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ICCA rebukes Malaysian authorities following visa controversy

Meeting suppliers’ organisation responds after Israeli delegates denied entry

Pictured: The opening ceremony of ICCA's 55th congress in Kuching

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) has written a stringent letter of complaint to the Malaysian authorities after two of its members were denied visas - preventing them from attending the organisation’s annual congress, in Kuching, last month.

The letter, co-written by ICCA chief executive Martin Sirk and president Nina Freysen-Pretorius, states that the decision to stop two Israeli delegates entering the country had caused ‘reputational damage’ to both the association and the destination, and calls on the Malaysian government to take steps to ‘repair this damage’ by ‘publicly restating your commitment to facilitate the attendance of legitimate delegates from Israel…who wish to participate in meetings in Malaysia’.

The authors of the letter say ICCA was given assurances by the Local Host Committee, including the various convention bureaux and Borneo Convention Centre Kuching, that the absence of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Israel would not prevent Israeli members of ICCA from attending the congress.

The delegates involved were Dan Rivlin, CEO of professional congress organiser and association management company Kenes Group, who was due to speak at the event, and one of his colleagues.

“We and the two delegates were led to believe that the visas would be granted, and that they would be issued via the Malaysian embassy in Singapore,” the letter states. “In anticipation that everything was in order, the two delegates travelled to Singapore, but just before the visas were due to be issued, approximately one week before the congress in Kuching, they and Sarawak Convention Bureau received sudden notification that the visas were to refused, with no explanation why this was the case. The refusal was a great surprise and a shock to everyone involved.”

ICCA policy is to only meet in countries that will allow entry to all its members.

The letter goes on: “Whether the refusal decision was made because of bureaucratic or procedural error or whether it was  a conscious policy decision, it has resulted in deep distress for the two delegates, embarrassment and reputational damage to ICCA, and reputational damage to Malaysia itself, which may result in significant of future meetings business.”

It calls on the Malaysian authorities to improve its procedures for issuing VISAs and ‘acknowledge the distress and inconvenience suffered by the two delegates who ‘could have become strong ambassadors for Malaysia’.

Rivlin said: "I am happy that the organization I  have belonged to for the past 40 years, ICCA, has taken such a firm reaction and acknowledges the breach of agreement by Malaysia by not respecting free travel to all delegates. I trust that many parties within the tourism industry in Malaysia were hoping to see all delegates attending. However, we are measured on results. Therefore, associations will need to consider in the future that holding a meeting in Malaysia may imply a breach of the sacred principle of free travel to all delegates. It is very unfortunate that Malaysia has missed the opportunity to make me personally a good will ambassador." 

MyCEB issued the following statement: "MyCEB deeply regrets that two delegates from Israel were denied entry into Malaysia for the recent ICCA 2106 Congress and apologises for any disruption and inconveniences caused to ICCA, and especially to the two delegates involved. Nationals of 162 countries do not require visas to Malaysia. Part of MyCEB’s role is to facilitate delegates who require visa to enter Malaysia for the purpose of participating in international conferences. We have assisted many delegates who hold all different passports; including Israeli passport holders, to come to Malaysia to attend many different world conferences.

"MyCEB was surprised by the incident, because we have a procedure in place for Israeli delegates to apply for a visa.  For nationals of Israel, visas are required and permission must be obtained from Ministry of Home Affairs. The procedure calls for applications to be made through MyCEB and at least six months prior to the event.  Our understanding from ICCA is that the procedure had been well communicated.

"MyCEB received no application for the two delegates but have since learned that an application was lodged in mid-September which was less than three months prior to the event. It would possibly have been too late to get the visas approved since a minimum of six months processing period, as noted in the procedure, is normally required. Despite not having been involved in the process, MyCEB feels that the free movement of delegates to international conventions is an essential principle. Therefore, MyCEB is committed to reviewing the procedures again, to further strengthen communication processes and to ensure that similar situations do not occur in the future. We value every delegate who chooses to come to Malaysia from all corners of the globe and we work hard to make sure every delegate has a wonderful, rich experience here."

The letter sent on behalf of the ICCA Board of Directors was sent to Secretary General, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Sarawak State Secretary, Chief Minister’s Department, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture Sarawak.


  • Anthony Wong of AOSCE 21/12/2016

    I take the liberty to enlighten the international community of the following:

    1.In my 25-years as a PCO, I hardly encounter Israeli speakers or delegates having their visa application rejected by the Malaysian authorities for attending international conventions in Malaysia provided these holders of Israeli passports submitted their visa application within the stipulated procedures and processing time frame.
    2.Even countries having bilateral relations with Malaysia but for Malaysians to enter into their countries, Malaysian have to comply with their visa procedures. Malaysians have also been known to have their visa applications rejected without any reasons given – this is a normal international practice.
    3.I recall the 2012 ICCA annual congress that was held in Puerto Rico, more than 10 Asian delegate visa applications were rejected from entering Puerto Rico – and no such fuss were created.
    4.As recent as July 2016, a team of Israeli staff from Kenes were in Kuala Lumpur organising the ISPRM 2016 Physical & Rehabilitation Medicine Congress and they did not encounter any entry problems into Malaysia.
    5.We should not kid ourselves with this particular incidence as there are always two side to a coin.

    Warmest regards,

    Anthony Wong

    Past Board Member - ICCA

    Group Managing Director
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