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It was an “oh no” (or more epithet-rich) moment. I’d arrived at the Garuda Indonesia Business Class lounge in Denpasar International Airport, and realised I didn’t have my laptop with me – I’d left it in my hotel room.

What to do? A traveller’s nightmare. My work was on the laptop, and not backed up. I couldn’t go back to fetch it; I’d already checked my suitcase in, got my boarding pass and been through customs.

I rang the hotel and an obliging staffer said he’d bring the laptop to the airport in a taxi.

Airbus 330 - ex SYD ex MELThen I explained the situation to a smartly-uniformed young woman, whose name tag read Devi Susanti, working at the Garuda Indonesia Business Lounge front desk.

Don’t worry, Devi said. She’d meet the hotel bloke outside the terminal, negotiate her way back through customs and bring the missing Mac to me in the lounge. “Meantime relax and have a drink sir,” she smiled. I did, and half an hour later I was reunited with my laptop.

The story exemplifies The Siteseer’s recent experience with Garuda Indonesia, flying business class Sydney-Denpasar return. For many, travelling economy on any airline internationally is an ordeal. I discovered that this business-class offering, on the other hand, is genuinely something to look forward to. And more business-events travellers are enjoying it, according to Garuda Indonesia, as various accolades attest.

Not everyone knows it, but in 2018 for the fifth year running Indonesia’s national carrier maintained its five-star rating, and was acknowledged as having “The World’s Best Cabin Crew” by Skytrax, the international air transport rating organisation. It also maintained its ranking in the Top 10 of “The World’s Best Airline” list.

Why? In business class it’s a combination of a well-trained and committed cabin crew, the flat-bed seating, the western and Asian cuisine, the fresh modern aircraft and competitive pricing, a spokesman for the airline told The Siteseer.

The pricing in particular is an attraction. Recent promotional offerings for Sydney to Bali/Denpasar business class return on Garuda Indonesia, for instance, were less than AUD 1,000 each way.

It’s another reason for the spokesman to assert that “in a competitive market, we’re holding our own”.

“Competition is fierce,” he says, “but as the only full-service airline to Bali [from Australia], passengers appreciate our offering.”

DSC000351-1024x682Moreover, Garuda Indonesia actively targets group and conference travel as part of its marketing plans, having recently hosted two major Australian groups to Bali along with many school and special interest travellers.

In other news, the airline recently launched its Bali-to-Mumbai direct flights with A330-300 aircraft, new destinations in China as well as several new domestic routes. Its most important markets from Australia are Bali and the Indonesian archipelago, served by a large network to the islands. Meanwhile Jakarta-London services that had been suspended were resumed in December.

Siteseer says

I especially liked the in-seat power for my digital devices, the bus that collected business class passengers from the base of the boarding stairs once we’d left the plane at Bali (after a short return trip from Denpasar to Lombok). Plus the fact that my case arrived off the belts almost immediately, the beautiful uniforms of the women staff (inspired by a batik motif), and best of all the lie-flat bed with thick warm blanket, which meant I could get some actual sleep on the overnight leg from Bali to Sydney.

IMG_2849The service and food were a match for any airline business class offering I’ve experienced. The flight departed virtually on time when I left Sydney, even though the airport was experiencing delays that day because of storms, with only a single runway operating.

Lunch selections on the Sydney-to-Denpasar leg, after a choice of starters, such as Indonesian beef-rib soup, included braised chicken leg with curry sauce, grilled beef tenderloin with thyme sauce and vegetables, pan-seared barramundi with mushroom ragout and roasted asparagus tart.

Checking in as a business class passenger, for this scribe, in Denpasar, was a first-time-ever experience. Guided by a Garuda Indonesia staffer, I bypassed the economy queue and was ushered into a separate check-in enclosure where I could sit on a sofa while my bags and boarding pass were processed.

A short walk took me through customs and up an elevator to the lounge – the one in which I was reunited with my laptop – with great hot and cold Indonesian food, local beers and an Australian wine selection.

All in all, an experience to be savoured, and repeated.

More information

“Conference organisers seeking group rates should contact Garuda Indonesia directly, or their travel provider,” the spokesman says.

For Garuda Indonesia group bookings phone + 61 2 9334 994, or click here.

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A stroll near Bali’s Segara Beach takes a visitor past an imposing resort hotel – steep roofs in the Asian style, a columned lobby open to the tropical breezes. Inside, it reeks of luxury and good taste. A Shangri-la perhaps? Or Four Seasons?

You’d be forgiven for thinking so. Past the lobby, adjacent to the beach, is a large, beautifully maintained garden and pool area, fringed by manicured lawns and bars and eateries, with red-roofed room blocks on either side.

Uniformed staff patrol the area, looking to provide food and drink for guests relaxing on loungers. Beyond, leisure craft scud across a limpid sea. It’s a quiet oasis that makes a startling change from the bustle and noise of the island’s big tourist areas close by.

2Actually, it’s a Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn Resort Baruna Bali, to be precise. A stone’s throw from Kuta and Seminyak, it’s a ten-minute drive from Denpasar airport, a big advantage for people flying in for meetings, tired after long flights.

