As U.S. associations focus on more international meetings and events aimed at attracting local attendees in an increasingly global economy — or bringing American attendees into alluring locations such as Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea or Australia — the Asia-Pacific region continues to grow and evolve as a popular destination.
Once dismissed as distant outposts difficult to get to and lacking venues and amenities comparable to the U.S., Asia-Pacific destinations have labored long and hard to develop infrastructure that equals — and in some cases even surpasses — anything in the world.
And the ever-growing list of options now includes offerings from major meeting and convention players such as Las Vegas Sands Corporation, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts.
Located on the Pearl River Delta just west of Hong Kong, Macau — a former Portuguese colony first settled in the 16th century — ranks as one of the world’s most exotic destinations. Along with Hong Kong, it is one of two special administrative districts of the People’s Republic of China.
Today, thanks to the presence of major hotels and related infrastructure from Las Vegas Sands Corporation, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, Macau is a fast-growing meeting and convention destination popular because of its ability to draw attendance from across the Asia-Pacific region while offering a unique fascination for U.S. attendees.
Like its renowned sister property in Las Vegas, the 3,000-unit, all-suite The Venetian Macau features stunningly realistic replicas of the architectural icons and canals of Venice, Italy. The sprawling resort complex includes more than 1 million sf of meeting and exhibit space, including the 15,000-sf CotaiArena and 1,800-seat Venetian Theatre. Its acclaimed amenities include more than 30 world-class restaurants and a Mayo Clinic Health & Wellness facility.
The CotaiExpo features seven junior ballrooms, ranging in size from 10,031 sf to 15,284 sf, as well as four 689-sf boardrooms.
Located on the Cotai Strip, the nearby Sands Cotai Central complex features three hotels — a 636-room Conrad Macao, 3,896-room Sheraton Macao and 1,224-room Holiday Inn Macao Central — and 215,000 sf of meeting and event space.
Located at the historical center of Macau and overlooking the South China Sea, MGM Macau is a 35-story, 600-room resort that made its debut in December 2007.
Opened in September 2006 and the first local hotel to win a Forbes Five Star Award, the 1,004-unit Wynn Macau, owned by another Las Vegas powerhouse, Wynn Resorts, and featuring 23,680 sf of meeting and conference space, is a luxury resort integrated into Macau Peninsula.
Much better known to the average American than Macau, Hong Kong is a sprawling Chinese metropolis that offers sophisticated infrastructure that has made it Asia’s premier destination for meetings and conventions.
It features a number of major venues including the Asia World Expo, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre and Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Centre.
A portfolio of more than 250 hotels features a total of more than 70,000 rooms, supported by unique offsite venues and a wide range of internationally acclaimed restaurants.
Among a handful of new hotels is the four-star, 359-room Crowne Plaza Kowloon East, which features an 11,100-sf ballroom, one of the largest in Hong Kong, eight breakout rooms and a boardroom.
The 325-room Auberge Discovery Bay, is a five-star beach resort located along Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. The hotel features 13,000 sf of meeting space and a luxury spa.
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) has been voted “Asia’s Best Convention and Exhibition Centre” for the 10th time by readers of CEI Asia, the region’s magazine for the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) and business events industry. In addition, HKCEC was voted “Best Convention & Exhibition Centre” for the fourth time in the 23rd Annual TTG Travel Awards 2012 conducted by TTG magazine, a travel trade business resource publication in the Asia-Pacific. The HKCEC provides 710,418 sf of purpose-built exhibition space, 215,278 sf of multifunctional venues and 59,201 sf of event support space.
On the other hand, associations seeking to bring their Hong Kong-based members to the U.S. for meetings may be aided by Senator Mazie Hirono’s (D-HI) bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, which will help Hong Kong to become eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, in April stated, “The U.S. travel industry applauds Senator Hirono for identifying a simple fix that would help pave the way for Hong Kong to be considered for the VWP. It is important for Congress to continue to look for opportunities, such as the one presented by Senator Hirono, to drive increased visitation and spending in the United States. America and Americans will only benefit.”
According to U.S. Travel, nearly 129,000 travelers from Hong Kong visited the United States in 2011.
Singapore, a Southeast Asia city-state located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula just north of the equator, has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the second century.
Today, it is one of Asia’s most urban destinations, even though the country encompasses 63 islands, and ranks as the world’s fourth leading financial center.
Singapore is known as one of the cleanest and safest destinations in Asia, with a world-famous cuisine and street food scene.
Business magnate Sheldon Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, also operates a major meeting and convention property in Singapore, the 55-story, 2,561-room Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the centerpiece of a complex that includes the 1.3-million-sf Sands Expo and Convention Center, the largest and most modern meeting facility in Singapore. Its infrastructure can support a convention with up to 45,000 attendees.
