When a global powerhouse like Starwood chooses Macau, China, as the site of its largest property in the world, it’s a sure bet that this destination is worth a closer look. As the gaming capital of Asia, Macau is filled with glamorous hotels and exciting nightlife. In fact, its gaming revenue is reported to be six times that of Las Vegas. But there’s much more to this intriguing destination than slot machines and gaming tables. Macau was a Portuguese colony for hundreds of years, so it offers a unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures, earning its historic city center a well-deserved place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Nu Skin, a global direct selling company that develops and distributes personal care products and nutritional supplements, brought its 2013 incentive training academy to Macau in September. “The event attracted over 5,000 business partners from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan with a total investment of HKD 80 million (the equivalent of more than $10 million U.S.), and it took a taskforce of 500 company event specialists to manage and arrange the event,” says a Nu Skin representative.
— Jeremy M. Luski, Director of Event Operations and Registration Services, Breakbulk, New York, NY
One reason Nu Skin chose Macau is that it is easily accessible from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “Besides, Macau has a lot of large venues with completed MICE facilities to choose from,” the representative notes. “High quality services and facilities in every aspect and a crew of professionals with MICE expertise are important elements that our organization looks for when choosing the destination for this event.”
Since the company’s attendance doubled over the previous year, the company needed a larger venue that could accommodate all of their needs. “The company reserved half of the Sheraton Macao Hotel,” the planner explains. “All of the rooms and services are excellent quality. Moreover, the MICE facilities such as meeting venues, banquet rooms, catering services, etc. fit our company’s high quality standards for our business partners. The staff of the hotel also provided us very good and professional service during our three-day, two-night incentive training program.
“It featured an array of exciting activities, including the breaking of the Guinness World Record for the ‘Most people sitting on one chair,’ a key business strategy announcement for 2014, a fashion show, as well as two exclusive sessions of the House of Dancing Water show.” The show, which is filled with dazzling special effects, was developed by former Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone at a cost of $250 million.
The Nu Skin representative reports that the company’s business partners were very pleased with the outcome. “The smooth and excellent quality of the event’s organizing left all of the participants with good memories of their experience.”
The 3,896-room Sheraton Macao Hotel opened in Macau in 2012 as the largest property in Starwood’s global portfolio. Featuring two towers named Sky and Earth, the expansive hotel is located on the glittering Cotai Strip and offers more than 160,000 sf of meeting space, including a pillar-free ballroom the size of 11 basketball courts.
The Sheraton Macao is part of the Sands Cotai Central complex, which also includes more than 100 world-class retail stores, 20 restaurants and cafés, and live entertainment along with the 636-room Conrad Macao and the 1,224 Holiday Inn Macao. Overall, there are more than 12,000 hotel rooms within walking distance on the Cotai Strip, all less than five years old. Thousands more hotel rooms now under construction soon will be flagged with familiar names like Wynn and MGM. The Cotai Strip also is a shopper’s paradise where designer goods can be purchased duty-free from hundreds of luxury stores.
Macau’s rich cultural heritage also makes it an ideal destination for incentives. Attendees can immerse themselves in the local culture in a variety of memorable ways, such as cruising around Macau’s inner harbor on a Chinese junk, learning how to perform a traditional lion dance or taking lessons from a tai chi master. For a fun teambuilding activity, groups can go on an iPad Discovery Tour of Macau’s historic city center where teams are armed with iPads as they search for clues and complete challenges in an area that dates back to Macau’s colonial days.
In addition to owning and operating the Sands Cotai Central complex, Sands China Ltd. also owns The Venetian Macao just across the street. The 3,000-suite property contains 108 meeting rooms and 1.2 million sf of exhibit space along with a 15,000-seat CotaiArena and 1,800-seat Venetian Theatre. The luxury venue also includes more than 30 restaurants offering a wide choice of international cuisine, more than 300 stores at The Grand Canal Shoppes, four swimming pools and three canals where gondola rides are offered. The Venetian Macao is also home to Asia’s first Malo Clinic Spa, an 85,000-sf facility that offers an array of spa, wellness and healthcare services.
The Venetian was the site of an incentive trip for the Chinese subsidiary of Mary Kay Cosmetics organized by U-MICE of Shanghai. As one of the event’s highlights, guests at the welcome cocktail reception were treated to performances by a group of street entertainers called Streetmosphere, and the hotel created a custom pink cocktail to celebrate the group’s arrival. The hotel staff created another custom touch for the event’s final gala dinner, an elaborate pink cake showcasing the Mary Kay logo.
Like Hong Kong, Macau is considered a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, so it has its own government and currency, and visas are not required for U.S. visitors. The Macau government offers a Convention and Exhibition Stimulation Program, which provides basic assistance and/or financial support for confirmed or potential meetings, conventions or exhibitions. For example, support for a potential event may include transportation and accommodations for a site inspection. Additional details and contact information are available at www.economia.gov.mo.
