Event Hacks

Exploring The New Normal For Venues With John Burke

Traditionally, event planning requires a specialized skill set, but the pandemic has elevated planners’ challenges beyond what they were expecting. 

Before COVID struck, hosting large-scale events was no easy task. Organizing an amazing event requires the cooperation of venue operators, artists, management, and staff. With this additional concern on top of the standard logistics, event planning and execution may require additional attention.

Venues were subjected to intense scrutiny to demonstrate that they met top-notch hygiene standards. The COVID-19 crisis has acted as a catalyst to accelerate some planners’ activities, especially regarding contactless technology.

The year 2022 brought a whole new trend for venues, including touch screens, sensor beacons, and facial recognition.

As part of the event experts series, Mr. John Burke, Deputy General Manager, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, shared his insights about the new normal for venues post-coronavirus. 

As a senior venue operations professional, John Burke has worked across the entire venue and event management industry for more than 25 years, including leadership, commercial management, construction liaison, vendor management, program management, facility operations, and engineering, as well as audiovisual (AV) and technical systems infrastructure and development.

Burke previously worked as Director of Operations for the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC), where he oversaw event operations, AV and production, IT, building services, and asset management.

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is Malaysia’s largest and most award-winning convention centre. Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the venue offers over 33,659 square meters of flexible event space.

This five-level facility offers over 22,659 square meters of flexible event space. Besides providing excellent accessibility and connectivity, the precinct also provides covered air-conditioned walkways with easy access to most attractions within 5 to 10 minutes.

* Could you please walk us through your professional journey?

A long and winding one! The route to my current position has not been a traditional one. My early career was in information technology (IT) with The NEC Group in the United Kingdom working across all their venues, venue consultancy, F&B operation (now Amadeus), and Ticketing (now The Ticket Factory). This gave exposure across all areas of the commercial and operational areas working on a number of organizational change and building development projects. 

This led to an opportunity with ASM Global to work on the pre-opening and subsequent management of a new convention and exhibition centre in Doha, Qatar. During the construction phase, working with the small pre-opening team, I worked across all functional areas, the start of my journey beyond IT. 

Building on the Qatar project, I relocated to Muscat, Oman to work on the pre-opening of the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, again with ASM Global. By this time responsibility had expanded to the Director of Operations role, which included all operational responsibility for event delivery, facility management for both hard and soft services, and all technical services for AV, IT and Security Systems. This was in addition to a secondary role as construction liaison on behalf of the operator ensuring the building met the expected demands of future events. 

Finally, a move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as Deputy General Manager to join the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, which is proudly managed by Convex Malaysia Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between KLCC (Holdings) Sdn Bhd and ASM Global. 

I have really enjoyed living and working in Malaysia and it has been an exciting move for me to support the successful completion and opening of the Centre’s new building extension which has increased available event space by over 30%.

* How do you see events and venues changing post-Covid?

Since we were able to reopen the venue, we have witnessed a significant bounce back in the demand for in-person events. With over 1,300 events in 2022 and 50% of our 2023 target already achieved, we are seeing signs for positive and accelerated progress since the return of in-person events. We expect this to continue trending in this direction as we move into next year and beyond.

Events are also almost back to normal, like they were pre-COVID, with less demand for pure virtual events, which grew tremendously during the pandemic. That said, we have seen some hybrid elements remaining for international conventions, where more speakers are preferring online presentations to in-person attendees. 

Besides, as some destinations continue to remain closed, events are also being scaled down therefore requiring lesser or smaller space but with hybrid solutions and on-demand content, organisers are still able to reach their intended audience.

* What are some pain points venue operators are currently experiencing and how can technology help address them?   

The hospitality and business events sectors are facing a huge workforce shortage as Malaysia welcomes international events and tourists back to our shores. In the aftermath of COVID-19, we are dealing with a reduced supply chain, decreasing workforce, and stiff competition locally and regionally. 

To help address the shortage of labor in our industry, as well as enhance the talent development of team members and students, we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SG Akademi (M) Sdn Bhd (SG Academy). 

The partnership also aims to benefit students at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges by providing them professional exposure in an internationally recognized organization. TVET students predominately come from B40 (Bottom 40%) communities, so it is hoped that this exposure will broaden their horizons and open up more opportunities for them.

Another challenge is the rising costs associated with organizing events, increasing food, utility, and fuel prices, due to the global economic landscape and increasing inflation. After a tough pandemic period, our industry has no choice but to forge on and organizers are still proceeding with events. 

This means we have to rely on our flexible approach and utilize our team’s vast knowledge and experience to work extremely closely with our clients to develop customized innovative solutions that not only fit their budget but provide an exciting and immersive experience at Centre. 

Also, as a venue provider that also runs its own kitchens to service events, our 2023 rates are adjusted based on inflation rates in order for us to continue providing excellent service and solutions as desired by our clients.

On the sustainability front, managing event food waste efficiently, while it is not a pain point, is also a challenge. To help us with this and systematic menu planning, we are currently utilizing technology to help address this. In our endeavor to manage event-generated waste responsibly, recently investing in our own food composter machine is a significant step in this mission. 

Since including composting as part of our process, we have recorded a 30% decrease in the overall food waste disposed. We are also collecting more data, through which we can better study delegates’ consumption behavior. 

