Meetings No 23
Pressure on Meetings International
Atti Soenarso: “At this point, we do not believe our ears.”
Cover Story
Catherine Boissier, Astra Zeneca
“Meetings are a vital tool.”
Cities across Canada Are Attracting Global Meetings
Due in large part to academics and industry innovators across a variety of sectors.
The Cost of Not Thinking
Mark Turrell: Applying conscious thought makes a big difference.
Dubai Tourism Launches Sponsorship Scheme
Designed to empower leisure event organisers.
Economic Development
Dubai Expo 2020 to Deliver $33bn Boost to UAE Economy
Expo 2020 is a long-term investment in the future of the UAE.
Calgary’s BMO Centre Set for Expansion
Funding approved for a $500 million expansion.
Longterm Development
The Potential of Cambodia
Visothy So: “We want to attract a lot of meetings and events.”
Canada Is the First Country to Have a National AI Strategy
Canada is in the lead of a global AI race.
‘She Means Business’ Digs into Diversity at IMEX Frankfurt
Diversity and inclusion are the linchpin of ‘She Means Business’.
The Business and Power of Placemaking
Placemaking in the spotlight at IMEX.
IMEX Frankfurt Shines a Light on Diversity and Inclusion
“Diversity means diversity of people, minds, ideas, and approaches.”
IMEX Agency Directors Forum
A highly relevant and future-focused programme.
Emirates Working on AI-Powered Flight Assistant
“The advancement of the next wave in aviation innovation.”
How to Fireproof Your Productivity
Exponential gains in your exceptionality, productivity and impact.
Volvo Car Group, a Human-Centric Meeting Culture
Paul Welander: “It’s always best when you meet live; for me that’s a meeting.”
The Art of Taking the Chance
“Many of the participants said it was the best congress ever.”
New knowledge
Brain research
shows added value live events.
BTM World 2020
transitions to virtual.
post-pandemic momentum
Dubai Tourism forms Business Events Stakeholders committee,
host first meeting as industry resumes activity.
hotel news
Scandic expects
occupancy of 30-35 percent for September.
Covid developer
Scandic Hotels
launches the largest network of coworking spaces in the Nordic countries.
planned for 16-17 Sep
Update on GIAF
- New dates set for 5-6 November 2020.
Sands Expo and Convention Centre
is now a carbon neutral venue.
positive impact
The Hague webinar
celebrates partnerships and first anniversary of Ottawa MOU.
expanding network
ICCA Partners up
with Geneva International Associations Forum (GIAF).
Sponsored Content
Taiwan Ready to Reopen to the World
Over 80 events taking place in Taipei now.
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The Potential of Cambodia

Across South East Asia the period following the end of the Second World War up to the late-1970s was broadly characterised by political upheaval and conflict, but over the course of time turmoil would gradually become transformed into tourism, with Thailand becoming the leading light of the wider region. In the past three decades Thailand has shown that a steady growth in tourism has also supported the flourishing of its meeting and event industry. The benefits of this solid growth and evolution have not been lost on neighbouring countries that whilst today still many years behind, such as Cambodia, are currently making bigger inroads into tapping their full tourism potential with a view to how this can be the platform to allow their meetings and events industry to also take a firm foothold on the world stage.

“In terms of policy with our marketing strategy Cambodia has identified itself as a new and emerging destination for travellers, with people very excited to come and visit the country, so we’re really starting out from the freely independent traveller (FIT),” says Visothy So, Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia. “For any new destination FIT has to come first to discover the region and take the knowledge, then the niche markets and the higher markets will come afterwards, so I think it’s more like they will be the discoverers and then other visitors, including MICE, will follow them. Our first hard work is on developing and bringing the FIT and that’s the aim at the start, because when more and more tourists come, like the Chinese who are coming in numbers at the moment, then the opportunities will develop.”

“Like any other kind of destination, however, we are open to all kinds of visitors, so with regards to MICE it is something new for Cambodia to identify itself as a meetings destination, but I think we have to combine it with everything else,” says Visothy So. “Even though we are just starting it now we have received a lot of MICE interest and there is an awareness of a value for money aspect, but that’s a reality of Cambodia as we are not expensive. In terms of our strategy we want to attract a lot of meetings and events because we want to have the corporate presence in Cambodia to back up the interest we receive. The quality here is improving all the time which generates more interest from within the region as well as from long haul.”

The particular interest in Cambodia focuses on its three key locations of Siem Reap with its UNESCO listed Angkor Wat temple complex, the capital city of Phnom Penh, and the southern coastal destination of Sihanoukville. All three cities exhibit very different sides of Cambodia but share a common feature of the continual development of their meetings and events facilities.

“The three key cities have a MICE component that is one of the sections that individual 5-star hotels or big resorts take into consideration,” says Visothy So. “In Phnom Penh we have the Diamond Island Convention Centre which can hold up to 300 or 400 booths and there are also reception and banqueting areas that can be drawn in for 500 or 1,000 booths. The Sokha Hotel on the river also has space for up to a 200-booth convention. And we also have the very new Morodok Techo National Stadium in Prek Phnov for the 2023 SEA Games that will also have an exhibition hall that can hold more than Diamond Island, so it’s pretty big too.”

“In Siem Reap they have had the Sokha Convention Centre since 2005, although because MICE didn’t develop so rapidly there, they converted part of it to a theatre and 3D museum, because they couldn’t have the space empty. It still has adequate space and a large exhibition hall. And in Sihanoukville the new Prince development has a convention area and also Sokha has an exhibition hall there too. So, the infrastructure is all happening and gradually coming together, but we are really at the start of our journey.”

