01 January 2022
Borneo is an island on its own, but has not been untouched by the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In efforts to protect its citizens from the gargantuan threat of the pandemic, Sarawak and Malaysia went through great lengths to restrict, monitor and often times shut down movement between international and regional borders. While this has kept the population safe whilst the local government focused on vaccinating the majority of the population, these restraints inhibited Business Events (BE) and Tourism within the state in a major way.
There was optimism for the BE industry when 2021 first started, with hopes that a rough 2020 season would have prepared everyone for what was to come, but no one could have anticipated that the new year which is now coming to an end, would have left the Sarawak BE industry in a more precarious situation throughout the year, with weekly Standard Operating Procedure announcements, and a strict “no business or social events” policy that spanned from mid-January to September. Many industries, including the BE industry, were left in limbo awaiting weekly for updates only to be met with months-long dry spells.
According to the Malaysian Association on Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (MACEOS), when the pandemic first struck Malaysia, the BE industry was hit hard with event postponements, cancellations and eventually a total shut down of the nationwide industry resulting in revenue losses of up to RM40.05 billion since the pandemic begun in 2020. According to a July 2021 survey among members of the association, of which BCCK is a part, 55% respondents reported a drop in business revenue of more than 75%.
Sarawak Convention Bureau found the total economic impact loss in the business events industry from 2020 to 2021 was calculated to be RM95.6 million, with 32 total events that have been cancelled and converted to fully virtual events with 11,662 delegates, 41,911 delegate days, RM5.7 million tax earned, 7,589 Jobs creation and RM51.9 million in direct delegate expenditure.
BCCK had its fair share of losses during the pandemic. Since 2020, the Centre has seen cancellations for 86% of its events, due to national and regional SOPs and restrictions, leading to a tremendous loss, with 14% of events were postponed till further notice.
“During this slump in the local Business Events industry, we took the initiative to explore alternative business models as well as to revamp, revitalise and in some cases, totally reconstruct some of our facilities. We also had the opportunity to fully support the government’s vaccination programme by facilitating their state-wide vaccination drive,” The Chief Executive Office of BCCK, Eric Van Piggelen stated.
COVID in Kuching, and Vaccinations in BCCK
The Borneo Convention Centre Kuching was selected to serve the community as a Vaccination Centre or PPV (Pusat Pemberian Vaksin) in Sarawak, for three months spanning from early June to the end of August. BCCK became the PPV chosen to administer the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine in Kuching, as well as Sinovac vaccines during the waiting period between the first and second dose of AZ.
“We would like to thank the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC), Borneo Medical Centre (BMC), Public Medicare Group (PMG) and the Red Crescent (PBSM) for their ongoing efforts in combating the spread of COVID-19 through inoculation. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with your medical officers, volunteers and other front liners during this time, and BCCK is proud to have been able to host the complete vaccinations of 100,523 individuals.” Eric Van Piggelen stated.
"BCCK was the biggest vaccination Centre in Sarawak, and it contributed vastly in getting us to achieve our vaccination target,” Dr Cheong Yaw Liang, Special Administrative Officer at the Kuching Resident Office who is serving as Head of Social Transformation and Commander for COVID19 Operations in Kuching mentioned.
The efforts of the BCCK housekeeping and cleaning staff cannot be ignored during the Centre’s time as a PPV, as they took on the rigorous task of safeguarding the health and safety of the vaccinated patients through frequent and proactive sanitization, made harder by the risk it posed to staff themselves when they carried out these sanitisations.
BCCK Fares the Storm
“COVID-aware and COVID-ready events are the new standard for the foreseeable future, and BCCK was sure to plan with this in mind for the future of Business Events in the Centre,” Eric stated.
One of the first things BCCK did was set a strict health, safety and cleanliness operating procedure for staff and visitors alike, focusing on maintaining a strict regimen of sanitisation and cleaning while also enforcing restrictions on the status of those entering the centre at any given time, in accordance to updated advice given by the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC).
During this time, staff that were capable of working from home were instructed to do so, to reduce the chances of staff being exposed en masse to the virus. The Human Resource department also took this time to focus on the upskilling of staff, investing in building on their potential in their respective fields through virtual trainings, improving their hands-on talents during this increasingly hands-off time.
