Tag Archives: business events

After a stop-start cab ride from Suvarnabhumi Airport, my arrival in the lobby of the Shangri-La hotel Bangkok, tired after a long flight, is a palpable pleasure. At last I can relax.

Inside, a smiling young woman in a turquoise traditional chut thai welcomes me, palms together, as do the people behind the reception desk. I stroll across the marble lobby and into the lobby lounge, a vast, high-ceilinged chamber with panoramic views of the fecund brown waters of the Chao Phraya River. This lamp-lit space, flanked by a bar, is furnished with silken chairs and fittings. Outside, between the hotel and the river, massed tropical gardens and outbuildings are set around a sprawling pool.

Dusk is falling as I’m ushered into my room, which looks out over the river. Dusk is falling and the lights of barges and ferries are churned into millions of points of glittering light. After two years of pandemic misery, it’s wonderful to be staying in the Shangri-La Bangkok! This is one of the world’s most iconic hotels, set in the heart of the country’s cultural, political, commercial, financial and religious epicentre known to locals as Krung Thep, City of Angels.

The Thais hope there’ll be more like me. Thailand had just 428,000 foreign arrivals in 2021, according to the Reuters news service, compared with nearly 40 million in 2019. In that year alone visitors spent about 1.91 trillion baht. (AUD77 billion).

 

“The pandemic definitely had a great impact on our hotel as the majority of our meeting groups or international conferences were either postponed or cancelled due to the uncertainty of the situation and the country [visitor-limiting] regulations,” says Virinya Maytheepattanachat, the hotel’s Director of Communications.

But here as elsewhere business prospects are getting better. “The situation is showing signs of gradual improvement with the easing of restrictions, especially [thanks to the confidence] of the organisers when Thailand hosted APEC 2022,” Virinya says. (In May, the Shangri-La Bangkok hosted an APEC senior officials’ meeting and related events.)

A variety of factors set this hotel apart as an events venue, Virinya adds. For a start, it’s the largest on the riverside in the city, occupying four hundred metres of water frontage, with 802 luxury guestrooms – with river or city views – in two adjacent towers, and 23 function rooms, one of which, the Grand Ballroom, can accommodate up to 1,500 guests for special events. Meanwhile a strong and experienced banqueting and events team can manage meeting sizes ranging from small groups to high-level heads-of-state gatherings.

And there’s plenty for delegates to do before or afterwards, Virinya points out. Bangkok is a diversified city with great food and an appealing culture, she says. There are new and upgraded convention centres within easy reach of the two airports via skytrain or underground trains. Many Shangri-La Bangkok events guests extend their stays to fly to the tourist island of Phuket or drive to the holiday town of Pattaya for short visits. “With direct access to the SkyTrain, public ferries and buses, the hotel is a lovely gateway.”

With conference room rates packages ranging between USD150 and 200 per night, depending on the season, the hotel represents good value for money when compared with five-star properties of similar quality in Singapore or other neighbouring countries, says Virinya. Moreover the managers consider special rates for off-peak months like April, July and August.

 

That’s a prime reason most of its MICE clients come from overseas, mainly the US, UK, Australia, Singapore and China, she says. They include pharmaceutical, IT, finance and medical organisations.

“Our social events including weddings, engagements, birthday parties, graduations and prom nights play an important role in our local catering [division] which is number two [in importance] after group catering.

A culinary journey awaits in the eclectic eateries, serving up traditional Thai and pan-Asian food as well as other cosmopolitan fare. There’s good street food around the hotel. The Siteseer paid 70 baht (about AUD2.80) for an excellent soup of pork, noodles and quail eggs.

More reasons for another visit.

More info:

Events team: (66 2) 236 7777

Email: events.bangkok@shangri-la.com.

www.shangri-la.com/bangkok

 

Sydney-based Emma Bowyer, widely respected owner and Managing Director of successful professional conference organisers ICMS Australasia, has been involved in the events-management industry for the best part of two decades. Emma has personally managed some of Australia’s biggest conferences, winning Event of the Year on three occasions for events under her directorship. She previously held a tenured position at the University of Technology Sydney in the Faculty of Business. She spoke to The Siteseer about how business is evolving as the pandemic recedes.

Siteseer: What do you see as the key priorities for event organisers as we appear to be, finally, moving away from pandemic-induced challenges?

