It is a well known fact that while reputations and image can take years to build, sometimes a single event can cast a smear that takes a painfully long time to erase. The impact of any single event, especially when of a negative nature is magnified many times over in this day of always on communications and social media platforms.
In light of this, the recent events in Lahad Datu, Sabah will likely cause some concern for Malaysians, especially those in the travel, tourism and MICE sector. With 2014 being Visit Malaysia Year, a lot of time and effort is being invested to ensure a roaring success for these sectors come 2014.
For the MICE sector in particular, which has a stronger multiplier effect within the tourism industry, any negative impression of Malaysia will hurt ongoing efforts to land international events.
Business Circle spoke to Anthony Wong, CEO of Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd. Better known as AOS, the company has more than 35 years experience in the leisure and incentive sectors of tourism. Wong coincidentally, was at an industry exhibition in Berlin, ITB Berlin. He says that not many of the visitors at the event are aware of the Lahad Datu incident, “But we make the effort to point out that Lahad Datu is far away from Kota Kinabalu. So we do not feel it will affect us when we do a conference in Kota Kinabalu.”
For Peninsula Malaysia, when bidding, Wong says they will give clients a map of Malaysia. This is to show them the distance [of Lahad Datu] from Kuala Lumpur and all the other conference venues like Penang, Langkawi and including Singapore. “This is because safety is the most important factor for any MICE event organiser. Even sponsorships of MICE events takes the safety factor into consideration,” adds Wong.
He offers a suggestion to quickly counter any lingering effects of the Lahad Datu incident. “After such an incident, we need to invite the international media down for them to asses the real situation and share their stories with the global audience.”
Individual travel to Sabah has been hit however as countries have sent out travel advisories and insurance companies will not cover their travel to Sabah.
That’s the experience at a physical event but what impact is this having on Malaysia’s MICE reputation in the online world? Thank fully, minimal, for now. According to Manu Menon, MD of Upfront Media, a technology-led, communications planning agency, “From the online perspective, the Lahad Datu incident has certainly stirred up a lot of nationalistic emotions. People have taken to the Internet to air their views. The medium of choice has been social media platforms like Facebook, which have been used to air both sides of the story.”
Although the buzz on social media platforms has been significant, Manu feels the impact on the MICE sector will be minimal at best. “Do an online check and you’ll not see any blanket travel advisories or warnings against visiting Malaysia. And because many of the MICE events take place in Kuala Lumpur, the conflict in Lahad Datu bears no significant consequence to the MICE sector.”
Manu notes that conference participants tend to use search engines like Google to research and select events. When keywords like “Malaysia exhibition” or “Conferences in Malaysia” are typed, the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) does not throw up any news links to the Lahad Datu incident. This shows that as it stands, the Lahad Datu incident wouldn’t factor into the decision making process of conference participants.
There is a caveat however. “If the Lahad Datu incident is not resolved soon, it will garner more visibility on the Internet and ultimately, it’ll appear on the SERP of any search term used that has the keyword “Malaysia” in it. This will then exacerbate the negative impact on the MICE sector,” he says.
Photo credit: Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd.