In Conversation With Alan Pryor, General Manager, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

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ES. Could you provide the readers about your early life and career? What was an early project you are particularly proud of and an early defining career moment?

Alan. Joining the pre-opening team at the Durban ICC (International Convention Centre) as Operations Manager and drawing up the entire operating manual for Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs’) and systems with a team of locals none of whom had any convention centre experience (myself included) and many staff not even from the hospitality sector and making it work with just a 7 month lead time to opening – and seeing it work. Even better, as I travelled the world in later years, I saw others who have adopted many of those original systems and SOPs’ and even more gratifying was seeing some of the local staff hired then from the surrounding townships, now working all over the world. A defining career moment was at an interview with Ladbrokes Hilton in London for a Food & Beverage Manager position, where they told me I was wasting my time and then was offered an operations position in a conference and exhibition centre, I have never regretted that or looked back since.

ES. Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is one of the most modern venues of Malaysia. Please tell us other features that sets KLCC apart from other venues.

Alan. The Centre’s has a progressive, flexible partnership approach to our client engagement and product offerings, and customised solutions design are key to our long track record of success stories, and high-rate of client-retention. We are distinctly set apart by a very professional and talented team of subject matter experts who have over the years acquired great experience and knowledge from having been part of many major international high-profile events and meetings, and who are able to guide and provide our clients with the best event solutions. A key selling point of the Centre is its strategic location in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. As part of the integrated Kuala Lumpur City Centre precinct which is also home to the iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers, a 50-acre lush park, a myriad of accommodation, dining, and leisure options, we are extremely well positioned to offer a one-stop experiential solution for event organisers and delegates planning and attending events at the Centre.

Through our establishment of the Kuala Lumpur Business Events Alliance (KLCCBEA) which is a precinct initiative, our collaborative efforts provide a compelling destination proposition which is unique and accessible to all, combined with great connectivity to the surrounding city and a wonderful recreational environment for local and international event delegates and business events travellers attending events at the Centre. We are also well recognised for driving industry initiatives to build awareness and education on strict compliance and adherence to SOPs, and health and safety guidelines that are a continued priority as we continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. It has become a significant strength of the Centre, instilling trust and confidence and assurance to our clients, exhibitors, contractors and visitors. The Centre’s focus on industry advocacy and the development of the local business events market through government engagement and professional education, in the aim of making Malaysia the preferred meetings destination in the region, reiterates our position as the market leader in Malaysia.

ES. How many regional, national and international conventions, meetings and trade shows, are hosted by the KLCC? How do you overcome the challenge in conducting and initiating the events?

Alan. On average, the Centre saw about 1,300 events year-on-year, pre-Covid from 2015 to 2019 totalling up to over 16,000 events, as at January 2020. Some of the more notable events were:

  • 11th ASEAN Summit – 9,800 delegates
  • 3rd Women Deliver Conference 2013 – 3,500 delegates
  • 128th International Olympic Committee 2015 – 1,000 delegates
  • 27th ASEAN Summit 2015 – 3,000 delegates
  • The Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum – 25,000 delegates
  • World Chefs Congress & Expo 2018 – 700 delegates
  • 1st World Congress of Falls and Postural Stability – 450 delegates

Since the pandemic, we have focused our efforts in providing innovative products, the right counsel and the best solution to our clients, keeping in mind people’s safety as the paramount priority. Whether it’s a pivot to digital, postponement or cancellations, we stand by our clients’ decisions with full support. By demonstrating flexibility in our solutions-oriented approach and showcasing subject matter expertise, we are able to welcome both new and returning clients, albeit in smaller numbers since the pandemic.

We also spent an immense amount of time supporting and being involved in industry initiatives and forming a united front in battling the Covid-19 challenges and most importantly, the uncompromised compliance to SOPs as a requirement to organise events at the Centre have instilled trust and confidence in our stakeholders to choose the Centre as their preferred venue.

ES. How has the virus outbreak affected KLCC? And, how have you dealt with the situation and geared up for resurgence?

