securing more events as more organisations have gone through a cut in their revenue stream.

Business industry players have to stay united and collaborate together, continuing the momentum to revive and rejuvenate the tourism and MICE industry. Meanwhile, we must always ensure all precautions applied to maintain the confidence and trust for our destinations – Ashwin Gunasekeran, CEO of PCEB

Is digitalisation a challenge for the MICE industry in Penang? How do you think MICE industry players in Penang are able to adapt and blend in the new trend of digital usage?
As part of the Penang2030 vision under the themes to increase liveability to enhance the quality of life and to upgrade the economy to raise household incomes, the Penang Chief Minister has included Digital Transformation to enhance the momentum under Industry Revolution 4.0.

In line with PCEB’s plan of action, we will continue to explore further into new technology for events and follow up with the latest trends to stay relevant in the industry.

How is the industry in Penang responding to the crisis and how are they striving to keep afloat during this challenging time?
Penang is vigourous in curbing the number of cases, and we have been a green zone for 91 days. All businesses have been adhering to the safety measures and SOPs, while being strict with regular customers and delegates for events.

The Penang State Government has rolled out various support programmes like the its Penang Business Continuity Loan Scheme or ‘Skim Peka PKS’ that will will enable micro entrepreneurs and SMEs in the state to remain in business through capital injections.

A second aid package – the Penang Aid Package 2.0 was also launched, worth a total RM76 million to be distributed to the most vulnerable groups which include the tourism sector.

As for the businesses and the business events industry in Penang, I believe most of them have to scale down accordingly and cater to smaller events in order to continue being relevant. Previously there was a limit to public events, but when the limit was amended to depend on the space area together with the implementation of social-distancing measures.

Event organisers will also need to equip themselves and their businesses with the latest broadcasting technology that is able to assist in organising virtual events.

In terms of sustainability, what are the future projects in MICE industry that Penang will be engaging in coming years?
PCEB has its own CSR programme named Penang Turtle Cares in collaboration with the Penang Turtle Sanctuary.

Organisers and delegates are able to partner with PCEB for this CSR programme to experience different conservation activities by the sanctuary. The sanctuary encourages different types of activities that are up to the creativity of the organisers or on how they would like to contribute which include:

  • Study Tours & clean-up activities: with the additional option planting of “Ambung-Ambung” trees as shelter for the turtles to lay their eggs under;
  • Cleaning up of the turtle tanks.

Looking forward, what are the key goals that you would hope and expect to achieve for the coming years, in regards to the MICE industry for Penang as well as for the country?
PCEB will continue with the engaging process with our partners and clients, and keep them constantly updated every step of the way as reassurance for the safety of their events. The business events industry is a resilient sector and it will definitely come back stronger.

The pandemic is a temporary obstacle, and we will also be working on more creative ideas and strategies to further grow Penang as a selected choice destination for business events.