The Asia-Pacific region is renowned for its wide choice of exotic and culturally diverse destinations for meetings and incentives. Todd Black, president of Fishers, IN-based First Incentive Travel International, believes it’s an especially good fit for experienced travelers. “For people who do Europe currently,” he notes, “I think there’s about 20 percent of that group that we can entice them with ‘Have you thought about Asia?’ because they’re already committing to more than four nights, and I think that’s what it takes to do Asia, just for the flight alone.”
“We have some good experience over there, and we have some really good partners, as well,” explains Kevin Devanney, president and founder of Incentive Travel Solutions in Charlotte, NC. “We stay abreast of (the region) because we present it often. The quality of the resorts is fantastic. They really have come a long way in the last couple of years. The number of resorts and hotels that we can use with our incentive trips that have popped up in Asia and especially in Australia and New Zealand and China in the last five to 10 years is amazing.”
Devanney explains that traveling to Asia is a new experience for many people. “When attendees are traveling to Asia for the very first time, I think there’s a little bit of apprehension and a little bit more handholding than we typically have with our groups that we take to Paris or Rome. At first, we operate a city tour and introduce people to the culture right away, and they feel comfortable after the first couple of days.”
An appealing combination of easy access, excellent meeting facilities, perpetually sunny weather and a reputation for safety make Singapore a top Asian meeting destination. One planner described why their company chose Singapore for an informational international conference for 150 attendees. “We needed a new venue to hold an Asian event, which is an expansion of our current annual conferences held in Europe and the U.S. Singapore was a desirable location, as we knew that language would not be an issue (as everyone spoke English) and many companies that attend our conferences have offices or are doing some business in Singapore as an Asian hub.”
As the site of its meeting, the company chose the upscale Shangri-La Hotel, which is located in the heart of the city and offers 747 rooms and suites. The hotel’s amenities include CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, which offers a tranquil setting amid 15 acres of landscaped gardens and a waterfall.
“The best features of the hotel were the staff,” the planner notes. “It was a five-star location as far as décor and service. When comparing other hotels, our local liaison said that the Shangri-La was the ‘best of the best.’ The prices were higher than our regular events, but our attendees left feeling they attended a quality event, and much of that was due to the venue and their courteous and responsive staff.”
“I love the whole Shangri-La chain,” Devanney notes. “When guests walk in, they feel at home. They’re very comfortable.”
For planners searching for a hotel that has that kind of jaw-dropping architecture that attendees will want to write home about, it would be hard to top the Marina Bay Sands Hotel — literally. The 2,561-room hotel, which is located in the central business district and overlooks the South China Sea, Marina Bay and the Singapore skyline, has three towers, each 55 stories tall, that are topped with a unique architectural feature called the Sands SkyPark. This lushly landscaped tropical oasis is the size of three football fields and contains restaurants, lounges and a massive infinity-edge pool that offers panoramic views of the city. Across from the towers on Marina Bay are three performance theaters, the ArtScience Museum, and the Sands Expo and Convention Center, Singapore’s largest exhibition and meeting venue, which features more than 1.2 million sf of MICE space across six expo halls, 250 meeting rooms and the largest ballroom in Southeast Asia accommodating up to 11,000 attendees. The center received the 2012 “Best Business Event Venue Experience” award from the Singapore Tourism Board.
There are 300 shops and restaurants at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands including rooftop and waterfront dining and celebrity chef establishments. Sandwiched between the theaters and the Sands Expo and Convention Center is the four-level Marina Bay Sands Casino, which offers its own varied dining experiences and one of the worlds largest Swarovski crystal chandeliers (weighing in at 7 tons!).
The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore, a five-star property located on Marina Bay, offers groups a unique option for meeting space. Last year, the hotel introduced three floating “event pods.” Located on the water, the pods were designed to be reminiscent of trading boats. Each of the pods, which are named Compass, Voyage and Port of Call, is equipped with a balcony and rooftop area, and the wallpaper on the ceiling of the pods is finished with crystal beads to reflect the shimmering water below.
Despite the threats recently made by the North Korean government, travel officials maintain that South Korea is safe for travel. Sejoon You, executive director of the Korean Tourism Organization in New York, issued an announcement to the travel industry stating, “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.”