Alan. Extremely badly, as any business events player would say, 2020 was our worst year yet, but we are still keeping optimistic for the year ahead and those upcoming. Looking on the bright side, it has given us more time to inject creativity in an otherwise overly familiar business model, which had in fact begun pre-pandemic. Our industry environment was already becoming highly competitive – unique venues mushrooming in every nook and corner, adoption of technologies of the Industrial Revolution 4.0, developing immersive and experiential event content that engages participants, to name a few. The pandemic just put the pedal to the metal, accelerating the industry’s transformation to remain future-proof and sustainable.

In the past year, to help us cope with the new challenges, we –

I) Enhanced our engagement techniques by revamping our website with user-friendliness and interactive features. Our digital concierge, Skye, a Chatbot tasked to welcome and help users navigate within the website and respond to queries, combined with an interactive floorplan offer a pioneering engagement experience for organisers and visitors alike. Most recently, we launched the Virtual Tour of our venue offering an overview of the entire facility with the options to self-explore or take a quick guided-tour and a deep-dive into each function space via a 360-view, offering a more interactive and visual immersion. We also utilised the website to provide the latest and important information related to Covid-19, relevant to the industry, to our stakeholders and our international community.

ii) transformed existing spaces into virtual and hybrid studios that are fitted with production-grade audio and visual equipment combined with 400 Megabit of Internet bandwidth, two separate power supplies, a dedicated network backbone and a qualified team of technical experts to advise and deliver any virtual and hybrid event needs, ranging from set or event production and technical design to live broadcast and streams.

iii) diversified our F&B product offering by opening up new F&B outlets catering to every day consumers and expanded to offering festive special menus through deliveries, reaching customers beyond the Centre’s geographic location.

iv) collaborated with other industry bodies and players to increase government engagement to create awareness of the overall business events industry and its value as a key strategic economic driver to the nation. These helped expedite the re-opening of industry and continuation of events as per new norm SOPs in 2020.

v) developed joint-partnership events on profit-sharing basis with organisers to help stimulate the events economy and to protect jobs. This saw the returning of a series of entertainment events and consumer exhibitions.

vi) focused our efforts to adapt to the new world of work through professional development to up-skill and cross skill our local talent, and develop them further to match the international standards and evolving needs of our industry, which will in turn prepare us better for recovery and the resumption of business to attract more business events into Malaysia. We entered into a tri-partite partnership with Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO), to provide a comprehensive learning platform that is convenient and affordable to Malaysian business events professionals. We also adapted our training to online learning and skills development.

ES. With the objective of providing major impetus to safety, how have you equipped to ensure safe and secure events? Please name some major events hosted by KLCC post the pandemic.

Alan. The Centre’s ensures the safety of the premise through several means –

I) Controlled access into and out of the building where we are able to manage and curtail the crowd movement in any particular areas and to limit entry to only those who comply with the new norm safety standards. Planning is comprehensive with a pre, during and post event scenario for each specific event and our security team are placed at strategic areas to monitor and ensure full compliance to the SOPs.

ii) Participants and visitors are required to perform double entry registrations – one on the government’s application and another on The Organiser’s event application for efficient contact-tracing, should it be necessary.

iii) Provision of visual reminders throughout the Centre to always practice physical distancing, usage of masks and hand washing. Specific to pre and during events, and when leaving the Centre, our security team are placed at strategic areas to monitor and ensure full compliance to the SOPs.

iv) Frequent sanitisation and disinfection activities before and after an event, with frequent housekeeping during the event.

v) For F&B, packed food and beverage are prepared and carefully placed on the tables at guests dining area eliminating the need for buffets or long queues.

vi) All Convention Centre employees have received Health and Safety training specific to SOP adherence and compliance. This is ongoing as SOPs and the various movement control orders have been implemented or amended.

The Centre was also a part of a joint-initiative among local industry players, as the Official Venue, which invited government officials to experience a demonstration of how a safe event environment can be created through adherence to new norm SOPs.

Some of the events held at the Centre since the pandemic were:

  • The World Tunnel Congress 2020 (virtual)
  • Chartered Tax Institute of Malaysia: 2021 Budget Seminar 2020 (virtual)
  • REX Home Expo 2021 (physical exhibition)
  • Homedec 2021 (physical exhibition)
  • MDA Scientific Convention & Trade Exhibition (SCATE) 2021 (virtual)

ES. The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre has unveiled its latest innovative engagement tool, an interactive virtual tour, how will this engagement platform help in advancing customer engagement to another level?