BCCK remains one of the largest convention centres in Sarawak, with the large halls that can safely accommodate business events with maximum social distancing and risk management. As business events begin to reopen in the centre and the state, the BCCK “Size Matters” Campaign continues to go strong for this very reason, allowing local clients to continue having their events comfortably and safely.
BCCK also began expanding its brand further within Kuching’s gastronomic industry, launching its brand “Gourmeal”, offering “Gourmet Meals on the Go”, which provided the expertise of the Centre’s prolific and professional chefs and bakers, to bring affordable and high-quality food to the people of Kuching.
The Centre has also invested in a delivery food truck and has begun focusing on the expansion of its catering services, and have begun looking into the inclusion of e-hailing services and motorcycle delivery to cater to both large scale and smaller scale clientele.
Redefining Business Events
BCCK has also begun focusing on generating its own in-house events, with the goal to create annual events that can be become Hallmark events that Kuching community or the business community can look forward to every year, in a uniquely BCCK and a uniquely Borneo way.
Among those BCCK-owned events to come are the Borneo Extreme Auto Show & Tradefest (BEAST 2022), an automotive tradeshow and expo that will be open to the public and will feature the local Sarawak car aficionado scene, as well as the Asia Pacific Tourism Expo & Conference (APTEC) and Travel & Trade Mart (TTM), which will be held exclusively in BCCK and will bring together local and international members of the BE Industry.
BCCK has also looked into investing in partnerships with like-minded organisations, such as the Borneo International Exhibition Sdn Bhd (BIEx), which will be signing a memorandum of understanding with BCCK with the promise of encouraging and nurturing local events created and led by local people, in an effort to encourage and nurture grass-roots event initiatives.
While lack of business events was a large issue for the Centre, BCCK took the low traffic as a golden opportunity to take stock of current facilities, plan for the future and execute those plans, particularly within the realm of Audio-Visual Technology, as the Centre also began exploring the realm of virtual and hybridised events.
The Centre began implementing AV upgrades throughout the Centre for customers and clients to enjoy once in-person business events receive the greenlight from the government. There are also plans to explore and expand on both virtual, hybrid and homegrown events in BCCK in the next few years, so watch this space for exciting news coming your way
The first to see an overhaul was BCCK’s Audio technology, with state-of-the-art sound system being introduced from D&B Audiotechnik, a leading brand in professional audio equipment with sound systems in iconic venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Sydney Opera House, and now here in BCCK’s Great Hall. This allowed BCCK to begin looking into avenues for renting our sound system equipment for off-site events, as it is one of the best in Sarawak today.
Digital signages of varying sizes have also been introduced throughout the centre, to reduce print waste and labour, as well as to enhance the event experience for our clients. Digitalised signage allows more interactive and dynamic signage and advertisement options for our clients to play with. These LED signages range from smaller standee-sized screens, TV screens outside of meeting rooms, and billboard sized high-definition screens overlooking our concourse areas that are capable of screening events live and playing promotional videos, all at the press of a button.
Selected meeting rooms have also been equipped with 20,000 ANSI Lumens projectors, making BCCK the only venue with projectors of this quality available in Sarawak. These upgrades with undoubtedly amplify the experience of our clients once BE restrictions are lifted.
The Future of Kuching
Out of Sarawak’s population, over 2 million people or around 71.9% of the population have been fully vaccinated, while 3.6% have been partially vaccinated. Sarawak has already begun the rollout for vaccinations for teens, between the ages of 18 to 13 years old and aims to achieve completed vaccinations for 80% of the population by 12th January 2022.
With the goal fast approaching, Sarawak has already begun to set efforts in motion to reopen the state for business and travel, with travel restrictions in place to safeguard the health of the local population.
In the meantime, our Centre vows to continue to work closely with the governing bodies to ensure the safety of customers, clients and staff, following the guidelines set by the SDMC to keep the citizens safe, and with our fellow business events organisations to bring in Business Events once the borders reopen, and to encourage the germination of local grassroots events among the local communities.