The Seoul office of the destination management company Ovation simplifies the meeting planning process by offering sample itineraries for South Korea. For a two-night meeting in Seoul, which the company describes as a “sophisticated city with a distinctive Asian spirit,” the company suggests hosting a welcome event at Korea House where attendees can sample authentic dishes based on the royal cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty and enjoy a traditional dance performance. For day two, they recommend that attendees discover the “soul of Seoul” with a trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Freedom Bridge where more than 12,000 Korean War prisoners walked to freedom in 1953. For an evening event in Seoul, the company recommends a dinner cruise on the Han River.
South Korea also offers scenic and culturally rich destinations for incentive trips. For a five-night incentive, Ovation’s sample itinerary includes Jeju Island, known as “The Island of the Gods,” which has been compared to Hawaii and Bali for its scenic beauty. The itinerary also includes a tour of Seoul and a stop in Gyeongju, listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s 10 most historically significant sites. It includes treasures such as the Bulguska Temple which was constructed in 528, and the Seokguram Grotto, which dates back to the eighth century and contains a monumental statue of Buddha that’s more than 10 feet tall.
The destination management company Pacific World operates in China as well as in nine other Asian destinations: Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. John Lee Yung Chun, regional marketing manager, Pacific World Asia, describes China’s appeal as a meeting destination. “China has developed a 21st century infrastructure for meetings and events, including an extensive network of modern airports, as well as state-of-the-art facilities, world-class hotels, convention centers and resorts, a cosmopolitan dining scene, and unique sites that lend themselves to outstanding gala dinner venues.”
He notes that some of those gala venues include world heritage sites.
“Event organizers can stage very large and impressive galas while experiencing history alive at such venues as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, which can be put to equally impressive impact for smaller groups and incentives. Exploring China’s rich history and delving into its vibrant imperial and local cultural practices are enriching experiences for delegates, with lots of fun and great memories to be had.”
Black notes, “In mainland China you can see (historic sites such as) the Temple of Heaven and stand in Tianan‑men Square, which is one of those cool experiences like standing in Red Square in Russia. It’s a must-do.
“China is a bit more for a savvy group,” he continues. “If they’re young pharma reps winning an incentive for the first time, I don’t think China is the most motivating for them. For groups with guys that have already won 10 trips, then you start looking at China.”
The cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong, with its dazzling skyline and spectacular views of Victoria Harbour, is another popular meeting and incentive destination in Asia. “It’s a dynamic city which truly offers the experience of a lifetime,” Chun notes. “It is built with the infrastructure and services required to welcome and support large groups of visitors and offers unique experiences to attract meetings, exhibitions and incentive programs. It is incredibly safe, with a super-efficient transport system, and all signs are in English.” The city also is a global hub that offers direct flights between more than 155 destinations a week.
“It’s got high-end shopping, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels,” Black explains. “It’s very modern. In my experience taking groups there, they’ve always loved it.” He adds that Hong Kong has more competition in the region than it has had in the past. “Fifteen years ago, Hong Kong was so far ahead of mainland China, meaning that it was much more sophisticated and the infrastructure was better. Hong Kong was like the New York of Asia. That’s not the case anymore. Beijing, Shanghai, and certainly other destinations in China have come up to the level of Hong Kong.”
The first Hotel Indigo in Hong Kong recently opened in the city’s historic Wan Chai neighborhood. One of the most unique features of the 138-room, 29-story hotel is the glass-bottomed infinity pool that juts out from the building’s rooftop.
This special administrative region of China, which is located across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, is probably best known as “the Las Vegas of Asia,” but it also is known for its European style of architecture that dates back to the region’s history as a Portuguese colony.
Located on the Cotai Strip, the Sands Cotai Macao complex features five international brand hotels with a combined 9,000 guest rooms and 1.3 million sf of versatile meeting space including 274 breakout rooms: The Venetian Macao; Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central; Conrad Macao, Cotai Central; Holiday Inn Macao, Cotai Central; and Four Seasons Hotel Macao.
Like its renowned sister property in Las Vegas, the 3,000-unit, all-suite The Venetian Macao 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-seat CotaiArena and 1,800-seat Venetian Theatre. Its acclaimed amenities include more than 30 world-class restaurants, 330 retailers at Shoppes Grand Canal and a Mayo Clinic Health & Wellness facility.
The CotaiExpo at the Venetian Macao features more than 800,000 sf of exhibition space, and is one of the largest exhibition centers in Asia. It is complemented by more than 75,000 sf of pillar-free ballroom space and 108 meeting rooms with nearly 270,000 sf of flexible meeting space.