Five meeting rooms cover almost six thousand square metres of conference and events space. The biggest, the Cinnamon Ballroom, can accommodate 150 banquet-style or up to 250 for receptions, according to Nyoman Utari (left), sales executive Holiday Inn Resort Baruna Bali.

“If you want to organise a gala dinner in the garden adjacent to the beach we can do that as well,” Utari says. “We’re very flexible and because we have 193 guest rooms, all delegates can stay on site.”

Guests also get access to the kind of facilities you’d expect in a tropical island resort: a spa (the Tea Tree), room service, pool bar, a beachfront restaurant (Envy) for cocktails and light dishes, and an all-day-dining eatery (Palms) serving Asian tapas and Indonesian delights. Each guest room has a private balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean or lush vegetation.

For those who bring their families with them, kids aged 19 and under stay for free when sharing their parents’ rooms. Up to four kids aged 12 and under eat free any time of the day in any on-site restaurant.

USD 40

The Holiday Inn Resort Baruna Bali represents great value. For example the full-day conference rate here recently was IDR500,200, which is about USD 40. The full board residential meeting package, which includes lunch and dinner and use of the meeting room, was USD 85.

Click here for more information.

Cinnamon Ballroom-Dinner Setup

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Like Wollongong itself, the Sage Hotel, adjacent to one of the great sandy beaches of the coastal city, seems to have arrived at a winning formula – to surprise and delight visitors.

Eighty kilometres south of Sydney, Wollongong is traditionally touted (by locals) as one of New South Wales’s best-kept secrets, but its quickly growing business and leisure tourism industry belies that claim. The four-star Sage Wollongong, arguably the most important MICE hotel in the city, located next to the WIN entertainment complex and football stadium, is likewise experiencing a rapid rise in interest.

IMG_1739 2“Our events business is great,” says Jade Gomez (left), the Sage Wollongong’s enthusiastic young conference and event manager. “We’ve had a very good few months where we’ve been running at maximum capacity. We obviously have a significant presence in the local community and get a lot of Sydney business; it’s growing literally by the week.”

There’s much to like about the 168-room Sage Wollongong, not least its boundlessly enthusiastic staff and – importantly for many MICE guests, says Jade – the value for money it represents. The conference package full-day rate for meetings in its 13 events venues of diverse sizes (including a ballroom that can take 400 theatre-style) is currently AUD65. That includes morning tea, lunch prepared by a skilled chef, afternoon tea, continuous tea and coffee, basic AV and other “surprise extras”.

“So for example our terrific Melbourne chef has his own protein-ball recipe, and we will offer these to clients as a welcome snack, or we’ll provide cordial stations in the conference rooms, and . . . interactive food stations,” says Jade Gomez. “It may be more work from our end, but we want to show our guests how much we appreciate the business – and make the breaks between meetings more interesting for delegates who’ve been sitting all day.”

Stage and Screen GPhe team is flexible, too, in working to organisers’ budgets, and constantly offers events incentives. “If you spend $10,000 at the moment we’ll offer you free bus transfers, or pre-dinner canapes, two-for-one breakfasts and so on. We’re always trying to give add-ons and to give back.”

The hotel’s events spaces range from a private dining room and spacious terrace where hosts can set up a bar, to the ballroom that can take up to 500 for cocktails. Some have natural light and many have the new 75-inch TVG screens, projectors and the latest in conference aids. The bedrooms, in a variety of configurations, have clean lines and pale colours that match the brand well. “We steer away from the normal; we’re not just the everyday normal, shall I say, boring, hotel. You see it in the fresh brand and in the attitude of the team members who work here.”

Why Wollongong? For a start there’s much to do, says Jade. The hotel is centrally located, adjacent to a beautiful beach, five minutes walk from a major shopping hub and close to many good eateries. “We don’t just sell the venue, we try to sell the destination,” she says.

“Wollongong is continually expanding, changing and updating, which fits well with our brand and model of meet, eat and explore.”

The beautiful coastal location and relatively light traffic make it a pleasant change from hustle-and-bustle of bigger cities, she adds, with rugged escarpments, heritage-listed parks, bush walks and sky diving and surfing schools providing options for delegates’ activities. A street market nearby on Thursdays showcases local produce. “And we’re only a hour’s drive from Sydney airport, or an easy train ride.”

NEGphotography_Sage Hotel__108The Sage team works closely with the WIN stadium and entertainment centre next door, supplying accommodation, car parking and so on. “We’ll often accommodate concert crews, and recently welcomed all the dancers and crew for the concert of pop singer Cher. In this respect we also have a good relationship with competitors in the area and liaise with them on functions and events – we’ll do lots more business like this is the next year. In addition, many people pop in here for drinks or something to eat before events.”

For those who’d prefer to relax around the hotel there are two restaurants – the Coldwater Creek Restaurant and Bar and the Five Islands Room and Terrace – with well-priced menus, as well as fitness facilities, a heated outdoor lap pool and business centre.