This enables us to plan food production more efficiently and cater to customer-based cooking, which results in reduced food waste and less food cost. In addition, one of the long-term plans for the composter is to also provide non-chemical-based fertilizers to the 50-acre KLCC park that is adjacent to the Centre.

Some other recent examples include our Winnow food waste solution, an AI-enabled food waste tracking system to help run a more productive, profitable, and sustainable kitchen; smart recycling machines to positively reinforce responsible actions through points-system in the venue, to reduce carbon footprint and lessen food waste from event delegates and guests.

* How has the recent years of transformation impacted your strategy and focus from sales, business development, and marketing perspective?

According to the 2022 CTM Global Customer Survey, 72% of respondents say having access to supply chain sustainability strategy information is very important, while 57% seek environmental sustainability features. 

So not only are Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) important for our clients, but with increasingly fierce competition in the region, there is also need differentiate our venue and destination to attract more international meeting planners and conference organisers.

Fortunately for us, we have always placed a major emphasis on our social responsibility and sustainability, and commitment to ensuring our operating procedures and processes are up-to-date and in line with world-class quality standards and service excellence. 

Since opening, we have continuously implemented various technologies and solutions as part of our sustainability journey to support the environment, society and the community in which we operate.

But most importantly, our commitment to sustainable operations and implementing initiatives in line with the United Nations SDGs and our net zero-carbon pledge, we are supporting the long-term sustainability of the Malaysian business events industry, the environment, society and communities at large.

To increase the attractiveness of the KLCC precinct (where we are located) as the preferred meetings destination in Kuala Lumpur we continue to provide innovative offerings and event solutions. 

Currently, we are focused on creating a sustainable meetings destination where delegates can meet, dine, stay, shop and play responsibly and have opportunities to leave lasting legacies in host country and communities. 

We are working with our partner hotels, and surrounding properties to create a blueprint for sustainable destination with the long-term aim of making Kuala Lumpur ‘Asia’s Sustainable Development Goals Hub’. This project addresses the growing industry demand around sustainability, increasing the venue and the precinct’s competitive edge and marketability as an ideal sustainable meetings destination.

Another challenge is the rising costs associated with organising events due to the global economic landscape and increasing inflation. After a tough pandemic period our industry has no choice but to forge on and organisers are still proceeding with events. 

This means we have to rely on our flexible approach and utilise our team’s vast knowledge and experience to work extremely closely with our clients to develop customised innovative solutions that not only fit their budget, but provide an exciting and immersive experience at Centre.

* How is Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre supporting sustainability goals and helping towards reducing carbon emission goals?

As mentioned in Q#4, we are committed to supporting the long-term sustainability of the business events industry in Malaysia, the environment and the society and communities at large.

To this end, we are passionately pursuing a firm set of goals with activities focused on prioritising sustainable operations in line with the UNs SDGs and engaging with stakeholders to create a sustainable venue and precinct, as well as expanding initiatives to meet our zero-carbon pledge.

To-date, we have launched our SDGs Legacy Programme and signed the first public-private sector SDGs Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which will contribute towards the SDGs of the nation and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) efforts to create a sustainable city. 

In relation to reducing carbon emission goals, on the immediate front, we have increased our capital investment and put place policies and procedures to reduce waste, improve energy usage efficiency, to increase landfill waste diversion, to source locally to reduce carbon footprint.  

Most recently, hosted the KLCCBEA and Urbanice Malaysia Symposium to help kickstart the collaborative efforts and develop the KLCC Precinct SDG Roadmap. Stemming from the symposium, we are currently in the midst of setting up our Precinct Participation Body, which will discuss and decide which are the priority objectives for the precinct. 

They will play a leading role in designing, setting up and implementing, the circular/regenerative sustainable system, which will incorporate renewable energy, water harvesting, waste reduction methods and practices, and collecting and collating data.

The KLCC Precinct SDG Roadmap is a three-level approach – Commitment, Engagement and Leading. As our first step, the ‘Partners’ in the Precinct Participation Body, have agreed to collaborate to develop, improve and enhance our sustainability model and achievements for the precinct through:

  • Signing an MOU committing to sustainable development
  • Designating a sustainability officer
  • Carrying out a sustainability audit
  • Defining at least three (3), specific measures that will be implemented within the next 24 months

* Any additional advice you would like to give to our event planners?

We advise clients to secure their bookings earlier due to the increasing demand for space now that we have fully reopened. Book early to ensure you get your preferred dates.

For clients looking to explore ways to create event legacy, talk to us about our Legacy Programme, which aims to deliver environmentally-responsible events and provide the opportunity for clients and delegates alike to contribute and leave long lasting positive impacts, and contribute to the community, environment, culture, arts and creative industries of Malaysia.

Implement technologies and solutions wherever possible to help make your event more efficient, create more immersive experiences and make it easier and simpler for clients to engage on their terms through increased personalisation and greater collaboration.

Last but not least, make sure event planners and organisers connect with the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) to take advantage of the various support programmes and initiatives for their events.

For more in the Events Industry Experts series, check out our interview with Janice Cardinale, Courtney Stanley, Helen Moon, Danica Tormohlen, Ashley Brown, Jason Allan Scott, Brandt Krueger, Corbin Ball, Will Curran, and Stephan Murtagh today!

Are you interested in sharing your insights or viewpoints with the events industry? Join the Eva Talk.

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