The roll call of favored travel destinations in the Asia-Pacific region is an extensive list of countries that spark wanderlust. Among those favored for meetings and incentives, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Macau are all on the wish list of meeting planners and attendees everywhere.
For North American clients, incentives probably make up the bulk of corporate events in the Asia-Pacific region, and one country that tops the bucket list for many is Australia. Suzanne Markarian, director of planning and purchasing at Landmark Incentive Marketing, was tasked with creating an exceptional experience for an energy industry client. “Their objective was to find that place in the world where their guests and participants would not necessarily go on their own. Australia was what the client was looking for.”
Spanning an area almost the size of the continental U.S., Australia’s highlights are spread far and wide. But Markarian says that she had great planning support from Tourism Australia and Paul M. Griffin, business events manager for the Americas, and from local tourism authorities such as Business Events Sydney. “They helped us set up our site inspection, came out to greet our clients, and even helped to underwrite some aspects of our site trip such as transportation, etc.”
Markarian selected three disparate destinations to showcase the best of Australia: Sydney, Hayman Island and Uluru—better known as Ayers Rock.
“The trip moved quickly from city to city — via private charter aircraft on some legs,” explains Markarian, reviewing an itinerary that was packed with tours and evening activities. “At Uluru, the group had a private ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner in the bush, under the stars with a backdrop of moonlight. The evening was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with indigenous dancers and the storytelling of a stargazer. Many were hesitant about trying the kangaroo meat, but it was delicious and the participants loved the experience — and it is what you do here.
“Sails in the Desert is lovely, and the service is great. The hotel sees quite a bit of one- and two-night stays, so there is a lot of turnaround and excitement in the lobby. The hotel recently had renovations and all is done tastefully, and the food is very good in their all-day dining restaurant, especially breakfast. You want to make the most of your time here and experience everything outside of the hotel in the bush.
“One&Only Hayman Island is not the easiest place to get to, but it was more than worth the experience. It’s a remote island in the Great Barrier Reef, and the beauty of it is matched by the exquisite style and design of the resort. All the rooms are newly renovated with all modern and highly stylized décor. The property is lush, with one of the best gyms and spas I’ve seen. Although many come to get out to the Great Barrier Reef, I would recommend staying a bit longer and really enjoying the resort. You can come in from Hamilton Island either by the resort’s private boat or by helicopter, and then you are whisked away by a golf cart to the lobby entrance.”
Markarian continues, “F&B is excellent at the One&Only, and we provided a welcome buffet on the beach with firepits and some of the most beautiful food displays I have seen. One note for planners is that anything you may want to add has to be flown in or brought in, and it is difficult and usually not necessary. Stick with what the resort offers — they know how to deliver the best product, whether it be food, entertainment, or décor for their resort.”
The group also checked in at the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, where they enjoyed a central location, fine dining and impeccable service that lived up to the Shangri-La reputation. “The sales team leading up to the event were excellent, and their staff, food and service delivered just as good as their promise. There’s an excellent restaurant on the 36th floor called Altitudes with breathtaking views, which we privatized for one dinner. The final evening was held offsite at the Waterfront Restaurant, in one of their historic rooms overlooking the harbor and the Opera House.”
A similar set of priorities faced Kim Hester, senior account executive at JNR Incorporated, as she was organizing an incentive trip for a TV broadcast media company. “First and foremost, we were shopping for a place during a time when safety and security was a big issue,” explains Hester. “We didn’t want to go to Europe — we wanted, no question, safe. And I thought, New Zealand — nothing ever happens there! We were going in November (2016), so it’s a good climate heading into their summer, there’s stunning scenery and a diversity of activities, everybody is friendly and speaks English, and Air New Zealand has direct flights from LAX, San Francisco and Houston.”
Hester had been on a FAM to the country three years ago, and worked “a little bit” with Tourism New Zealand, but hired a DMC to handle logistics for her nine-day incentive program, titled Endless Wonder. “It was purely a reward trip, to thank top advertisers for spending money with them — all about having a great time,” adds Hester.
“Amber Murrell was the coordinator for our DMC, Seasonz Travel, and she was phenomenal — the best DMC person I’ve ever worked with. She’s a Queenstown native, and her family goes back there for generations. But she’s so committed and passionate about the country, I want to invite her to work programs in other parts of the world for me! It taught me to trust your vendors, they know the destination well. Amber was so good at advising me on what was good, bad or indifferent — she always had the right advice. She was the glue the held the program together, and the swizzle stick that stirred the drink.”