Emma Bowyer: We didn’t lay anyone off during the pandemic; I made the decision early on, before JobKeeper was announced. Our thirty-five staff have been with me for quite a while. They are mostly in their twenties and thirties and have given me their loyalty, and I believed I needed to support them in turn. Initially the outlook was that the pandemic might last six months.

Then, as the situation became worse, we switched to virtual meetings very quickly. By June 2020 we were among the first companies in Australia to be running a major meeting on-line, which we did with the University of Melbourne, for 1,400 people. At that time there was no virtual conferencing platform; we needed a technical person, almost like a film producer, to give us what we needed.

So with that as background, one of our key priorities is to fast-track some of the technologies we’ve been talking about for years. Another is to continue to use the technology that’s available to us to serve and retain clients. We’re working with clients on events for 2022 and 2023. How can we retain and expand on the skills we’ve learned in respect of virtual conferencing to suit them, we ask ourselves? How can we digitally capture some of the content that’s being produced, and monetise it? That’s a priority too.

There’s been great restructuring in our industry that has helped us  recover. Well before the pandemic we were thinking more and more about how we can work with clients in partnership models, rather than taking a blanket approach; rather than just saying these are our services and these are the prices.

Now we’re doing much more customising, with clients working closely [and more productively] with us and the technology providers. For example we’ve got an international engineering conference coming up in May, with seventy countries and over seven hundred delegates.

And for the first time, the Sydney Convention Centre has come to us with a customised package covering cuisine, AV and layout. So we’re customising, and as we move forward we’re reconfirming with industry stakeholders, convention centres and hotels what the priorities are for us as a business, organising international delegates to come to Sydney, and internally continuing to use the technology that’s helped us get through the pandemic.

SS: The convention you’ve just mentioned; can you tell us a bit more?

EB: It’s a hybrid, which is interesting, an event that got rescheduled. It was supposed to be delivered in late 2021. The local host had spent ten years securing the meeting for Australia and was devastated when they had to contemplate going virtual. He’s an Emeritus Professor from Newcastle, and really didn’t want to do that. But as the weeks and months passed his international community said they were grateful for having a virtual alternative for those who couldn’t travel. The content is obviously not free; it’s seventy five percent of the normal registration cost, and conversely if you come in-person you’ll also get access to the virtual platform.

This is a strategy that’s working really well for the business community now, especially for people under thirty-five. In conferences in the past we’ve often had a younger student cohort among representatives. It’s been around ten percent generally, but it’s more than doubled for this event. Their employers realise it’s good for their growth and for their learning; they see it as investing in them.

SS: What new skills are needed to manage the virtual and hybrid meetings environment?

EB: In a way we’ve all become television producers. In the TV world you have second-by-second breakdowns, you pre-record material to mitigate risk, with strict production quality control, you can do things with animation, and the bigger your budget the better it looks.

So we’ve learned new skills in these areas, in event technology production and animation, and we’ve learned how to do things digitally that were never previously in our vocabulary. It’s affected everyone across the company. Even the receptionist hasn’t got away with not learning new skills.

SS: How can associations in particular monetise these new styles of business events?

EB: Good question. So first they must put a price on their content; they must never have any part of a conference offer that’s free. During the pandemic all of our clients have had a paid registration model. Social interaction’s not great on virtual, everyone concedes that. But if it’s the best that’s available, it’s great, and there’s so much you can offer. We’ve done quiz nights, hired people from overseas who can run things in multiple time zones and so on.

You must also capture content. We’ve been pre-releasing some content, for example, for a conference coming up in 2023. We’ve pre-recorded our plenary confirmed speakers, of which there are six, having told them to give us a three-minute grab of what they’ll talk about at the congress, reinforcing why people should register. That’s been unscripted and a huge success. We tell delegates that if they register by a certain date we’ll send them thirty minutes of great content. In incentivising in that way you can monetise.

Then the conference comes. Post-event you can go back to your membership and can couple-up, what we call splice, key content, highlights and even two-minute sections and earn money that way. That’s the future for associations, digitising content in a way that’s appealing for all of their members.

SS: How have target audiences changed?

EB: They’ve become more discerning. That’s why some of the mid-level events are dropping off. Audiences are saying, if I’m going to travel I’m going to make my decision based on how good and significant the event and content is. What are the networking opportunities, and is there a special factor?

SS: How would you define mid-level?