Alan. The availability of the virtual tour component on our website bridges the gap that is created by travel restrictions, and the disruption to the event planning process. Clients and organisers and event delegates and participants, can now visit the Centre and experience the venue space remotely from anywhere in the world. This new dimension is essential in preparation of upcoming events, ensuring business continuity despite the disruption imposed by the pandemic. Arrangement of a live site-visit or tour that is guided by our team is also possible through a video tele-conferencing system with chat and voice features for two-way interaction that is embedded into the virtual tour platform, allowing for small to large group visits, virtually.

ES. The Centre also tracks its monthly environmental performance metrics related to Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water Consumption and Waste Reduction via the AEG 1Earth programme. Please elaborate.

Alan. The Centre, as part of the ASM Global network of venues, is actively involved in the organisation’s AEG 1Earth programme, a corporate sustainability initiative to ensure and maintain responsible business practices through its own metric and measurement system. The Centre’s own comprehensive sustainability programme and measurement standards are aligned closely to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We aim to build on every aspect of our business operations to make sustainable practices at the heart of everything we do, but it is a gradual and ongoing process. Most recently through the pandemic, with the many restrictions placed on events taking place, we have been able to put more time and effort into reviewing and improving our food waste management. We have now put systems into place which will enable us to analyse at a much granular level when and where food waste is generated from i.e. is it from kitchen production waste where we might need to adapt menus or production methods, or it is from the service side? We are analysing what food is wasted and why, what can we remove or reduce from the end-to-end process, what surplus food can be passed on to good causes such as food banks, etc. As part of this we already have sustainable waste management processes in place to process some of it into fish food for a local fish farm; and we also work closely with the Food Aid Foundation on ensuring that any surplus food we have is passed to a worthy cause. Other areas we are looking at is finalising the removal of all single use plastics. We have already done tremendous amounts of work to remove most of this so we are just capturing the last parts of this project. We have also been piloting, in phases, possible rainwater harvesting solutions in order to provide all the water we need for external cleaning, and eventually enable all cleaning activities at the Centre to be conducted through this pilot project.

ES. What are the areas which will see drastic changes? What would be 3 Tech Trends for Event Venues in 2021?

Alan. We believe that working from home and a level of reluctance to return to face-to-face meetings is going to stay with us for some time. We see the further enhancement and adaption of virtual or hybrid solutions as we continue to understand more about how to engage the two separate audiences, those at the venue, and those participating remotely, with the events running simultaneously or more likely separately to allow focus on each audience with tailored content for both. An extension of this is the production value, how good is the technical production of the virtual/hybrid components? There will be a shift to TV/Movie quality production to retain engagement online and for that there will be a shift of some AV companies and venues into this space and we will see changes in the world of work and the types of skills sets required for the new creation, innovation and delivery of events.

The pandemic is also bringing forward or expanding the work industry organisations are doing around personalisation and big data. With the growing mix of remote attendees, it is going to become even more important to understand who our audiences are, what their needs are, what their persona and sentiment is. It is no longer about just getting the right speakers and the right food for coffee and lunch breaks. There needs to be a whole new level of engagement and to do that we need to understand more about who we are talking to, or who we want to find to talk to. The third big trend will be a coin toss between support for sustainability and safety. How can technology support sustainability and the growth level of circular and macro economies? And with the pandemic continuing, what can technology offer to support this? We are already seeing temperature checks integrated into scanning stations or CCTV installations, contactless will become the new norm as we fast track even more contactless registration solutions, contactless payments (already big but can we see the demise of cash?), contactless solutions for on-booth sharing of contact information, exhibitor collateral, digital health passports for vaccination information or risk information, upgraded high-tech ventilation systems, automated sanitising drones for before/after events, etc.

ES. Do you have some hybrid element involved in shows at KLCC? How do you ensure contactless delivery and services at your venue?