Much of the MICE business is local and from around the region though interest from Asian PCOs is growing quickly, says Jade. “We’ve brought on a new business development manager who’s been developing a range of opportunities, particularly from China,” she says.

“We’re currently seeking to attract more wedding business and to that end are currently updating our weddings packages. With social media, wedding organisers have become more aware of what it is they’re looking for in a venue and we’re looking to meet those needs.” 

From AUD59 per day

Half-day delegate packages start from $59 but the Sage almost always has special offers, says Jade, and is flexible and happy to consider offers and work to strict budgets. Room rack rates online are around $250 per night, but Jade and colleagues likewise offer deals on these.

Although the conference team runs promotions all year round, winter is generally a better time for really good deals. “The worst we can say is no, or great offer alternatives. More often than not we’re flexible and work to meet organisers’ needs.”

Sage hotels in Australia form part of the Next hotels and resorts group, with properties across Australia and southeast Asia.

More info, click here.

Email: reservations.wollongong@sage-hotels.com

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The Landmark Mekong Riverside hotel is an imposing six-storey building that faces directly onto a beautiful stretch of river. Yet I’m surprised to learn, soon after my arrival, that it only has 188 guest rooms.

“When you consider our size and scale, the number of rooms does seem quite small,” says Hyeyoung So (pictured above), director of sales and marketing for one of the biggest hotels in the Laos national capital. “But that’s because our rooms are so generous in size at sixty square meters, compared with the usual hotel standard of 25 to 30 squares.”

She’s right. My room here is indeed huge, as I discover when I enter it for the first time. It’s a cool, welcoming space furnished and floored with Laotian wood, which fills the air with a fragrance like sandalwood.

5H7A3358“Many guests have told me the smell of the timber makes them feel comfortable,” says Hyeyoung with a smile. It has high ceilings, walk-in closet, private balcony, marble bathroom with tub, and a vast bed covered with fresh white linen. My immediate impression: a relaxing place to spend a few days.

With its fifty-meter swimming pool, on-site spa and three restaurants, the five-year-old Landmark Mekong Riverside (no relation to the Landmark hotels in London, Bangkok, Sydney and elsewhere) has a reputation for being a leisure destination, just a ten-minute taxi or tuk-tuk ride from the city or airport.

Giant ballroom

But it’s equally well-known for being a key MICE venue in Laos, having one of the biggest ballrooms in the country at a thousand square meters, which means the hotel can accommodate about 1,800 people for a reception dinner at round tables, or host exhibitions, says Hyeyoung. “We’ve organized concerts here with 2,500 people in the audience, and get a fair bit of government business as well.”

A testament to its good reputation is the number of luminaries who’ve stayed at the Landmark Mekong Riverside in recent times. They include President Xi of China, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, former US president Barack Obama, both the king and prime minister of Cambodia and the Queen of Belgium. Adjacent are attached, luxury serviced apartments that can serve as spill-over accommodation when really big events take place.

Bedroom 4And close by, also, is the five-star sister hotel, the Don Chan Palace, also overlooking the Mekong River, with conference and events space of its own. The two properties often collaborate in sharing facilities and providing staff.

An obvious attraction for leisure and business guests is outstanding value. As Hyeyoung observes, compared with other countries in the region and elsewhere, Laos is competitive in price in just about everything – “and one of the main reasons people come to Vientiane for conferences and events”.

The meeting package here is USD 40 per person for a full day and 32 dollars for a half day. It includes all necessary equipment, lunch, and for a full day meeting, two coffee breaks. The room rate is between 100 and 120 US dollars, and that includes service charge and tax and breakfast for two people sharing a room.

“Our price is set on the market and the value we believe we offer,” says Hyeyoung, a Korean who’s been in Laos for eight years and joined the hotel four years ago. (“I’m enjoying it, it’s a perfect place to build my career.”)

Fresh destination

The country is a newly discovered destination for many international travelers and events organizers, she observes, with plenty of opportunities. “In a way it’s the last destination to be really opened up to tourism in Southeast Asia. Our hotel being discovered by more and more Chinese and also Americans. Why? Because we have, and meet, high standards of rooms and service.”

Ballroom 1Vientiane itself offers delegates much to see and do, not least a plethora of French restaurants, some of which have been operating for decades. “There’s also interesting Lao fusion and Lao international food,” says Hyeyoung. “It’s a multicultural place with Chinese, Korean, European and other cultures co-existing harmoniously with local people in a small, compact city that’s easy to get around.” A busy night market flanking the river is a magnet for visitors.

Those who’d rather eat at the hotel can choose to dine at the excellent Yue Yuan Chinese Restaurant, the Tokyo Sushi and Teppanyaki Japanese eatery, and an all-day restaurant and bar, The Brasserie, off the expansive lobby and with views of the river. The buffet breakfasts are a profusion of choice, with offerings including fresh fruit like papaya, melon, watermelon and fruit salad as well as such eclectic diversity as kimchi, salt egg, tilapia in sauce, dumplings, beans, bacon, sausage, salami, smoked duck, sautéed mushrooms, congee, noodles, rice, potato croquettes and omelets! The coffee is not bad – and that’s saying something in Asia generally.