The start of the meeting and event journey also requires the wholesale review of the capacity for traveller or delegate arrivals to the country by way of airport infrastructure, which compared to its neighbours still remains constrained but is an issue that is under on-going review and with pipeline plans for upgrading.

“International visitor arrivals are now reaching 6.2 million per year and we are targeting 7 or 7.5 million by 2020, with in terms of connectivity over 40 airlines flying to Cambodia, although we do have a challenge in getting direct long-haul flights. As our capacity for receiving tourists in Siem Reap has been very limited we now have concrete plans for the expansion of capacity at Siem Reap airport.”

“For Phnom Penh the plans for the airport are to be expanded so it can take up to 5 million and in the long term the government wants to have a new airport. To achieve this the government has already dedicated a new area of the city for a new airport, but an airport doesn’t happen in the short term, so with a lot of study and testing this will take some time. But the plans are under way, they have the plans but not yet finalised the exact location. The next four to five years should see this resolved.”

Addressing the hard infrastructure needed to start attracting business events to the country is just one part of a bigger picture, as significant attention is also being given to developing the softer skills that will be needed in the long term, including the human resources that the country has until now not needed as well as the framework for ensuring that this can be properly cultivated and delivered.

“A challenge for us is in offering quality, because we want a high standard, but at the moment we have just low and high as well as a little of something in between. To better attract meetings and events however, we need more international standard, so for the longer term we would consider a masterplan for tourism as a whole for capacity building and training, both for our Ministry of Tourism staff and also throughout the industry. For this we are now creating a Tourism Institute, which is a new body we just formed, and we are currently forming that (as part of its remit) will have to develop the Academy for Tourism.”

“Also, within the ASEAN region Cambodia has the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) so that tourism professionals can be mobile. We all recognise this so that they can work in neighbouring countries to develop their training tools and other skills, and Cambodia is one of the leading countries in this.”

“There is also the private sector which has the vocational training schools that help the orphanages or underprivileged children to work in the industry, and we are pushing for better training for the tourist tour guides, for which we run annual competitions. This is all more general but for MICE we will have separate specific programmes that we can use these structures to develop. We are constantly learning.”

The appetite for learning is at the heart of the work of the Ministry of Tourism, work that is currently evaluating the best mechanisms to broadcast the country’s meeting and event offer and that could also lead to the formulation of new entities to undertake this task, as well as potentially future bureaus to act as national or regional points of contact.

“At the moment the only entity that is pushing for MICE is the Ministry of Tourism and we’re going to have a promotion board that will be a public/private entity, but it will only be in charge of promotion. Meetings and events are one of their products that we are working on standardising, which we are doing for each of our products. So, let’s say you want to do inbound or outbound MICE, we are establishing the criteria that will have to be followed. We are working on all this, but in terms of a one-stop service it remains with us at the moment.”

“When the industry has grown enough, we may have a Cambodia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (CCEB) similar to the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), but it’s not there at the moment,” says Visothy So. “From time to time we work together with them and have meetings, and they also want to expand their arms into Cambodia in terms of cooperation, and also for those visitors they bring who want to explore beyond Thailand they want to bring them to Cambodia. The Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) also work closely together and we often receive their fam trips and post-tours when they visit Thailand and expand into Cambodia. It’s a good idea that we should have a one-stop service and we have to learn from their expertise and what they have been through to get where they are.”

Learning from the experiences of others is one key positive of being a latecomer to both tourism and the meetings and events industry, and as part of the ASEAN family of countries Cambodia can look to both Singapore and Thailand as leading examples of how to do things well, as well as learn from the pitfalls of what is currently happening elsewhere in the region, with issues such as over-tourism, pollution and the need for sustainability, as it charts its future path in the industry.

“Right now the coastal area is developing very fast, but in terms of facilities and sustainability we are worried about the speed of growth as the people there and the facilities are not ready for this strong impact of development, so we need to do something in terms of better master-planning so that we don’t have to face this kind of unsustainable consequence that can impact on the environment, the local people, the culture and the wider society. We have only 6.2 million visitors now, and when this increases we have to manage the impacts. We know this from general tourism, and this is something we can learn from for MICE development, make it steady and sustainable. This is our current major challenge. For us, we want to have good development and the most important thing is sustainability.”

Keeping this major challenge at the forefront of thinking on tourism or MICE expansion will be central to any success for Cambodia, yet at the same time it is a country with numerous advantages for attracting meetings and events. Cambodia has committed to showcasing these advantages by hosting its own travel trade show, Cambodia Travel Mart, since 2017, the maiden show being at the Sokha Convention Centre and Resort in Siem Reap and then moving to the Diamond Island Convention Centre in the capital of Phnom Penh for 2018, where it will also be held in this year. The show has generated significant interest from the ASEAN region and beyond, and as the infrastructure and facilities across Cambodia continue to come on stream it is highly likely that the show will also blossom to reflect this.

“Cambodia has a lot of strengths in terms of being a destination because we are new, so we have a lot of new development and we are unspoiled as a destination. We also have a lot of competitive advantage in terms of attracting the MICE industry to come, because they are always looking for new places to come to. Delegates have often been to Thailand or Singapore, so we offer something new for them.”

“Even though we have only started to grow with meetings and events the interest is there, we just have to know how to tap it,” says Visothy So. “The government and the private sector do their own individual promotion for MICE together with tour operators and travel agents, but within a few years the meetings and events industry will be growing rapidly in Cambodia and the government would love to see more corporates who will come back again and again, because during their MICE visit they won’t have the time, but they will get to see what is here and want to come back.”