The Sheraton Macao Hotel recently completed its 2,067-room Earth Tower, which brings the hotel’s total room count to 3,896, making it the largest hotel in Macau and in Starwood’s global portfolio. The hotel apparently does everything in a big way — it offers more than 160,000 sf of meeting space, including a main ballroom the size of more than 11 basketball courts. The hotel also offers guests easy access to The Plaza Macao and The Venetian Macao and The Shoppes. The Cotai Strip also offers 100 international restaurants, lounges and dining outlets.
The year 2012 was a very good one for the country of Malaysia because it welcomed a record 25 million tourists. “Malaysia is one of the most affordable destinations in the world and in Asia,” Pacific World’s Chun says, “with unbeatable hotel rates.” The country’s capital city is Kuala Lumpur, which offers an interesting contrast between modern skyscrapers and heritage buildings from the British era. Malaysia’s beach destinations, such as Borneo, Langkawi and Penang, are ideal for incentive programs or pre- and post-meeting tours.
Hyatt is expanding its presence in Thailand with the anticipated opening of the Park Hyatt Bangkok in 2014. The new hotel, which will feature a dramatic “twisting coil” architectural design, will contain 222 rooms and be connected to a 150-store retail complex via skybridge. Hyatt’s other Thailand properties include the five-star Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok and the beachfront Hyatt Regency Hua Hin located 140 miles southwest of the capital city.
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa, which opened last year, is surrounded on three sides by an 18-hole championship golf course that overlooks the ocean. The hotel also is known as “Gusuku,” which means “castle” in the local dialect. The property offers 97 guest rooms and suites.
While Tokyo is Japan’s largest city, Kyoto is consistently ranked as the country’s second most popular city for meetings, conferences and events. Kyoto served as the nation’s capital for 1,000 years, and is now home to 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, many of which can be used for events. The city is located in close proximity to Kansai International Airport, and Tokyo is just over two hours away via the fastest bullet train in Japan.
The five-star Fairmont Makati opened late last year in the central business district of Manila. It contains 280 guest rooms and suites offering beautiful views of the Makati skyline. The hotel’s tower also is home to Raffles Makati, a 32-room all-suite hotel and Raffles Residences, which offer 237 one- to four-bedroom suites available for short- and long-term stays.
“I think Australia is in everyone’s top five of ‘wow,’ ” notes Black. “Forget dollars. When a client says I want a destination that’s going to motivate, Australia is one of them. For the ultimate ‘get out there and sell and you’re going to win this trip,’ Australia is definitely there.”
“Down in Sydney,” explains Devanney, “I stick to our old standbys like the Park Hyatt Sydney or the InterContinental or the Four Seasons.” After an extensive multimillion-dollar renovation, the luxurious Park Hyatt Sydney reopened last year. The 155-room harborfront hotel delivers stunning views of the city’s iconic opera house.
“If you venture out into the wild, into the bush, then that’s where I really see a lot of great options for people,” Devanney continues. “We’ve used the Sheraton Mirage on the Gold Coast many times, and it’s been fantastic. There are great trips out to the Great Barrier Reef for our groups there.”
Whether they’re attending a business meeting or enjoying the rewards of an incentive trip they’ve earned, attendees naturally like to feel welcomed by the destination they’re visiting. According to the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 released by the World Economic Forum, New Zealand is one of the friendliest countries in the world.
This popular Southern Hemisphere destination, which encompasses two major islands, also is legendary for its incredible scenery. Actor Martin Freeman, who starred as the title character in the recent movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was obviously taken by the country’s scenic beauty. “The backdrop is so beautiful, people will think it’s CGI (computer-generated imagery),” he notes. “It looks too perfect.”
Devanney likes to use some of New Zealand’s lodges for his programs. “When we go to New Zealand, we tend to have smaller groups — 25 couples or something like that,” he says. In the Northland, one property he likes to use is Kauri Cliffs lodge. Set on 6,000 acres overlooking Matauri Bay, the lodge offers 22 guest suites and a two-bedroom owner’s cottage along with golf, tennis, a spa and secluded beaches. On New Zealand’s South Island, he has used the Matakauri Lodge, which is set on the banks of Lake Wakatipu in the Queenstown area and offers spectacular views of the accurately named Remarkables mountain range.
Devanney made an interesting observation about the amount of flying time it takes for attendees to travel to Asia. “It always amazes me that (flying time) is the biggest conversation before the trip, but after the trip it is very rarely mentioned. After the trip, they talk about the destination.” Obviously, the attendees decide that their trip to Asia or the Pacific was well worth the time it took to get there. C&IT