From USD 100

Room rates start from 100 US dollars a night, and as Hyeyoung mentions, meetings packages are extremely reasonable. PCOs and others seeking bookings should contact her or the main switchboard to discuss potential deals.

More info, click here.

Email: sales@landmarkmekonghotel.com.la

 

 

 

From a pillared forecourt I step from Bangkok’s heat and humidity through glass doors, and into the cool, subtly-lit lobby of the 137 Pillars hotel. The omni-present traffic noise is suddenly hushed.

All around me smiling staff clasp their hands in the prayer-like Thai gesture of welcome, Sawasdee. The lobby, illuminated by recessed lighting in a vaulted ceiling, is decorated by banks of fresh flowers with dark, well-padded sofas and low tables. On one side is a giant Picasso-esque mural.

IMG_1687Like its name, the 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok is unusual – and for this tired traveller on this day, something genuinely special. The classy, muted design themes are continued when I’m shown to my room – a bright, welcoming suite that is a miracle of compression. The compact space contains a fully equipped kitchen, marble bathroom with tub, comfy sofa and bed with invitingly fluffy white linen. The employee who’s accompanied me opens a cupboard door to reveal a washing machine and tumble dryer. “Hopefully you’ll find everything you need here for a comfortable stay,” he says.

 

Set in Bangkok’s Emquartier district, close to major shopping precincts, the luxury five-star hotel and serviced apartment complex 137 Pillars Suites and Residences is a sister property to the 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai about 600 kilometres to the north. The latter was so named by its owners because of the number of pillars in the original house around which that hotel was constructed.

City centre location

The Bangkok property comprises 34 hotel suites and 176 serviced one- and two-bedroomed residences, set in a chic building on Sukhumvit Soi 39. “We’re right in the middle of the city, close to public transport, with many high-end shopping areas and dining places close by,” says Nuengruethai Sa-Nguansakpakdee (pictured above), group director of sales and marketing. (She smilingly invites me to pronounce it, and is referred to as K. Nueng by her colleagues).

“The great thing about this hotel is that people can stay from anything from one night to a year and our two hundred staff do their best to make sure they feel at home and pampered,” she adds.

08 The Pillars Executive Studio Residences1In addition to incentive groups, 137 Pillars seeks to attract small companies for its meetings offering, explains K. Nueng. There’s a cosy, well-equipped meeting room for twenty to thirty people, overlooking a lush garden, with events clients coming from the region and, increasingly, from all over Asia, Europe and the US.

“Not just for conferences, but for wellness retreats and groups coming to Thailand for golf excursions and so on,” she says. “As you know, Bangkok is an exotic place with such a variety of things to do – dining, exploring the culture, enjoying the riverside life.”

 

The hotel offers guests a free regular shuttle service every 30 minutes to local shopping areas, as well as having a London cab on standby. It has two restaurants, the Nimitr – a specialty eatery featuring Asian dishes created by well-known local chef Nanang Prasetya Aditama – and the Bangkok Trading Post, an all-day bistro and deli. There are two bars, a spa and a fitness centre.

Suites range in size from 70 to 127 square metres and are located on the top floors, with 24-hour exclusive access to the rooftop and a 360-degree infinity pool. They offer a butler service, in-room private wine cellars, mood lighting, high ceilings, large walk-in wardrobes and Posturepedic “ultra plush” beds with Egyptian cotton linen, as I disovered after a good night’s sleep. Other sweeteners include a personal mobile phone with 4G data and complimentary unlimited overseas and domestic calls, breakfast from 6am to 11pm, a la carte afternoon tea from 2 to 5pm and sundown cocktails at Jack Bain’s Bar from 5 to 7pm.

From USD 180

How much would all this set you back? One of the great advantages of Bangkok as a MICE destination, as many PCOs know, is the value for money it represents. Many organisers seeking to arrange an event in cities like New York or Hong Kong would expect to pay perhaps USD 400 or more a night for facilities of this quality. Yet the rate for a conference package here is USD 80 for a full day, including coffee breaks and lunch and staff on hand constantly to trouble-shoot, says K. Nueng. The rack rate for a studio room starts at about USD 180.

“I do think that’s good value,” she says.

This traveller would agree.

More information, click here. Email: contact@137pillarsbangkok.com

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A warm breeze blows off the Pacific and a waveless sea laps the sandy beach a few metres below my feet. As I sip my beer in the open-sided ‘Le Faré’ restaurant and bar, it’s hard to believe that this is mid-winter.

I’m spending a week at the Marriott International group’s Le Méridien Noumea which is, from many accounts, an increasingly popular five-star MICE (and leisure) hotel in the Melanesian archipelago of New Caledonia. Set on a beautiful beach and tropical lagoon, surrounded by rustling palms and lush gardens, it’s a typical Pacific hostelry in many ways, yet like the destination itself it’s decidedly Gallic, with French-speaking staff, menus and wine.

