Global business travel spending hit a record US$1.2 trillion in 2015, with growth expected to remain strong through 2019, according to the Global Business Travel Association. GBTA reports that the Asia-Pacific region represents the lion’s share of the spend, continuing to be the largest business travel region in the world. Although much of this growth will come from locally sourced businesses, American-based planners also are discovering the extraordinary (and often affordable) experiences that participants can enjoy during a meeting or incentive trip to this part of the world.
When the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre successfully hosted more than 4,000 delegates and 2,500 media representatives for the G20 World Leaders Summit in 2014, the well-publicized meeting focused attention on Brisbane as an international business events destination. And since then, Australian DMCs, including Tourism and Events Queensland and Brisbane Marketing, have been expanding their presence in the MICE marketplace.
The G20 effect was a catalyst for many business, tourism and investment opportunities for Brisbane and the rest of the country. Australia has many cities, hotels and venues to choose from when planning a corporate meeting or incentive event; it is a large country with diverse terrain and attractions, and all of these options make it easy to match your group’s interest and budget to ensure that all objectives are met.
“In April, 2015, I worked with a top-level VIP incentive group of 60 participants from Amway North America,” says Sonja Söderbom, AFMEA (Associate Fellow of Meetings Events Australia), director, destination management, for Ovation Australia. “The company was looking for that wow factor, a high-end, luxurious experience they couldn’t plan or create themselves. The properties we used, qualia on Hamilton Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, and Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, were chosen for their location, high level of service and attention to detail. It was important we could create high-end, bespoke experiences capturing the best of each destination, be it chartering a vessel and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, or chartering a seaplane and landing at an exclusive lunch venue in a national park. Each component of the program needed to be executed seamlessly with a strong focus on brand presence at every turn, from branded gifts such as Ugg boots, Visa cards and golf carts on qualia, to name a few.”
Throughout Australia, hotels, meeting venues and transportation options are being upgraded to appeal to international meeting planners.
In the heart of Sydney, the new International Convention Centre Sydney at Darling Harbour is scheduled to open in December 2016. Including the convention center, hotel and adjacent residential neighborhood, which is already open with vibrant cafés and shops available to visitors, the harbor is undergoing a $2.5 billion overall revitalization. The final space will feature more than 430,000 sf of exhibition space, including a 54,000-sf event deck with views of both the city and harbor.
In Canberra, Australia’s underestimated national capital city, the Canberra Convention Bureau has welcomed the Australian Capital Territory government’s decision to provide AU$5.4 million (US$4.2 million) for the refurbishment of the National Convention Centre Canberra. The refurbishment, due for completion by the end June 2017, includes the upgrade of existing technologies and security systems, new seating and a makeover of bathroom facilities.
Qantas restarted flights between Sydney and San Francisco last December, four years since it shuttered the route in May 2011. This brings fresh competition to United Airlines, which is currently the only carrier offering direct flights between the two cities, and the competition certainly will help planners in their airfare negotiations. “San Francisco is now the most popular onward destination for Qantas’ customers traveling to the U.S., and we’re thrilled to be going back” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. American Airlines began daily direct flights between Los Angeles and Sydney as of December 17, 2015, the first time American Airlines has flown to Australia since 1992.
A quick look at some of the new properties that Starwood Hotels is opening in Australia in the near future demonstrates how important the continent is becoming for international hotel brands: Aloft Sydney (2016); The Westin Perth (2017); the Four Points by Sheraton Melbourne Docklands (2017); W Brisbane (2018); and Aloft Adelaide (2018).
American meeting planners have been bypassing China’s biggest cities, including Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, for the smaller but more manageable cities in other areas of the country. With China’s tremendous growth in American branded hotels, as well as expansion of the country’s high-speed train lines and regional airports, it is no longer an imperative for planners to book corporate groups into the more costly, frenetic environment of China’s biggest cities.
The Hilton Yuxi Fuxian Lake opened last spring, becoming the first Hilton-branded hotel in southwest China’s interesting Yunnan Province. Yunnan is a growing area for tourism and manufacturing, and this new property is equipped with six meeting rooms (729 sf each), a 4,000-sf multipurpose room, and an 11,000-sf ballroom. The 346-room Hilton property sits on a private lakefront, white-sand beach, and guest rooms feature balconies with lake and garden views. In addition to an adjoining golf course and driving range, the property offers six bars and restaurants, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hotel-wide Wi-Fi and a fully equipped business center.
Xining, the capital of Qinghai province in western China, is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau, with 2 million residents (small, by Chinese standards). The new Sofitel Xining, the city’s first internationally branded hotel, has 494 guest rooms and suites, and is part of the Xining Xin Hua Lian City Complex, comprising the hotel, shopping center, office buildings and residential towers. There are multiple dining venues, swimming pool, fitness center, spa and 26,000 sf of function space.