For the flights, Hester did a contract with Air New Zealand, and they helped us book feeder air, coming from all over the U.S. “They were unbelievably helpful and cooperative, unlike any airline I’ve ever worked with in the world. They put our domestic carriers to shame. Their premium economy is a great option for people who couldn’t afford business, but most of our group traveled in business. They blocked seats for us and even did refunds when we had last-minute issues —who else do you ever get a refund from? They were incredibly flexible and easy to work with, and they have a beautiful new lounge at LAX with showers, a buffet and an outdoor firepit — it’s the nicest lounge I’ve been to in the U.S.”
Hester focused on two destinations, starting with two nights in Auckland, basing the group at the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour. “There’s a nice Hilton in Auckland, and it sits on water, but it caters more to wholesale tour operators. The Sofitel has an Asian feel to it, and caters more to local meetings market.” The easygoing agenda for Auckland included a full day on Waiheke Island, located 45 minutes by ferry from the city, a haven of olive groves, wineries and a thriving community of artists. The second morning featured a choice of activities before the two-hour flight to Queenstown: a sea kayak adventure, a harbor sail on an America’s Cup yacht, or a city tour aboard Harley Davidsons.
“The Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa has a completely different look and feel — something like a boutique hotel in a European ski town. It’s great because everything is walkable, everyone can do their own thing, and I absolutely love the GM at the Sofitel Queenstown, a charming Frenchman who is so involved and committed — always right there in lobby to greet me.”
Queenstown is nothing if not flush with activities. “You have great scenery and wine country for the sedentary types, then there’s high action and adventure — bungee jumping, white-water rafting, abseiling — tons and tons of hard-core adventure activities that take people out of their comfort zone, something they will never forget,” says Hester. “You take someone to (tourism adventure company) AJ Hackett Bungy who’s in their 60s or 70s and ask ahead of time if they want to bungee jump, and they say ‘no.’ Then they see all their colleagues and peers, and before you know it, everyone’s out there doing it. Most couldn’t wait to send pics back to their kids — it was so much fun to see that reaction.”
Hester cautioned that planners need to stay flexible in New Zealand, especially with regard to the country’s highly changeable weather. “You don’t how many people are going to bungee jump, you don’t know how many people are going to want to buy cases of wine. We planned a lot of helicopter adventures and events where you fly out to a remote place and do a function — these are very much subject to weather. We got lucky, everything went off pretty much as planned, but we had to cut one event a bit short because it got windy.”
For Cvent’s first-ever accounting of the top Asia-Pacific meeting destinations, it was Singapore that topped the list for 2016. Less than one-sixth the size of Rhode Island, the sovereign city-state edged out such established locations as Sydney, Bangkok and Shanghai.
The accolades aren’t limited to one source: In 2016, the World Travel Awards selected Singapore’s Suntec as Asia’s leading Meeting and Conference Center, while the International Congress and Convention Association ranked Singapore as the top city in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East region for meetings, far ahead of the ICCA’s next three destinations (Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok). And, for 21 years running, Singapore Airlines has been selected as the world’s best carrier by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.
But big things, it would seem, can come in very small packages. Singapore’s GDP makes it the third-wealthiest country in the world, on a per-capita basis, and the port is the world’s second busiest.
According to Jeannie Lim, the Singapore Tourism Board’s executive director of conventions, meetings and incentive travel, there are three reasons the destination has an edge over other Asia-Pacific meeting options.
“We have a strategic location within Asia — Singapore is a hub for business. There are 7,000 multinational companies that have headquarters here, a mix of global and local companies, creating a pro-business environment.
“Second, we are very compact,” Lim explains. Located at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula, the island is just 26 miles across at its widest point, and most hotels are concentrated downtown. “Over 5,000 hotel rooms are located within walking distance of Suntec — you don’t have to travel two hours to reach a venue.”
“The third factor is that we have a strong ecosystem of players to help build successful meetings,” Lim adds. “There are 60,000 hotel rooms in Singapore covering all aspects, including mid-range and budget, and we have quite a good variety of meeting spaces.”