EB: It relates to the subject matter. Take pathology. We’ve organised some pathology events, but there are divisions within that category, like forensic pathology, or genetic pathology for example. So you’ll typically have a world congress and people will divide up to meet to discuss their specialty, and all come together for a plenary. Now more of them are saying they’ll go to the big event, gain some extra knowledge, and for their own specialty they may access the virtual content. So whereas in the past someone might go to two or three conferences a year, they now might go to one instead, and do the other two virtually.

What kind of additional support for the industry would you like to see? 

EB: In our industry many have talked about a central industry body that represents everyone. I understand the drive to represent parties is key but I think there are too many competing interests to do this well at the moment. In the end, the saying where there’s a political will, there’s a financial way probably rings true here.

SS: What in your view are the other major challenges facing businesses like yours?

EB: Maintaining quality. We’re in a maintenance period after a time of major change and working out where we grow from here. We’ve got our own staff conference in Alice Springs in July, and re-energising is a challenge for us and others. Everyone’s tired. But it’s not a bad challenge!

SS: Any other lessons you can share about your business and academic career?

EB: As you get older managing energy is important. I’ve found over time you sometimes put energy into things that could be better directed. Everyone has the same amount of time; it’s very democratic [in that sense], but the way you occupy it is vital. Stepping up into more of a consultancy role has been great for me personally. I’ve really enjoyed it. Prioritising and understanding the global and national landscape are very worthwhile directions for one’s energy.

SS: The recent international toxicology conference that was relocated to Sydney. Can you tell us a bit about that?

EB: We first ran the international toxicology meeting in 2015 in Brisbane. Then in 2018, a while ago now, I travelled over to Washington DC for an unrelated client, working on a space conference. While we were there we got an email from the toxicology client based in Melbourne. He learned I was in Washington and suggested I go to dinner with the president of the toxicology board. So off we went to the dinner in Washington with the president whom we’d never met before. We got on like a house on fire; he was with the FBI and very interesting to talk to.

I passed on his details to my colleagues and in late 2021 we got a phone call from the client in Melbourne. He told us they were planning to have their meeting in South Africa, but after holding out for as long as possible, had decided to go virtual.

The association had never done anything virtual before, so the client asked us if we could help them. They said that even if fifty percent of their membership came on board and if we could construct something funky and fun like eighty talks in eighty minutes, we could construct a program.

So they set off with a target of three hundred participants and thirty thousand dollars in sponsorship. That was all over the Christmas period. In the end we had over eight hundred delegates, over a hundred thousand dollars in sponsorship, and three extraordinarily good days of programming and networking events. Each board member had ten minutes to talk about their country, so there was a tourism aspect. Someone walked through a gallery in Tokyo for example; it was very interesting.

The feedback they’ve had from their own communities has been outstanding. It blew away their expectations of what could be done with virtual conferencing. Now we’ve been appointed to do an event for them in 2023 in Hobart, and their world congress is coming to New Zealand in 2025 and we’ve been appointed for that.

SS: Also shows how valuable personal networking can be.

EB: It does.

SS: What’s your outlook now?

Very positive! People internationally have a fantastic appetite for coming to Australia. The Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne bureaux we’re working with are pushing strongly to emphasise that it’s safe to travel, which is important to people. The fact we don’t have to have negative tests before getting on a plane any more and that COVID variants are becoming less virulent is a strong sign of recovery.

In the space we’re in it’s more important than ever to have conferences because scientists can innovate and share research. One of our clients was involved with developing the AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford University, which has had fantastic outcomes. That can be highlighted across many disciplines. There’s good stories everywhere and conferences can reflect them.

Moving forward, for us, I see us helping clients get their message out better. Pathologists talking to pathologists is one thing but if you can let the world know what conference delegates do, through public lectures, media releases and advertising, that will be wonderfully interesting, informative and productive.

To contact Emma or ICMS Australasia, please click here.

 

Like a tapered candle rising 88 storeys above the harbour, the Crown Sydney skyscraper is the city’s newest landmark. In every way, it’s an events location that towers above the ordinary.

Completed in four years and opened last December, the Crown Resorts-owned, black-glass-clad building houses 349 hotel rooms and suites and 82 private residences – each of which has a view of the water – and a variety of outstanding events venues.

Each interior space, including the bedrooms, has a unique floorplate because architects Wilkinson Eyre have forgone traditional symmetry for an unconventional building shape that resembles intertwined glass petals.