Alan. Yes, our hybrid studio makes it possible for us to cater to this demand. As a much larger space, the studio allows for a limited in-person capacity based on physical distancing for participants to attend personally and this is combined with our on-site, technical team expertise and a strong network backbone and production-grade audio visual equipment, enabling us to cater for thousands of virtual participants who can experience an event safely in the comfort of their own
space. The Centre has the capability to deliver hybrid events seamlessly as we are a purpose build facility designed to cater to both physical and virtual events and the hybrid model allows us to be even more innovative in our delivery. For F&B, packed food and beverage are prepared and carefully placed on the tables at guests dining area eliminating the need for buffets or long queues.

ES. What according to you will be the role of venues and the preparations they will need to thrive in the new normal?

Alan. Venues are an important infrastructure asset for a city and from that front has a vital role to play in economic recovery. Venues facilitate the business of organisations and entities in both the private and public sector, and provide a platform for communication and connection to stakeholders, customers and communities as they all use meetings and events as their primary engagement tool for planning, knowledge exchange, policy, training, commercial transactions and social engagement, and without it organisations lose market visibility, profitability and presence due to lack of interface. Venues must take advantage of this time to build a market-ready workforce by up-skilling and re-skilling their employees to meet the current and near-future demands.

New skills are required as we continue to adapt to the progressive advancement of a digitalised world. The growing adoption of technology solutions to deliver event design solutions is creating new career opportunities and skills diversification. An expert workforce that delivers a well-designed solution is as important as acquiring the technological prowess. Our audiences continue to seek engagement and it is imperative that venues maintain their market presence, elevate client communication and develop new product offerings and engagement platforms to increase and enhance communication. We are in unchartered waters and our clients’ look to venues as subject matter experts who can guide them and assist them to plan, execute and achieve successful business outcomes from their events whether they be in person, hybrid or virtual.

ES. What are your upcoming plans? What major events are in the pipeline?

Alan. With the limitations imposed by the recurring movement control orders (currently in our 3rd instalment), our focus is on helping our clients in every manner possible – whether pivot to digital, postponements or cancellations, we stand by them with full support in all decisions. We will continue to push for hybrid events with our One-Stop Solutions for digital events. Alternatively, we are working to include attractive and encouraging clauses to cut down losses, should the client decide to postpone or cancel. We are also in the midst of amplifying our food and beverage product as an independent revenue-generation source in the effort to continue in our business diversification path and to provide a more wholesome event experience through food and beverage, an important cultural identity for Malaysia. Our team remain our most vital asset beyond the infrastructure of the Centre and it is our responsibility to ensure continued professional development to build a sustainable talent pool for our industry supply chain. Lastly, it is crucial we continue to lobby and advocate to government on the value of the business events industry and its role as as a primary contributor to the visitor economy and to the knowledge economy. It is imperative that Malaysia builds its profile in the region and globally as more and more competitor destinations advance their market share through strong government support and destination visibility and promotion. For the rest of 2021, we have secured 37 trade and consumer exhibitions and 14 national and APAC conventions confirmed including International Medical Exhibition & Conference 2021, Food & Hotel Malaysia 2021, the 3rd Asia Optometric Congress and the 8th ASEAN Optometric Conference.

ES. How KLCC is attracting other events and conferences that are relocating from other states?

Alan. At present with the restrictions in place it is very difficult to attract both events and participants from other states which limits our success in this regard. Our biggest challenge remains the restrictions on inter-district and inter-state travel but we fully understand and support the initiatives by Government to curb the numbers and to prioritise the safety and health of all Malaysians as the first and utmost priority. We are continually exploring opportunities with both corporates and national associations to stimulate business resumption and we are fortunate that our national convention bureau MyCEB has launched the “Meet in Malaysia” incentive programme to support local events. Our message is that we as the business events industry must remain resilient, focus on strict compliance to SOPs and use this time to collaborate and prepare for the resumption of business events in parallel with ongoing efforts to lobby and advocate to government on the value of our industry and our proven ability to deliver events in a safe regulated environment with the right expertise and health and safety compliance in place. Together we must be ready to present a compelling marketing campaign that demonstrates Malaysia as a certified safe destination for business events in the Covid era, so we can continue to secure more regional and international congresses and events and build Malaysia’s market share as a preferred destination for business events.