Another area worth considering by planners is the idyllic island province of Hainan in south China, often referred to as the “Hawaii of China” for its sunshine and beaches. Hainan continues to grow as a meeting and incentive destination, with 48 luxury resorts and more than 20,700 rooms currently under development. The deluxe Sanya Beauty Crown Hotel complex offers more than 6,600 rooms and serviced apartments in its nine buildings that are designed to look like giant Lego trees. The complex includes the International Convention Centre, shopping and entertainment. Other top hotels coming to Hainan are the Hard Rock Hotel Haikou, the St. Regis Qingshui Bay Resort and Swissotel Sanya.
Conrad Hotels & Resorts continues its expansion in Asia-Pacific with the addition of the 300-room Conrad Ningbo, scheduled to open in 2020, adding to an existing pipeline of more than 10 Conrad properties in Asia-Pacific. The new Conrad Ningbo will take up the top floors of a 1,480-foot super structure, which will become the city’s landmark building. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, known for the World Financial Center in New York and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the hotel will have 19,000 sf of event space, including a 10,000-sf ballroom.
Of course, incentive planners who want to provide their winners with the “highest” reward may want to look into the possibility of booking rooms in the world’s second tallest structure, the Shanghai Tower, at 2,073 feet, which was completed in 2015 (but not yet open to the public as of press time) in the city’s skyscraper-heavy Pudong district. The five-star Shanghai Tower J-Hotel, owned by Jin Jiang International Hotels, a major Chinese group, will occupy floors 84-110 of the tower, with the lobby on floor 101. The property will have 258 rooms, three restaurants and a spa, with high-tech bells and whistles everywhere.
Shanghai Disney Resort will host a multiday, grand opening celebration on June 16, 2016. Located in the Pudong District of Shanghai, it will be Disney’s first destination resort in mainland China, featuring classic Disney storytelling and characters with all-new experiences tailored for the people of China.
Fiji continues to be one of the Pacific region’s top choices for upscale incentives and corporate meetings. The recently reorganized Fiji Convention & Visitors Bureau and Tourism Fiji has a new website and is aggressively marketing its islands to U.S. corporate meeting planners.
Despite Tropical Cyclone Winston’s Category 5 impact on the island last month, hotels generally weathered the storm with most suffering little or no damage, according to Tourism Fiji.
Planners can organize events at of one of Fiji’s five-star resorts, including the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, Westin Denarau Island Resort, Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa, and the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort, or charter a yacht for a small, exclusive conference, stopping at some of Fiji’s small, private islands, complete with white-sand beaches and palm trees.
Tourism Fiji, through the newly established Convention Bureau, understands the importance of MICE events, as visitors in this category have a higher average daily spend than most leisure visitors, and many planners don’t mind taking advantage of lower rates for off-season visits. The Tourism Fiji Convention Bureau is an impartial organization that will coordinate bids for large-scale MICE events.
“I highly recommend Fiji to corporate meeting and incentive planners as a destination with aura, romance and…it is more affordable than many other Pacific destinations.”
— Mark Faldmo
“In the past year we have done two incentive trips to Fiji, one had 86 participants, and the other 122, all flying from the U.S.,” says Mark Faldmo, CTC, president of Columbus Travel in Bountiful, Utah. “Fiji is a destination with an aura of the South Pacific, and because of that it is very attractive to the people that many companies are trying to motivate with an incentive trip; people work hard to qualify to go to Fiji. We have had groups there previously, and we keep it on the radar as we present destination possibilities to our clients. Fiji has advantages of not being as costly as some other Pacific destinations, it offers many adventure activities, and it’s a wonderful place to decompress and relax.”
As for the reaction among incentive participants visiting Fiji for the first time, Faldmo says the feedback is always good. “People love it. We receive many very positive comments each time we take a group to Fiji. We like to use the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. It is a little removed from outside restaurants and urban activities, which is an advantage in many ways, but can be a disadvantage if a group is interested in lots of shopping excursions. The property also has a great beach, while other resorts in Fiji may not.”
The InterContinental Fiji has a total of 266 guest rooms, including 91 suites, and is located on the west coast of Fiji’s largest island. “I highly recommend it to corporate meeting and incentive planners as a destination with aura, romance and, comparatively speaking, it is more affordable than many other Pacific destinations. It certainly is a destination people will work hard to earn a trip to,” says Faldmo.
“There are also some wonderful resorts on the smaller islands of Fiji. These are more suitable for executive or top performer groups than larger incentive groups. The small island resorts are also more expensive, but do provide memorable Pacific island beach experiences,” says Faldmo.
The country continues to attract incentive groups, not only because of its five-star hotels, cuisine and service, but its off-site attractions for corporate groups have proven to be real winners. This is especially true for visitors to Kyoto, one of Japan’s most beautiful and spiritual cities.
