One International Exhibition is renowned for 4 major annual exhibitions usually held in the Klang Valley. Can you enlighten us on the status of these exhibitions at this point of time?
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have rescheduled all our exhibitions. Of the four major exhibitions, the very successful Agri Malaysia, usually held in the Setia City Convention Centre, and LogisWare would both have seen their 5th year in 2020. MBAM OneBuild would have seen its 8th year, and Robotex its 2nd. All these events have now been postponed to 2021 with the exception of Robotex which will take place in 2022.
In your opinion, what is the confidence level of the exhibitors?
Depending on the shows and the industry verticals, it varies quite significantly. The exhibitors of MBAM OneBuild, a joint-venture between the Master Builders Association of Malaysia and One International, are adopting a “wait-and-see” approach as their industry is directly impacted by the slowdown due to the pandemic. This is because the construction and infrastructure industry is extremely niche and have a straight-line correlation with government spending.
The exhibitors of Agri Malaysia, however, are brimming with confidence. Of the 300 exhibitors we are targeting, 25% of them are from Malaysia and they would like to see it taking off this year itself. There are also no cancellations from international exhibitors as they are keen to do it when the international border restrictions and quarantine is lifted. If in any case the quarantine were to continue when the show opens next year, international exhibitors will have the option of choosing between a full refund or to keep their investments as a deposit for the following year. This confidence stems, perhaps, from the fact that agriculture is a core necessity for survival and thus, it will continue to do very well in any age or circumstance as every living person consumes food (laughs).
If the local exhibitors are keen to have Agri Malaysia take place this year, why did One International Exhibitions decide to postpone the event to 2021?
I don’t believe in making money from the exhibitors if I know it might not attract the 10,000 visitors we did last year. I want them to reap the best possible results for their hard work and ensure they get great value for what they pay for. I would love me if I were in their shoes. :)
Furthermore, the uncertainty of the Extended Movement Control Order (EMCO) and the local authorities will have an impact on the SOPs and how the exhibition will be conducted; we will need clear guidelines to proceed safely. Most importantly, we want to postpone the events until we can ensure that everyone is safe and can be assured of their safety when visiting Agri Malaysia.
Through the course of this pandemic, how has the government lent its support and assistance to you as an employer, event organizer, and a SME?
It’s quite unfortunate as we do happen to have employees within the threshold that qualifies for financial assistance. Thus, we were not able to take advantage of the salary assistance initiatives. We have, however, applied for the pandemic loans established to assist SMEs, but our application was rejected without any given reason.
MyCEB’s support is flawed as well. Their Meet in Malaysia programme, which supports homegrown regional and international trade shows, only supports new shows. I do not understand the rationale behind not lending its support to existing shows, and have yet to be made aware of any explanation for this decision.
If MyCEB values the existing event organisers that have persevered and strived to continue to sustain their exhibitions, this policy certainly does not reflect it. I feel that no new exhibitions will kick off looking at the lockdown, closed borders, and quarantine. In addition, new shows or new organisers have less financial burdens and carrying costs. Therefore, I feel they should, instead, consider the exhibitions which have a track record and help them get back on their feet.
As a businessman, have you diversified or are you planning to diversify into other industries or to create a complementary business?
I am not sure I can say if I have diversified (laughs).
My dad is in the agricultural business, and I grew up helping him. This experience moved me into organizing Agri Malaysia. I would say I am really into the industry of agriculture and I’m often treated as an industry peer in their business. I started investing in oyster mushroom agriculture two years ago, and the produce demand always outstrips its supply. I have spent a little more time in managing it since the exhibitions have been postponed.
I have also set out to resolve a pain point of distribution in the fresh produce market of Malaysia late last year. This venture, named Mr Farmer genuinely aims to help farmers by helping them bypass the middle path of going through a wholesaler. This ensures that farmers gain better profits and have more say on how their produce should be priced and sold.
Apart from that, there are requests to assist in marketing our exhibitors’ produce and products via social media. I am creating eAgriMalaysia, an online publication, and producing 4 videos a month to benefit both the exhibitors and One International. This initiative will be launched in January 2021.
What is your advice to budding event organisers?
Seek your passion. Jump in, research, take the risk, be detailed, put yourself in your client’s shoes, find your formulae and don’t copy & paste. Be meticulous about the things you cannot control especially government policy & industry direction. If this doesn’t happen, don’t expect a sustainable business. There is almost no barrier to entry as an event organizer. Don’t do it because it’s convenient.
From my secondary school days, I have developed this passion for organising events, and I guess it carried me through my adult life. Sustain your passion and continuously feed it. Passion has no yardstick.
Please share a “secret” or little known fact about yourself with it with us.
I head down to the ground and visit my exhibitor’s farm and factories whenever I find time. I love the agriculture business and I like to socialize with farmers, agricultural product manufacturers, and the people behind the food we consume daily. I feel very good when they tell me I know their business very well even though I am an event organizer. I guess my life is intertwined in agriculture and events, 2-in-1.