Veronica Scrimshaw, director of corporate communications for NPA, The Worldwide Recruiting Network in Grand Rapids, MI, planned an owner’s meeting for her company that took place in Beijing. “Beijing is interesting because the language barrier is a real problem,” she notes, admitting that it was a bit daunting to sign a contract that was written in Chinese even though she had an English translation of it. While her company often uses a third-party planning company to assist with their meetings, they relied on a local representative of their company who was willing to guide them through the site selection and negotiating process in Beijing.
Scrimshaw shares some insights she learned from him about negotiating in China: “If you want to work with a Western-focused company with really great English, you are not going to get a great price. If you want to get a good price, you’re going to have to find someone who is native Chinese that can speak Chinese, that’s going to work with a Chinese agency that works with groups, and we’ll barter like the Chinese.
“I think that that is probably true,” she adds. “We’ve worked in Asia for a long time, and it is a very different culture for negotiating than what we’re used to in the U.S. It’s a much longer, slower process; more is on the table. People will say, ‘They never really say no, or no doesn’t mean no. It might also not mean yes.’ Everything is negotiable. Everything. I find that you just haggle over everything. It’s just part of the culture.”
Scrimshaw also notes that another cultural difference is that the presentation of business cards is more formal in China. Business cards are presented and received with both hands, and writing on a business card or tucking it away carelessly such as in a back pocket should never be done.
For its meeting, NPA used The Lakeview Hotel, which was built for the Beijing Olympics. Since the hotel was about 45 minutes away from central Beijing, NPA decided to put together an all-inclusive package for the first time to make it easier for attendees to experience the destination. The package included meals, a day trip to the Great Wall of China and a city tour. “Our members really enjoyed that bonding time to do sightseeing with a group of people they knew or wanted to get to know better,” she explains.
Jeremy M. Luski, director of event operations for Breakbulk Events & Magazine, has a great deal of experience planning conference, exhibition and meetings in China. He agrees that the language barrier can be a challenge, but says, “You can work through it as long as you have the proper staff and resources.”
He notes that quality translation and translation services are essential. He also stresses that it’s important to find a translator who understands your industry’s terminology, which, in his case, involves the maritime transportation logistics industry. “Every industry has specific terms and terminology that translators need to know how to translate, so what I found was best was finding translation companies through my references, and then having someone who is knowledgeable in our industry come out and interview them. Sometimes you may have to pay a little more for quality, because you want to make sure you have a quality translation of that native language. If not, it can hinder the actual productivity of the event.
“The other thing I find is very important,” Luski continues, “is when you’re in a specific destination, you should be charging in the local currency. Credit cards are not a common source of payment in China. They have their own local bank card that a lot of people pay by. A lot of people like to pay in cash onsite, as well, so doing your research and preparing yourself and your team is very important. Bank wire transfer is also important. So make sure when you’re setting up your registration system that you accommodate your local markets.”
He also mentions that in China they have something called a “fapiao.” “It’s a Chinese invoice that a lot of Chinese people require for tax purposes. It has to be officiated from your company and also have an official stamp on it,” he explains.
Luski also has planned conferences and workshops in Hong Kong. “It’s a great destination,” he comments. “The difference with Hong Kong is that English is very well recognized there.” He says it’s important to be culturally respectful when organizing events and publishing materials. “It’s not U.S. Western English. It’s British-style English.” So he suggests using the proper British spelling for words such as programme instead of program and organiser in place of organizer. For dates, the day comes before the month as in 24 October 2013.
Hong Kong continues to be a popular choice for international conferences and exhibitions. From July 2012 to June 2013, nearly 1,200 events were held at the 3-million-sf Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The waterfront venue, which is an iconic landmark in Hong Kong, is owned by the Hong Kong SAR government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
“We’ve also done business in Singapore,” Scrimshaw says. “Singapore has a very formal dress code. You don’t wear jeans in Singapore. You don’t chew gum in Singapore.” She says that Singapore is very Western and that English is the dominant language there like it is in Hong Kong. “Both are huge international banking and finance centers; there are lots of big multinational companies there,” she adds.
The three-tower, 2,561-room Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore recently became the first venue outside of the U.S. to be certified for green meetings by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The resort achieved Level One certification relating to the evaluation and selection of venues for environmentally sustainable meetings, events, trade shows and conferences. The Marina Bay Sands, which overlooks the South China Sea, Marina Bay and the Singapore skyline, is also known for its innovative rooftop SkyPark. The lushly landscaped venue, the size of three football fields, is home to restaurants, lounges and a massive infinity-edge pool, which features panoramic views of the city. Across from the hotel are three performance theaters, the ArtScience Museum and the Sands Expo and Convention Center, with more than 1.2 million sf of meeting and exhibition space.