The convention complex’s Grand Ballroom measures more than 86,000 sf, making it the region’s largest, and it can accommodate up to 6,600 guests for a sit-down dinner and 11,000 attendees for a theater-style conference event. The facility can host 2,000 exhibition spaces and also includes 250 individual meeting rooms.
The Sands SkyPark is a modern architectural masterpiece that sits atop the hotel’s three towers. The tropical oasis, which boasts 250 trees and more than 650 exotic plants, is the size of three football fields. The Club at Marina Bay Sands is a private executive club lounge where hotel guests enjoy breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails while taking advantage of breathtaking views of the city.
Marina Bay Sands also features some of Singapore’s finest restaurants, including Waku Ghin and Osteria Mozza, both of which were recently named among Asia’s 50 best restaurants.
Other major meeting properties in Singapore include the new, 240-room W Singapore Sentosa Cove, opened last October, and the 157-room Sofitel So Singapore, which will make its debut later this year. The Westin Singapore, a 301-unit hotel, will open in November in the heart of the city’s financial district.
The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) reported that the number of international tourists to Korea exceeded 11 million in 2012, and as of March 2013, more than 1 million international tourists visited Korea — just the second time international visitors topped 1 million in one month.
They expect this growth to continue. However, threats from North Korea may currently hamper visitation. As of this writing, KTO officials maintain that the country is safe for visitors. “North Korea has a long history of making confrontational rhetoric and empty threats to South Korea, the United States and other nations as well. All the experts in this matter, both international and based in the U.S., agree that there is no real or present danger that North Korea would act on its threats,” Sejoon You, executive director of KTO’s New York office said in a letter to the travel industry and travelers to Korea. “Korea remains a safe, pleasant and beautiful destination to be enjoyed now and later. All hotels, airports, airlines, cities and attractions are operating normally.” Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea.
Korea is constantly working on enhancing its competitiveness as a destination by developing various tourism programs including family-friendly experiences for association groups. For example, in Seoul, a walking tour of Cheonggyecheon is a great activity for families, as is a trip to Seoul Forest to see the animals, enjoy some ice cream, or have a picnic. Also, The National Museum of Korea makes for an educational afternoon, and the Samsung Children’s Museum, which encourages young artists and scientists with hands-on exhibits provides a more interactive experience. In addition, Seoul has great theme parks including Lotte World, Everland and Seoul Land.
A few of the several MICE hotels in the Gangnam downtown section of Seoul include the 497-room JW Marriott Seoul with eight meeting rooms, which is close to the convention and exhibition center. The Imperial Palace Hotel offers 405 guest rooms, 13 restaurants and bars, a convention center, which is capable of hosting 1,200 people at a time, and a fitness center. The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul has a total of 375 guest rooms including 83 suites and 100 club rooms as well as a variety of banquet and meeting facilities that can accommodate up to 500 attendees.
In the Gyeonggi Province, the Hallyu Tourism MICE Complex project is set for completion in 2017. “Hallyu” is the Korean term for the spread of Korean pop culture. Province officials and the Korea Tourism Organization are working together to make Gyeonggi Province Korea’s largest center of hallyu tourism with the construction of the 15,000-seat K-pop arena (ready in time for South Korean pop singing sensation Psy’s next K-pop concert), complete with shopping facilities, cultural institutions and MICE accommodations. Conveniently located, it will take 40 minutes by car from Incheon International Airport and downtown Seoul, and only 10 minutes away from the subway station.
Government officials and private developers also are working on plans for a high-tech medical tourism industrial complex in Daejeon City for some time after 2014. The center would include the capability to host large international medical conferences and much more.
Australia, another gem in Asia-Pacific’s meeting and convention crown, is working aggressively to keep pace with its major competitors such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Its most recent focus has been on a new wave of infrastructure development that includes the Sydney International Convention, Exhibition & Entertainment Precinct, a huge complex that will combine state-of-the-art meeting, convention and entertainment facilities. It will feature Australia’s largest single convention venue, capable of accommodating 12,000 attendees, as well as a 35-story, 900-room hotel and an entertainment venue that will replace the current Sydney Entertainment Centre.
In January, the city debuted The Star, a multipurpose events center, which offers breathtaking views of iconic Sydney Harbor, whose skyline features the Sydney Opera House, one of the most celebrated architectural landmarks in the world. The Star can accommodate 1,000 attendees banquet-style or 3,000 auditorium-style.
Another new conference facility in Sydney is Water@Pier One, located at the Sebel Pier One complex. The new facility is aimed at small meetings and can accommodate 168 attendees cabaret-style, 220 banquet-style, 300 theater-style and 440 cocktail-style. Water@PierOne features eight individual reception and conference rooms.
One of Australia’s most popular beach resorts, the 295-room Sheraton Mirage Resort & Spa on its Gold Coast, has completed a $26 million (Australian) renovation that includes new reception space and an upgrade to its meeting and event space, which can accommodate up to 1,000 attendees. AC&F