One of those attractions is the artistic Kou-An Glass Teahouse in the eastern mountains of Kyoto. Perched on the wooden observation deck of Seiryuden Temple, the transparent structure is made from thick glass panels and minimal metal supports, and is a visionary exploration of Japanese culture by artist Yoshioka Tokujin. Participants can enjoy not only the majestic displays of light that appear around the installation due to its beautiful curved form, but also the unhindered views of Kyoto from nearly 660 feet above sea level where the teahouse sits.
Meeting delegates or incentive participants now can visit a private temple located in the hills of Kyoto for a very unique and memorable experience. Designed to immerse groups in the traditions and unique cultural facets of life in Japan, the encounter introduces participants to activities such as sword fighting and sampling the traditional kimono. The first stop is at a private temple located in the hills of Kyoto, a former capital filled with thousands of temples and boasting a well-preserved heritage. After a guided tour through the temple and its manicured gardens, groups will have the opportunity to change into a Japanese yukata (summer kimono) and participate in a traditional sword combat lesson. Under the instruction of a master teacher, each delegate will learn the basic moves involved in defending and attacking. Afterward, the event ends in a more peaceful way, by attending a traditional Zen mediation class led by an English-speaking monk.
To attract corporate planners in Texas, the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) has increased its flights from Texas to Japan. Added frequency from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Tokyo has begun, offering daily service with Boeing 777-300ER aircraft equipped with 250 seats, including eight suites in first class and 52 lie-flat seats in business class.
Touring Japan’s islands via cruise ship offers incentive participants a unique perspective of the destination. For example, Princess Cruises’ 2,670-passenger Diamond Princess offers 26 itineraries of four to 17 nights with departures out of the ports of Tokyo and Kobe from April to November 2017. Highlights include opportunities to explore UNESCO World Heritage Sites, experience cultural festivals and more.
With casino revenues in Macau down due to Beijing’s anti-corruption crackdown and a slowing Chinese economy, this gambling hub is reinventing itself into a family-friendly mass-market destination, while still attracting corporate meetings and incentive groups.
The former Portuguese colony, located a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, has resorts that offer everything from fine dining and malls to theme park rides and shows, alongside gaming. And, like Las Vegas, they are competing among themselves for the most over-the-top attraction. Melco Crown’s Studio City, due to open later this year, will include Asia’s highest Ferris wheel, while the recently opened Galaxy phase two has a sprawling rooftop waterpark complete with river rapids. Sands’ Paris-themed resort, with a replica Eiffel Tower, is due to open next year, as will the Wynn Palace and a new casino-hotel from MGM.
Two newly opened five-star hotels in Macau that will be popular for business meetings and incentive groups are the JW Marriott Hotel Macau and The Ritz-Carlton, Macau. The properties are located within Galaxy Macau, a huge hotel, entertainment and gaming center in the Cotai district of Macau, just south of the historic center. There are four other hotel properties in the Galaxy Macau complex, each with their own atmosphere and price points
Like Las Vegas, Macau is searching for more leisure and MICE travelers to fill all the new hotel rooms in Macau and stimulate spending across the non-gaming suppliers in the area. For meeting planners it’s a good time to consider Macau for future international events.
New Zealand’s largest annual showcase for the business events industry took place last June in Auckland. Meetings NZ 2015, run by Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) announced that 190 exhibitors from 18 regions around New Zealand were present, a result of the country becoming extremely active in the meetings and incentives business.
Although Auckland is by far the largest city in the country, this two-island (North & South Island) nation has so many stunning locations and efficient tour operators that meeting and incentive planners have a choice of many second-tier cities and rural resort venues.
“(In 2014) we held multiwave incentive programs for an investment firm at the Hilton Queenstown for U.S. and Canadian guests,” says Karen Newberry, senior travel buyer for Maritz Travel. “The total guest count was more than 700 people and six groups that included families with children. Each group was booked into a six-night stay in Queenstown. We will be using the same destination and property for our 2016 incentive program.”
Newberry says the property itself, as well as the activities available at this specific destination, played a big role in choosing New Zealand. “Our client chose the Hilton Queenstown, which was a new property at the time of their first program in 2014, as Queenstown has always been a highly rated destination among our incentive winners. The Hilton Queenstown is in a particularly beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, on the South Island, which allows for unique transfers by jet boat from the airport and into the downtown area for shopping and touring. The location was awesome, with a great range of activities, including helicopter rides, Milford Sound, Dart River Jet Boating, Glenorchy Paradise and Skippers Canyon. The beauty of New Zealand and the friendliness and hospitality of the people made this trip very memorable,” says Newberry.