Perrine FermeThe islands of New Caledonia, acquired by France in 1853, are “a very different destination,” observes Perrine Ferme (left), Le Méridien’s marketing and communications manager. “We’re surrounded by English-speaking countries, yet we’re the only French territory in this part of the world,” she says. “We represent a much shorter way to get to France for many people who live in the region.”

Combined with the Melanesian culture, this gives the hotel an exotic character, says Perrine. “You have French food, cheese, music, language and so on, and from a MICE point of view, there’s so much to do.”

What makes it especially attractive for anyone considering arranging an event in this part of the world is its extensive meeting-space offering, says Perrine, with conference facilities of more than a thousand square metres in a separate wing of the complex. The ballroom can take 400 theatre-style and can be divided into two. In addition there are six breakout rooms and a wedding chapel on a lawn overlooking the ocean.

The hotel can easily accommodate large groups because it has 207 rooms including 36 suites, some with kitchen facilities for long stays, and all with views of the sea or gardens. Most MICE visitors stay on site, says Perrine. The optimum large group size is 150, but more can comfortably be accommodated.

LMN - HUBMoreover the beachfront restaurant Le Faré can be booked at night to become a beautiful banquet space for groups.

“It’s a great spot to hold welcome functions and slip into New Cal mode,” explains Perrine.

The hotel and its facilities are set on a lagoon with direct access to the sea at the end of the Noumea peninsula. It’s located close to a casino and is within walking distance of a big variety of bars, restaurants and beaches.

The city centre with its museums, golf courses and other attractions is a short bus or cab ride from the hotel.

 

Le Méridien has a deal with the local cultural centre designed by the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano. By showing their room keys, guests can access the centre and exhibition rooms for no charge.

A special offer for PCOs, available for bookings until the end of December 2018, for stays until December 2019, is a “pick your perks” deal. Based on a three-night minimum stay and bookings for 50 rooms, it offers a nightly rate of 18,500 local francs (XPF), equivalent to around AUD 245. Organisers can pick three perks from a range including one upgrade every 20 nights paid, five percent off the master room bill, an additional signature drink included in any evening function and ten percent off treatments at the onsite spa, “Deep Nature”.

Services include a dedicated arrival team for delegates, coach or helicopter transfers, car and bicycle hire, last-minute agenda changes, gift delivery and room drops, tours and excursions or a fleet of catamarans for an afternoon regatta.

Is Le Méridien Noumea good value? “I’d say we’re the same as big cities like Sydney, certainly not more, and of course some times the exchange rate for the South Pacific franc is in your favour, sometimes not,” says Perrine.

LMN - VIEW OF NOUMEA FROM THE OUEN TORO HILL (1)Usually, better rates are available in the winter low season, between April and September, she says. October to March is warmer but can also be more humid. “But our weather is pleasant most of the year; we’re known by local people as the island of eternal spring.”

New Caledonia is akin to a well-kept secret, Perrine adds. Many visitors are day trippers off cruise ships, but that doesn’t give them enough time to enjoy all that the city has to offer, or, indeed, the Marriott International group in the islands, she says. The group owns two other hotels: the Sheraton New Caledonia Deva spa and golf resort about 200 kilometres north of Noumea, and Le Méridien Ile des Pins on a beautiful island about 100 kilometres to the southeast.

“I’m from France, I’ve been in New Caledonia almost eleven years,” says Perrine. “Initially I was meant to be here for two, then fell in love with the place and stayed. Lots of others love it too.”

There are direct flights to Noumea from Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Japan and Tahiti.

The Siteseer was a paying guest of Le Méridien Noumea.

More information, click here.

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Now is probably the best time, ever, to organise an event in the islands of Hawaii, thanks to a great airfare deal being offered by Hawaiian Airlines. Groups can travel from Sydney and Brisbane to Honolulu return from $799 per person including taxes.

Unusually for this kind of offer, PCOs have plenty of time to arrange their trips to the islands because the deal is available for booking until the end of December. It’s based on economy-class fares and a minimum of ten people travelling together.

Hawaiian Airlines operates seven days a week from Sydney and three from Brisbane. In addition to the low fares, the current group offer delivers a swag of other advantages, according to Joyce Weir (pictured below), National Business Development Manager MICE for the airline.

JoyceThese include a two x 32-kilo baggage allowance (and 11.5 kilos of hand luggage), 68 “extra comfort” seats on each flight for an additional $165 per person per sector with extra legroom, amenity packs and preferential boarding, and one guest for every 20 people booked flying free of charge.

Plus there are $110 return add-ons to the beautiful islands of Maui, Kona or Kauai, with 170 onward flights a day from Honolulu, the capital. From Australia, the carrier offers one-stop services via Honolulu to twelve US mainland cities.

Wearying question

Many of the islands’ tourism and travel officials are weary of having to answer the question: is it safe? This is understandable, as images of the recent volcanic activity, depicted in lurid technicolour on news bulletins, mischaracterises the volcano’s impact on the islands as a whole, Joyce explains in an interview with The Siteseer.