The interiors exemplify smart design and the latest in six-star hotel gee-whizzery. Rooms and meetings spaces alike are an amalgam of layered textures: custom fabrics, marble, pristine bedding; and carpets, fittings and metallic detailing whose greys and sea-blues reflect the sparkling crushed-diamond surface of the harbour below. In the bedrooms, curtains and blinds can be swept open and shut at the touch of an icon on a bedside control panel.

When a guest approaches the lavatory and bidet arrangement, the lid opens automatically – as if by legerdemain – in a whimsical welcome.

Naturally, because they’re so new, the various event spaces feature the most advanced meetings technology like wireless internet connections, data tech, webcasting and video-conferencing facilities, according to Food and Beverage Manager Events, Jodie Ringma (pictured below). “Organisers love the attributes of our venues,” says Jodie.

Strong interest

Not surprisingly, Jodie adds, despite the Covid-19 pandemic local PCOs are showing significant interest in Crown Sydney as they slowly regain confidence, especially for smaller events.

“For planners seeking a venue that has ‘more’, this is ideal,” explains Jodie, an events specialist whose experience includes several years at the Sydney Opera House.

“Crown Sydney is home to eleven restaurants and bars, a luxury Crown Towers hotel and one of the best spas in the city. That means you can create a multi-faceted event without guests ever having to leave the property.”

Many events here at present comprise weddings and, until international borders reopen, mostly Sydney corporate business, usually a combination of high-end company gatherings and product launches, says Jodie.

Because of the pandemic corporate planners are tending to book with shorter lead times and hosting smaller functions. And Jodie and her colleagues expect changes to restrictions and capacities at very short notice are likely to be an ongoing impact on their business.

“Due to the pandemic PCOs are typically saying you know what? We’ll just do something for forty and see what kind of response they have with that. They’re being mindful that they’re going to ease back into the market place. There’s also a lot of last-minute booking.”

The Crown Sydney events team has adapted to these circumstances by being extra-flexible in booking terms and conditions, offering quick turnaround times. “We’ve recently hosted a number of events for luxury brands across fashion, automobiles and electronics and private dinners for A-listers,” says Jodie.

The prime Crown Sydney meeting place is the high-ceilinged and column-free Pearl Ballroom (left). With pillowed and patterned walls, this space accommodates up to 390 guests cocktail-style or 340 seated, with an expansive pre-function area that helps create a seamless space for galas, receptions, award ceremonies and conferences.

And it can be divided into three areas for more intimate events.

A broad variety of spaces are available for smaller functions. The Opal Suite, for example, can accommodate 20 people seated or 50 cocktail-style and has been much in demand for business presentations and special events, says Jodie.

It features a private bathroom, powder alcove (popular with bridal parties), hanging closets and a private kitchen and like all the hotel’s facilities it has spectacular views over Darling Harbour.

Likewise the Pavilion can accommodate 50 in ceremony seating or cocktail-style, and is in regular use for romantic ceremonies and cocktail receptions.

Sky Deck, another private event space, is set to open soon. Located on level 66, it will take up to 25, cocktail-style, and features an external viewing platform.

From AUD112 per person

The question PCOs ask first: how much will it cost me? A daily meeting package here starts at AUD112 per person, says Jodie Ringma, which, given the quality of the property and its jaw-dropping location is arguably highly competitive.

While it’s obviously at the higher end of the pricing scale, with hotel room rack rates at around AUD869, it still represents great value considering what you get for your dollar, Jodie insists. “From the venue, views, menus, execution, service and experience point of view it’s outstanding.”

Moreover she and her team seek to ensure they offer the broadest variety of options possible; rather than stipulate a price, they consider what clients want, then design an event specifically for them. So the offer includes bespoke menus, flexibility, and a swag of options – for instance three styles of charger plates, three colours of napkins and tablecloths, silver napkin rings and coloured water glasses. “It’s those small details that our team never overlooks,” she says.

The menus can draw on the Crown Sydney restaurants including Nobu (the Japanese fusion eatery named after acclaimed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa) and Silks (Cantonese fine dining) which can really set the event experience apart, Jodie says. “I also think our central location, in the heart of Barangaroo, adds to its appeal.”