Traveling long distances to Pacific outposts such as New Zealand may be off-putting for some meeting planners, but Newberry says that the rewards of these destinations out-weight the long plane ride. “Prepare your guests for the length of the journey from the U.S. to New Zealand. It is a sizeable distance to travel, but the reward of visiting such a unique country with countless options for touring and exploring the destination make the trip worthwhile.”
A great offsite activity when visiting this area of New Zealand is the 120-passenger vessel Spirit of Queenstown. This state-of-the-art ship caters for offsite event options from breakfast meetings or sunset cruises with cocktails and canapés, to wine master-classes or product launches, all with the stunning backdrop of the idyllic alpine scenery.
Milford Sound is another location for group events, and the Spirit of Milford carries more than 200 passengers, while Milford Discovery is an intimate vessel for small groups of up to 10. The flagship vessel Pride of Milford is currently undergoing refurbishment to include a VIP lounge with catering for up to 50 guests. The travel supplier Southern Discoveries can organize these and other cruise options while in New Zealand.
Singapore offers an excellent range of state-of-the-art convention centers, exhibition halls and meeting venues to suit a variety of requirements and budgets. The city’s growing list of attractions also meet the growing demand for more interesting and nontraditional meeting venues and experiences outside of the conventional boardroom. Singapore has a multicultural heritage, which provides a colorful backdrop for exciting delegate and spouse experiences for both sightseeing activities and dining options. Some of the ethnic heritage districts in Singapore include Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street, which are great places for meeting or incentive participants to experience the traditions of colonial Singapore and the very modern city that has developed.
Singapore has many attractions, including the Gardens by the Bay, Night Safari, National Orchid Garden, Sentosa Island and the Singapore Flyer, as well as many amazing restaurants that offer unique settings for offsite culinary events.
“We held our annual incentive, Forever Global Rally, at the Marina Bay Sands from April 19-26, 2015, with over 7,000 participants from 105 countries,” says Ashley Hower, director of marketing for Scottsdale-based Forever Living Products International. “We always seek to take our Forever business owners to exotic locations around the world that provide luxury destinations and engaging cultural experiences. The size of the Marina Bay Sands was a huge benefit as we were able to house all of our delegates in one hotel that also contained expo space for our event and meetings throughout the week. There were convenient locations near and in the hotel that were suitable for a variety of smaller meetings, dinners and recognition events that suited our group very well.”
The Marina Bay Sands property is one of Singapore’s most iconic structures, with the world’s largest rooftop swimming pool spanning 450 feet across three 55-story towers, and with extensive meeting facilities, restaurants and more than 2,000 guest rooms. “Our participants thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of the Marina Bay Sands, and the ambience of the hotel and Singapore as a whole,” says Hower. “The sheer magnitude and scale of the venue make it an impressive destination, and the amenities they provided left our guests very impressed. They enjoyed the cultural experiences, food, ambience, weather and diversity of Singapore. The Marina Bay Sands provided the convenience of housing the entire event in one location; it was a tremendous luxury venue allowing our participants ample amenities right at the hotel.”
Singapore continues to be among top destinations in Asia for business meetings and events. These include being named the “World’s Easiest Place to do Business” nine times by the World Bank, as well as Asia’s “Top Convention City” for the 12th consecutive time in ICCA’s Global Rankings.
Seoul is where most corporate meetings and incentives take place. This capital city has such a business-friendly attitude that U.S. meeting planners cannot often pass up the financial and logistical benefits available for choosing this busy, modern, commercial and cultural hub of the country for business groups.
Excellent airlift from the United States to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is available from both coasts, and Incheon is often rated as the No. 1 airport in Asia. South Korea’s national airline, Korean Air, has been recognized by the International Air Transport Association for its constant effort in minimizing passengers’ waiting times at Incheon. The airport even prepares a warm welcome message for meeting delegates on the multiscreen LCD displays above the 23 baggage carousels at Incheon International Airport.
The Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) assists meeting and incentive planners who are considering bringing group events to Seoul. Their services include assistance in the preparation of proposals, a one-on-one presentation workshop and consultation on a successful bidding strategy. For site inspection trips, hotel accommodations and transportation within Seoul may be provided by SCB for corporate board members or executives considering Seoul for an upcoming meeting. City tours, site inspections of convention facilities and unique venues, and information on tourist attractions also are offered as a courtesy gesture.
The SCB provides promotional videos and a “Meeting Planners Guide Book,” and can offer financial assistance to meeting planners bringing groups to Seoul. According to the SCB website, “A certain amount of financial support is offered for corporate meetings and incentives that are attended by 50 or more international participants staying at least two nights in Seoul. The eligible event may receive support for both the bidding of the event and the actual hosting of the event.”
With dozens of five-star hotel properties, several top-quality convention centers, a plethora of offsite dining and entertainment venues, museums, sporting facilities and recreational opportunities, the choices for non-meeting activities in Seoul — as in the other equally enticing Asia-Pacific destinations — are endless. C&IT