 

“It’s disheartening, especially when you realise some people believe [that the volcano has had a big impact] to be true!” she says. “Hawaii Tourism and its marketing partners have been working diligently since Kilauea erupted on May 3 to clarify the public record, correct misinformation and communicate the message to the marketplace over and over again that we’re open for business.

The exception is the area of lower Puna on the big island of Hawai’i, where the total lava flow area is less than ten square miles, about 0.2% of the entire island. Local businesses and tour companies, outside of the active areas, are open, and no other island in the entire chain is affected. (The state of Hawaii comprises hundreds of islands).

“We’ll continue to reiterate this message in weeks and months to come, emphasising that visitors have absolutely no reason to change their travel plans,” says Joyce. “All our flights are operating normally and demand remains strong.”

Many price points

Hawaii is a naturally beautiful and inspiring destination in which to hold a meeting or convention, she adds, with attributes to make events of all sizes a success, in particular terrific facilities and food, friendly people and an environment in which it’s generally easy to do business. With more than 50,000 hotel rooms throughout the six biggest islands, “there’s a price point for every budget”.

HARP-15551_Plane_Clouds_4C“In addition to excellent accessibility, high-quality infrastructure and off-program activities, there’s what we call the aloha ambience, where, according to surveys, attendees leave Hawaii feeling refreshed, invigorated, at ease and with a yearn to return,” Joyce says.

Hawaiian Airlines is Hawaii’s longest serving carrier, now in its eighty-ninth year of operation. “From the moment your clients step on board they’ll experience our signature hospitality with our warm and friendly celebration of the culture, people and aloha spirit.”

 

Another prime advantage for PCOs is the friendly and efficient service offered by the Hawaiian Airlines Groups Team based in Sydney, she says. The MICE market is “extremely important” for the company which aims to help PCOs sell Hawaii as well as its mainland US destinations.

Meantime, despite lava flows and mischaracterisations, Hawaii’s welcoming message seems to be resonating with travellers. Visitors spent a total of USD1.42 billion in April 2018, an increase of 13.4% compared to last year, and visitor numbers grew 5.5% to around 230,000 in the same period, according to statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The airline is keen for Siteseer readers to do the same.

More information:

groups@hawaiianair.com.au

https://www.meethawaii.com/why-hawaii

 

With distinctive square contours, resembling New York’s Empire State Building, the newly opened, ultra-luxury Grand Hyatt in Manila is already gaining a reputation for being a venue for brilliant, atypical MICE events, say its operators.

The hotel has been a year late in opening, but for PCOs already seeking bookings out beyond the year, it will be worth the wait, they say.

Why? For one thing, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Mellissa Ledesma (pictured below with Gottfried Bogensperger, General Manager of Grand Hyatt Manila) it’s set in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a booming grid-style urban precinct once owned by the American military that features great shopping, entertainment, clubs, dining and museums within walking distance of the hotel.IMG_1590

“Because of all the action happening in the BGC area, it’s a destination on its own,” says Mellissa in an exclusive interview with The Siteseer. “That’s what we want to project to the world; it’s hugely exciting.”

Second, the building in which the hotel is located is a talking point in itself. It’s said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 66 storeys. From the ground to the sixth level is the podium level of the hotel.

The seventh to the thirty-fourth floors house the financial group that owns Grand Hyatt Manila. The hotel itself occupies the thirty-fifth to the sixty-sixth floors, with all 461 rooms having floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of Metro Manila and the blue waters of Manila Bay. “This is also a unique selling point,” says Mellissa.

Third and not least, the events and associated facilities – 2,281 square metres in total – are genuinely enticing, at the kind of competitive prices for which Manila is gaining a reputation. The pillarless grand ballroom, flanked on one side by a show kitchen, is the only one in the city with natural light, a singular architectural feat considering that it’s a 1,240-square-metre space.

“If they choose to, guests can watch chefs cooking to lights and music, with videos of what they’re doing screened around the ballroom,” Mellissa explains.

Ballroom seating for 900

The ballroom’s capacity is around 900. Its great advantage is that with so many guest rooms, which include 52 suites, for most events everyone can stay on site, Mellissa says. Moreover there are plenty of options for plenary and breakout sessions. “For conferences the ideal booking size is about 100 rooms and 200 people.”

The lobby lounge is set over three tiers. The top tier houses the Grand Kitchen, an all-day dining venue where, in a departure from typical buffets, food is cooked à la minute. “Everything is prepared fresh so you have no situation where food is sitting around in a serving dish for hours,” says Mellissa. “Everything’s served to order so if you have a dietary issue, like you want salt taken out, it’s easy.”

On the fifth floor is a soon-to-open restaurant, No 8 China House. And at the Cellar, a welcoming bar and eatery serving tapas-like meals, The Siteseer’s representative sampled savoury ham-and-béchamel croquettes here, followed by a fragrant, seafood-rich paella. The Cellar is open for lunch and dinner and in the afternoons and is available for drinks throughout the day. Guests here can enjoy craft beers and a vast selection of good wines, which they can select from a digital sommelier, Vinu.