Among Singapore’s standout meeting facilities is Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre, centrally located in the heart of the CBD and offering more than 450,000 sf of meeting space. The six-story facility received a $130 million renovation in 2013 that automated many of the centre’s functions to improve efficiencies (for example, the kitchen relies entirely on induction cooking). Most famously, the main entrance to Suntec is nicknamed the Big Picture Wall, and features the world’s largest high-definition video wall — perfect for corporate branding efforts.
Singapore Expo, located just three miles from the airport, is the country’s primary exhibition center, with more than 1 million sf of column-free ground-level space in 10 different halls, up to four of which can be contiguous. In the convention wing next door, an additional 130,000 sf of meeting space is available. Although located 12 miles from the CBD on the city outskirts, Singapore Expo is served by the city’s comprehensive mass transit line, and two hotels offering almost 600 rooms are within walking distance to the Expo.
The 2,561-room Marina Bay Sands is without a doubt Singapore’s most eye-catching hotel, and sits adjacent to the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, operated by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. With 1.3 million sf of meeting space, the largest ballroom in Southeast Asia, and 250 meeting rooms spread across five levels, the facility can accommodate up to 45,000 delegates, making it a prime target for U.S.-based meeting planners.
But the city also has a wealth of smaller meeting facilities ideal for more intimate gatherings. The 790-room Pan Pacific Singapore at Marina has an 8,700-sf ballroom and 24 function rooms, many of which are on the executive-level 22nd floor, with Herman Miller chairs and ample natural light. The 769-room Fairmont Singapore and its sister property next door, the 1,261-room Swissotel The Stamford, are tied to the Raffles City Convention Centre, which offers 70,000 sf of meeting space, including 27 meeting rooms and three ballrooms up to 24,000 sf and the largest chandelier in the world. The Fairmont lobby and all rooms in the north wing of the hotel were renovated in 2014.
Singapore’s location — a 17-hour flight from San Francisco — might be a deal-breaker for some North American-based meeting planners. With other Asia-Pacific cities reached by shorter nonstop flights from other North American cities, why organize an event in Singapore? “We take safety and security very seriously,” says Lim. “Meeting planners want to know destinations they are considering offer a stable environment.” Additionally, visitors from most countries are not required to obtain a visa prior to travel. “So you get the value of meeting people from across the region. If you want to do business globally this is the place to come.”
Even smaller than Singapore and yet a powerhouse in its own right, Macau is an autonomous territory of China located 40 miles west of Hong Kong. With an economy driven largely by tourism, Macau’s gambling income is larger than Las Vegas’, and the city has a rapidly growing cache of large hotels with extensive meeting facilities, along with a history tied to the Portuguese Empire — sovereignty was handed back to China in 1999. As with Hong Kong, a Chinese visa is not a prerequisite for travel to Macau.
“Although Macau is only 12 square miles in size and has a population of 650,000, there are over 20 historic sites that are part of Macau’s UNESCO World Heritage status, and the destination hosts the Formula 3 racing event each November,” explains Gabriel Wong, head of meetings and incentives for Pacific World, one of the premiere DMCs in the Asia-Pacific region. Wong says that he often works with the tourist board to create a package to fit client expectations. “The Macau Government Tourist Office is very active in promoting Macau as an event destination, and often offers specials such as private immigration lines or a discount for groups staying more than three nights.”
And, following a Chinese anti-corruption crackdown that lead to 26 consecutive months of gaming revenue declines through last summer, Macau tourism is no doubt counting on the MICE market to help make up for a recent slowdown in business.
Last May, Wong oversaw a meeting for an IT group of 150 involved in computer processing at the Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel, Cotai Central, the city’s largest hotel (and the world’s largest Sheraton-branded hotel), with 4,001 rooms and a 52,645-sf pillar-less ballroom. “The extensive amount of space Sheraton Macao brings to the table makes it easy to accommodate large groups for meetings and breakout sessions,” says Wong. “As we required many breakout rooms for breakout sessions for different purposes, the Sheraton Macao could easily transform the function to satisfy our needs. Even if you have a huge setup with a large stage, or screens with rear projection, the hotel is able to cater.”
Wong noted the careful attention provided by the Sheraton’s event team. “They are very experienced and were always available to assist in any request, from AV technical support to catering. They were also detail oriented, from the digital signage arrangement, to a complex stage setup, where all hardware was always ready before arrival.”
