Thursday, June 20, 2024

Borneo Convention Centre Kuching

Bringing Sexy Back to Sarawak

“The word ‘Borneo’ in our name – ‘Borneo Convention Centre Kuching’ – is very powerful, because Borneo is mystique and that is what makes us sexy.”

Eric van Piggelen leans forward slightly as he speaks; his body language emphasising his words. Since taking on the role as CEO of Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) in 2014, he has been entrusted with leading Sarawak’s premier international convention centre. And as he tells International Business Review, after an enforced hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, BCCK is bouncing back and ready to move full speed ahead.

Established in 2009, BCCK was conceptualised as part of the Sarawak government’s initiative to position Sarawak as a business events destination and, in doing so, channel business tourism to the State. More than a decade on, BCCK stands proud as an icon of Sarawak, having received several national, regional, and international accolades in recognition of its standards, quality and ability to deliver top-tier bespoke business events.

Among the awards that BCCK has received over the years are the MyCEB rAWr (Recognising Award Winning Results) Awards for Convention Centre, and the International Conference Award for Excellence (Below 1,000 delegates).

This success can be attributed to a challenge that Eric van Piggelen presented to his team just after he took on the role of CEO. “My staff asked me, ‘What can we do for BCCK?’ and I told them that we should aim to make BCCK be among the top 20 convention centres in the world. Four years later in 2018, we managed to achieve that when we were ranked number 17, and we have not looked back since!” he proudly reveals.

While van Piggelen’s leadership has been a key factor in BCCK’s success, he modestly refuses to take credit for it, saying, “Our achievements are not due to just one person, but to a collective team of people who think alike. You see, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, as long as we are aligned, we can do wonders together.”

Sharpening the Axe

As cliché as it sounds, teamwork definitely makes the dream work, and the BCCK managed to demonstrate that over the past two years when the global crisis caused a freeze in business events. Because, rather than just sit and wait for things to improve, the BCCK team decided to take the lull as an opportunity to work together to revamp, reinvent and revitalise the Centre.

“We sharpened our axe during the slowdown, so when the pandemic was over, we would be ready to resume, better than ever,” van Piggelen reveals. “During that time we updated and upgraded our facilities, which meant making things more modern and comfortable as well as improving our efficiency and digitalisation efforts, while also beautifying our venue.”

These changes included, he explains, incorporating top-of-the-line sound systems, as well as digital signage and billboards throughout BCCK, as well as equipped some of the meeting rooms with first-class projectors.

Van Piggelen also acknowledges the vital support from the Sarawak government during that time, which helped BCCK out tremendously. “I am very thankful to the Sarawak government. One of the things it did was to appoint BCCK as a vaccination centre. In fact, we were one of the largest vaccination centres in Sarawak, and handled over 100,000 inoculations from June to August 2021,” he tells International Business Review.

“With the right energy and emotions, everything else falls into place. We are after all in the business of people, and you have to act as a person.”

– Eric van Piggelen,
CEO of Borneo Convention Centre Kuching

Since the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and lifting of border closures in April 2022, van Piggelen and the BCCK team have been ready to welcome people back. And the scale of response was a pleasant surprise to them.

“At first, we thought it would take at least four years for us to bounce back to pre-2020 levels. But it looks to be so much shorter. For example, we hosted a Ramadhan buffet during Ramadhan in April – not long after the restrictions were lifted. And during that one month, we catered for around 35,000 customers,” van Piggelen reveals with a smile.

At the same time, business events have been steadily returning to BCCK. These events include the International Digital Economy Conference Sarawak (IDECS 2022), Sarawak Oil & Gas Conference (SOGC 2022), the International Conference on Clean Energy (ICCE 2022), and the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia-Medico and Legal Society of Singapore Joint Seminar (MEDICOLEGAL 2022), to name a few.

As Eric van Piggelen says, “BCCK is like a village that brings people together.”

On Customers and Leadership

As the CEO of BCCK, Eric van Piggelen is constantly thinking about ways to improve business. He tells International Business Review, “When I first became CEO in 2014, I thought about how we could best position ourselves locally, nationally and globally. I decided to adopt the kereitsu business model, which is a Japanese term where multiple businesses have interlocking relationships.”

“One example of keiretsu at work in BCCK is our highly regarded Raintree Restaurant. We knocked on their doors and convinced them to come and open up a restaurant at the Convention Centre. And because of this, not only do our customers get food, we also get a steady stream of revenue. In fact, the restaurant contributes 8 percent of our annual income,” he explains.

For van Piggelen, the key to ensuring customer satisfaction is for the BCCK team to put themselves in the shoes of customers. “We try to figure out what customers want by walking through the Convention Centre, as if we were customers ourselves, and seeing what they would find most pleasing. And we find that the two main factors that compel customers to return are the first class service and amazing attitude of our staff,” he highlights to International Business Review.

The positive attitude of the BCCK team is a reflection of Eric van Piggelen’s leadership philosophy. Elaborating further, he says, “As a leader, I am constantly communicating with my staff, so that they would better understand my thought process and be able to follow my vision. But at the same time, I also teach, motivate and encourage them to have their own individuality.”

“Whatever the human mind can see, it can achieve. When it comes to ideas, I don’t have any boundaries. In fact, I can go off on a tangent with wild ideas, so my team members are invaluable as their thoughts help me fill in the gaps. It is as if I am painting a picture, but all these people around me are choosing the colour. It is such a beautiful thing. The moment you do that, you become invested. And this form of teamwork, of bringing diversity together, is the Borneo way,” van Piggelen states with a smile.

Looking to the future, Eric van Piggelen further reveals that BCCK has a number of plans to further enhance its offerings and raise its game. “We are investing heavily in being able to offer hybrid, fully digital and televised events, and have bought state-of-the-art digital broadcasting equipment, such as a 360-degree camera. We are also looking to host more live events such as concerts, sporting events, and theatre productions, and the new equipment will enable us to broadcast these events live as well as record and distribute them. That’s another source of revenue,” he says.

Talking to Eric van Piggelen, it is easy to forget that he is ultimately still an employee – albeit a highly-placed one. And that is because of the passion and pride in his voice as he speaks of BCCK. As he says, “I don’t just think of myself as the CEO, but try to see things from the perspective as if I were the business owner. And that means always looking for ways to monetise space and increase revenue.”

And with that attitude leading the way, we are confident that more good times are ahead for Borneo Convention Centre Kuching

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