Grand KingThe peak of public spaces

Perhaps the highlight of the public spaces, to open soon, will be The Peak at the top of the building, where an entertainment centre will occupy two storeys, with a grill restaurant, bars, a band venue, club, and, like the Empire State building, an al-fresco area where visitors can drink and dine at a dizzying height.

“One of the strengths of us being a MICE property is that any of the public spaces in the hotel, including restaurants, can be converted to events venues,” Mellissa explains. “On the sixth level where the pool, spa and gym are located we have a pavilion that can seat a hundred and which opens up to a garden. Or the area can be closed off for an evening event.”

Significant MICE business is already being booked from the US, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia, says Mellissa. “We’re developing China, and tourists from China have tripled recently, with a number of enquiries for events. We had one last week from Beijing. In addition there are new markets emerging that were never previously on our radar, like the Czech Republic and Italy.”

Earth tones

An attraction for guests, too, is the fresh-looking guestrooms and suites, which have been set up with honeyed wood walls and maple-plank floors. Bathrooms are finished in veined grey-white marble and have a spacious glass enclosed shower stall and deep soaking tub. There’s a sizeable lounge area with a desk, plush couch, walk-in closet, safe and floor-to-ceiling mirror walls.

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Value proposition

Compared with, say, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore, Manila is widely known for being a low-cost city, especially in relation to luxury properties. Still, it depends how you define value, Mellissa observes. “We ensure our guests get what they need and what they want.

“When you compare this hotel to other destinations in Asia, it’s much more competitive. In the past Manila hasn’t generally been rated that highly as a MICE destination; now there’s growing interest.”

 

From USD182

Grand Hyatt has been offering introductory rates on rooms, along with other special offers and arrangements. Going rates for the Grand King room start at USD182++ (PHP9,500++). The MICE rate for a Grand King room with buffet breakfast, morning snacks, afternoon snacks is USD229++ (PHP12,000++) for single occupancy and USD305++ (PHP16,000++) for double occupancy.

Hyatt has been in the Philippines since the ‘seventies, and was one of the earliest international hotel chains to set up in the country. Yet this is the first time an ultra-premium Grand Hyatt has been located in the islands. The brand is in a bold expansion phase, with six Grand Hyatt hotels currently in the pipeline round the world, including the one in Manila.

“By giving guests our full attention and making them feel celebrated, we hope to build an emotional connection with them to ensure their stay with us is unforgettable,” says Gottfried Bogensperger. “We want them to keep coming back, not just for the hardware, which is the hotel, but for the warm and authentic people working behind the scenes.”

More information, click here.

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“Why choose our meetings facilities?” says Gregory Preslier reflectively. “Without sounding selfish, look at the destination. Bangkok gets 37 million visitors a year, but in a way it’s the best-hidden secret in the world.”

The urbane, immaculately attired Area Director of Sales and Marketing for the InterContinental Hotels Group in Thailand is chatting over coffee in the vaulted lobby of the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok. IMG_1505

Events organisers at the 381-room hotel have 22 meeting rooms, all on the same level, to choose from, Gregory observes. Yet the bustling urban precinct in which it sits is probably just an important consideration as venue flexibility and price.

It’s no cliché, he adds. Bangkok is a dynamic mega-city with wonderful attributes, for Gregory a mix between Casablanca and London, and it has two tiers. One involves the Thai culture which is manifest in the restaurant scene and food variety and quality. The other relates to what you can do for fun.

 

“The tourist places, shrines and cultural areas convention people can visit in Bangkok are extraordinary. There’s so much to do. The hotel is fantastic, sure, but you don’t need to stay in it all the time. You can’t be a hypocrite and deny what’s around here. Clients [we talk to] like this aspect because we’re not selling anything. We’re introducing a product but at the same time there’s so much more the destination itself can give.”

Located adjacent to a big Holiday Inn, the InterContinental Bangkok itself has one of the largest hotel banqueting, meeting and convention facilities in the city. Its main ballroom takes 800, theatre-style, and caters for many weddings – especially at weekends – of up to 1,200 guests. “You can come here for a conference, exhibition, seminar, product launch or fashion show and do everything on the same floor,” says Gregory. “They’re purpose-built facilities so we’re never improvising; I have fifteen people in my events team alone.”

Moreover it’s easy to get to. The two good airports have great connections. In addition investors from round the world – and Asia especially – are investing in Thailand and Bangkok, whose infrastructure grows all the time. “There are a lot of positives here and people like going to positive places,” says Gregory. “Wherever you are as an events planner in your industry, things are happening here. Medical, association, sport, education, welfare and so on; there’s really a mix of everything.”

Premier Suite BedroomImportantly, it also represents good value. A hotel in New York comparable to InterContinental Bangkok would cost three times as much, Gregory says, so the tagline “affordable luxury” here means what it says. “For a hundred and sixty US dollars you can get outstanding bed and breakfast at the Intercontinental Bangkok. I hear sometimes from clients that we’re expensive when they’re talking in baht, and sometimes hear ‘five thousand baht, that’s a lot of money!’ It is, to some people, don’t get me wrong, but for many typical international congress or conference organisers, I’d like to see them do an event for that price somewhere else in the world in a hotel of this calibre.”