The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau recently introduced a new marketing campaign — called Thailand Connect — to the U.S. Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) market. The campaign is designed to highlight three specific strengths of the country: The first is the diversity of its destinations, with Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen being named as the country’s five officially designated MICE cities. The campaign also promotes Thailand’s business opportunities and the strength of its MICE industry.
A study conducted by Taylor’s University’s Centre for Research Innovation in Tourism, Hospitality and Food Studies found that the destination has a positive impression in the MICE market. Delegates surveyed reported that they had positive experiences at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, citing its facilities, service, retail options and accommodations. The delegates also appreciated the friendliness and hospitality of the local people in Kuala Lumpur, and its cultural diversity, cleanliness, tourist attractions and reasonable prices for shopping and dining.
The options for meeting venues in Japan continue to expand. The 272-room InterContinental Osaka opened in June at the Umeda Grand Front Osaka, a business and entertainment complex. Also in Osaka, the new 360-room Marriott Miyako Hotel is scheduled to open in March and will occupy the 38th to 57th floors of the Abeno Harukas cultural complex, a landmark in the city. Another new property, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, will offer 136 rooms and a Japanese-inspired design when it opens in February. Kyoto is known for his beauty, history and culture, and is the site of 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Scrimshaw also plans meetings in Australia and noted an interesting difference from the U.S. “In Australia, we have very few people that stay at the host hotel. If we have 150 people coming to a meeting, we might use 20 guest rooms because travel is sold as a package, so you’re buying lodging and airfare together. Lodging is sometimes at the host hotel, but frequently not. It might be across the street, it might be nearby, but we just can’t guarantee heads in beds.
“That’s not such a huge part of the contract,” she adds. “Sometimes, what I’ve found to be true in Australia and Asia is that you don’t really have a room block. It’s kind of a courtesy block. They just won’t guarantee that there’s a rate available for any specific length of time. Typically, what I will find is that if I really want to have a guaranteed block available, I will have to assume all of the payment, but we’re not a corporate group. We’re not booking it or paying for it (other than staff). It’s definitely a different thing to get your head around.
“We have used all kinds of different properties (in Australia),” Scrimshaw continues. “We are using a casino hotel gaming property in Cairns. In Sydney, we’ve used a Four Points by Sheraton this year; we’ve used Marriotts; we’ve used Novatels; we’ve used independent properties. Those meetings will run 100–150 people.”
Scrimshaw says she doesn’t see a lot of cultural differences between Australia and the U.S., but she did mention one thing they do differently there. “One thing that is common is when you book a meeting and you’re going to have lunch, the lunch will always be a standup lunch. So it’s a buffet, and you eat in the hallway standing up, and that seems to be very normal.”
The former Ritz-Carlton and Stamford hotel in Sydney has undergone a major refurbishment and rebranding and will make its debut as the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay in January. The 140-room property is conveniently located near the city and famous Bondi Beach.
Sea World Resort, located on Australia’s Gold Coast, has announced that it is constructing a multimillion-dollar conference center, which will be able to accommodate events for up to 1,000 attendees when it opens in 2015.
According to MasterCard’s 2013 Global Destination Cities Index, the top 10 Asia-Pacific destination cities by international overnight visitor spend are as follows: Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Melbourne. Bangkok and Singapore retained their top slots from last year, while Tokyo moved up to third place (from seventh) from the previous index. Bangkok also ranked No. 1 worldwide for international visitor arrivals, surpassing last year’s top ranked city, London, by a slim margin.
Even some of the smallest details can be different when planning a meeting overseas. “We had a hard time finding conference supplies like pocket folders and badge holders,” Scrimshaw notes. “Paper size is a huge thing. We use the imperial paper in the U.S. and Canada, but I don’t think anybody else in the world uses it. They all use A4 paper, and you can’t get A4 paper easily here.” She noted that A4 paper is just a bit narrower and longer than standard U.S. paper, so it’s too long to fit in a pocket folder. “I’ll (also) think I’ll lay out all of the name badges, and I’ll just email them ahead to be printed. No, I won’t, because they’re formatted for 81/2 x 11 badge paper that nobody has over there. There’s a lot of little picky things that just crop up, and you learn by fire.”
“Do your due diligence,” Luski advises. “It’s little things that you wouldn’t think about that are very important to prepare yourself for in advance because they do take time to set up, and communication is a challenge sometimes. With China (for example), it’s a 12-hour time difference for a Western individual from the East Coast, so working non-traditional hours might be important. With a lot of destinations, you have to work around their time. And you have to work around the challenges and barriers to have an efficient, organized and well-respected event.” C&IT