The hotel has more than 20 check-in counters which can operate at the same time, along with a smaller check-in area, which is available for private group check-in. The hotel has interconnections to adjacent hotel properties such as The St. Regis Macao and Conrad Macao.
“Pacific World strives to offer authentic experiences that allow clients to live like locals through curiosity and discovery,” says Wong. “Sometimes we must think outside of the box, especially in smaller destinations such as Macau where options are limited, and it is necessary to go offsite. There are a few ideal venues and restaurants in Macau that suit our clients for offsite dinner purposes, and one of my personal favorites is the Pousada de Coloane. It’s a hotel with only 28 rooms, but they have a beautiful open area in the front of the restaurant, which can accommodate over 280 guests for a cocktail event.”
One recommendation Wong offers is to schedule events mid-week. “Hotels in Macau are always full on weekends, as there are a lot of tour groups coming in from China for gambling. The only challenge about the destination is that there is not an influx of international flights going directly to Macau. Most American and European participants will need to transfer to the jetfoil from Hong Kong, but this is a stress-free and quick process.”
That transfer will become even easier at the end of this year, when the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge is scheduled to open. The 31-mile, $10.6 billion highway — which starts next to the Hong Kong International Airport — includes an undersea tunnel and an 18.4-mile-long bridge. The transfer time from Hong Kong to Macau is expected to be reduced to just 30 minutes.
In December 2016, the 634-room JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach opened, located close to the Marina Bay entertainment and business districts. Consisting of both historic and newly constructed buildings, and with interiors designed by French designer Philippe Starck and architecture by British architects Foster and Partners, the hotel’s guest rooms are outfitted with smart technology, including up to seven USB outlets per room, and a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phone that allows guests to receive calls anywhere within the property. The hotel has 18,400 sf of indoor and outdoor event and meeting space, including a 5,600-sf Grand Ballroom housed in a 1930s historic Drill Hall, which features a dramatic 11,520-light Forest of Lights design by Philippe Starck. The hotel’s 15 meeting rooms are housed in Assembly, one of the property’s restored historic buildings.
The hotel market in Macau is experiencing rapid growth. The $4.1 billion, 1,706-room Wynn Palace resort debuted last August and features a $125 million art collection, a Bellagio-style water show, an aerial tram system and giant shopping center. The resort, Wynn’s second in Macau, has a 17,373-sf Grand Theater, suitable for banquet seating up to 960, plus four breakouts and two boardrooms up to 1,615 sf.
In September 2016, Wynn rival Las Vegas Sands opened the $3 billion Parisian Macao, the company’s fifth resort in the city, and replete with its own Eiffel Tower replica. The hotel has 56,000 sf of meeting space, including a 36,600-sf Grand Ballroom, suitable for a gala dinner for 2,600 guests.
Currently under construction, the $3.1 billion, 1,500-room MGM Cotai is expected to open in the second half of 2017.
The Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta opened last June on Jalan Gatot Subroto within the city’s Central Business District, at the all-new Capital Place, an award-winning architectural landmark by César Pelli. The hotel offers 19,400 sf of flexible function space, including a Grand Ballroom with its own prefunction area and adjacent Garden Terrace.
With the December 2016 debut of the 1,360-room Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, Marriott Hotels opened its largest property in the Asia-Pacific region. Formerly known as the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel, the property underwent a multimillion-dollar facelift and features 54,000 sf of function space across more than 30 different venues.
Scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2017, Hotel Jen Beijing will be part of the China World Trade Center development in Beijing’s CBD. The hotel’s facilities will include a coworking hub paired with creative meeting spaces, the only gastropub in the CBD and a 37,674-sf world-class health club with facilities to meet diverse fitness requirements.
As the PyeongChang Winter Olympics approaches in February 2018, the Korea MICE Bureau announced international congresses and corporate incentive tours recently secured. Among them, the largest convention expected in Korea in 2017 will be the UIA 2017 Seoul World Architects Congress, which will be held in the COEX (convention and exhibition) complex in Seoul. The event is expected to draw 30,000 participants, 5,000 of which will be foreign delegates from 120 countries. Last year, Korea successfully hosted the Rotary International Convention at the Korean International Exhibition & Convention Center (KINTEX), bringing more than 21,000 international delegates to Korea. C&IT