The staff, 99 per cent of whom are Thai, are continually trained and participate, too, in a variety of charitable and team-building work on an ongoing basis that helps them connect, also, with guests. “Our people go directly to hospitals and schools to help out; it’s not just about giving, it’s about connecting, caring about something other than yourself.”

Gregory, 43, born in England and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, speaks from considerable experience. He’s worked in London, Morocco, Dubai, France, (his father’s French and his mother English), and Monte Carlo. He was involved in the opening of Le Grand in Paris, a beautiful 500-room hotel on the Opera square, and the Atlantis, Dubai, which has 1,500 bedrooms, and One&Only Resorts.

intercon-11Few of the properties he’s worked in have matched the InterContinental Bangkok for position. With a BTS station, Chit Lom, on its doorstep, the hotel offers easy access to the city’s major business precincts along with shopping destinations and dining, in addition to the hotel’s plethora of eateries. These include Theo Mio, an Italian restaurant with open-to-view kitchen on site named after famed London chef Theo Randall, who was on hand to meet staff, clients and media when The Siteseer visited recently.

IHG has recently also opened in front of the complex a new beer house and brasserie, Beer Republic.

Offering seventy beers, twenty of them local, alongside delicious Thai and European bar food, it’s due to open mid-December as an independent, chilling-out venue, accessible from outside the hotel.

What’s the best time to organise a conference at the InterContinental? It’s pretty busy all year round, says Gregory, but some times may best be avoided, like Chinese new year and other occasions when there are lots of leisure guests. Otherwise January-February, just before Chinese new year, are good, then April to June. “Because we’re so close to China, Singapore and Hong Kong, our market and calendar of availability is not just about Thailand, it’s about the region. For example when Australia Or India have holidays it impacts Thailand as a destination.”

Meanwhile the IHG group is expanding. It has 24 hotels in Thailand including IHG brand, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Indigo properties.

Online rates start at around US160 a night. More info at http://bangkok.intercontinental.com/

Siteseer says: I loved the airy feel of the hotel and its meetings room. Especially liked the muted-ochre colours of the guest rooms and the fantastically comfortable bed, which has a choice of sink-into-and-sleep pillows. The sounds of the busy city are well muffled by the windows.

The pool on the thirty-seventh floor is of generous size considering how far it is above street level, with a pint-size bar and good bar menu. Other minor much-appreciated attributes include plenty of drinking water in the room.

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Philippine carrier Cebu Pacific is increasing its flight frequencies between Sydney and Manila, giving PCOs plenty of low-cost options for travel to the islands and elsewhere in Asia.

“There aren’t just low fares between Sydney and Manila, but onward destinations once landing, connecting people to unique hotspots,” says Candice Iyog, Vice President for Marketing and Distribution.

Cebu Pacific_newlivery_2Cebu has been operating daily services (up from five a week) providing more flexibility for people travelling over the peak summer period.

“We anticipate that the uptake of the additional flights will be from Australians seeking low-cost escapes and from expat travellers over the Christmas-New Year period,” says Candice.

But the deals will interest MICE travellers, too, the airline believes. “PCOs represent an interesting segment and are important to us, as we want the Philippines to be considered for business events, conferences, incentives and famils.”

The island delights of the Philippines on offer at competitive prices means PCOs and event organisers can create exciting itineraries, working to budgets, she adds. “Our low fares all-year round mean more can be invested at the destination rather than on the journey, and the Philippines is a great place, with picturesque beaches, fully equipped resorts and a huge array of activities to choose from.”

Cebu Pacific’s major hub in Manila is a nine-hour direct flight from Sydney, and Australia represents one of its most important markets.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics indicate that during first quarter of 2017, Cebu Pacific dominated the Sydney-Manila market with a 42% market share on the route, the highest among the three carriers covering it.

newlivery-cebu0443Moreover events organisers can take advantage of same-terminal connection points to great island destinations in the Western Pacific including Palawan, Boracay and Cebu. “It’s simple, easy and low cost to build an impressive event itinerary across multiple destinations in the islands.”

The increase in Manila-Sydney flights coincides with a move to increase domestic frequencies at the same time, improving accessibility for travellers outside of the Manila metropolitan area, Candice says. The network now comprises 27 international and 37 domestic destinations.

 

However, one of the most attractive aspects, the airline’s representatives observe, is undoubtedly the low-cost fares. For example to kick off the recent new arrangements, Manila-Sydney daily fares started from $280 one-way.

“There are many great reasons to fly with Cebu Pacific, but our fares help put us ahead of the competition.”

To enhance the onboard experience the airline Pacific has refreshed its inflight menu. Domestic and international passengers now get a fresh selection of pre-ordered meals under three categories: western fusion, Filipino and Asian.

The latest seat sales can be found on Cebu Pacific’s official Twitter (@CebuPacificAir) and Facebook pages. For bookings and inquiries, visit www.cebupacificair.com or call the reservation hotline at +612 9119 2956.

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