Indeed it’s this newness and location that are driving most interest. “Crown Sydney is Australia’s most exciting new event space and there’s a desire to be one of the first to hold an event here,” Jodie adds. “The venues have facilities designed not just to frame the views of Sydney Harbour’s icons, but to stand alongside them as a defining landmark of the city.”

More info, click here.

Email: events@crownsydney.com.au

You’re a hotelier. With terrifying suddenness, the Coronavirus decimates your events and leisure business. What do you do? Swiss-Belhotel International’s people did some lateral thinking.

Patrick LaybuttWith occupancies plunging everywhere, and recognising that any crisis can represent opportunity for those flexible enough, the General Manager of Swiss-Belhotel in South Brisbane, Patrick Laybutt (left), and colleagues sat together to put action plans in place.

“It was after the introduction of the various Covid-19 restrictions had been introduced in New Zealand,” Patrick explains. “One of our decisions was to look after clients at our Australasian properties who can’t work from home, people who need an office space, or have come back from overseas and need to stay longer.”

With 134 generously sized spaces ranging from hotel rooms to suites with galley kitchenettes at the South Brisbane hotel, for example, they realised they could adapt their apartment-style set ups to include the attributes of an office space.

 

The result was a “live-stay-work” package, which gives much-needed help to guests while generating revenue for the hotel to continue supporting staff and owners through a difficult time, says Patrick.

The live-stay-work campaign has targeted corporate as well as past and loyal customers seeking longer stays, who were approached via the hotel’s database. It was also aimed at expats returning home. “We worked closely with our extensive network and association connections,” says Patrick.

In South Brisbane, hotel-living package guests can choose, inter alia, a superior room with king-size bed, ensuite and walk-in shower; a river-view suite overlooking the city and Brisbane River towards South Bank, or across the Kangaroo Point cliffs to the city; or a “Swiss SuperSuite”.

SSRV519-Swiss-BelhotelBrisbane-1“Living at Swiss-Belhotel Brisbane in South Bank is like having a permanent office with a feel of home as you experience everything luxury and have a personal haven of relaxation and comfort,” Patrick says.

That means in-room dining, breakfast deals at $17 per person from a selected menu, Uber eats delivered to rooms, in-door pool, gym, unlimited Internet access, 10% off laundry, hand sanitisers in rooms and optional daily or weekly housekeeping.

The response has been great, says Patrick. “People appreciate us being proactive and coming up with a tailored offer that meets current demand. We especially see good pick-up at our Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park [Auckland] hotel as it’s only five minutes’ walk from a large supermarket and has spacious suites – all apartment-style with balconies.”

Meantime events are obviously on hold given the current clamp-down on gatherings. “Next to general cleanliness, social distance is currently on our mind,” says Patrick. “The health of our guests and associates is our number-one priority.”

POOL-GYM-Swiss-BelhotelBrisbane-2From AUD1,950 a month

A superior room at South Brisbane is available from $90 per day, $560 per week and $1,950 per month. A “super-suite” starts from $120 per day, $805 per week and $3,300 per month.

The hotel is adjacent to the Mater private and public and Lady Cilento Children’s hospitals and the newly opened Ronald McDonald House is directly opposite. It’s ten minutes’ walk to the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and 14 minutes’ walk to The Gabba stadium. The CBD is 3.6 kilometres – eight minutes’ drive – away.

If, as Czech writer Milan Kundera observed, business has only two functions – marketing and innovation – the Swiss-Belhotel is doing both well.

More info, click here.

Email: reservations-brisbane@swiss-belhotel.com

FRONT-Swiss-BelhotelBrisbane-6

Swiss-BelhotelBrisbaneRooftopView-1

 

 

Geoff Donaghy is CEO of the International Convention Centre Sydney, which recently announced a naming-rights partnership with superannuation industry fund First State Super. He chatted to The Siteseer about what this means, and what else is new and exciting at Sydney’s premier, state-of-the-art events venue.

Siteseer: Geoff, what will the partnership mean in practice for the parties, and how will you both benefit?

Geoff Donaghy: [It’s] a commercial arrangement with mutual benefits. For First State Super the partnership gives their brand the opportunity to be in the heart of Darling Harbour and significantly increase their visibility while providing benefits for their members.

But the relationship runs much deeper than that, and shows their confidence in our operation. First State Super is an existing equity partner in the ICC Sydney project and we both see this as a great way to align our values, cultures and businesses. It’s this aspect we’re very excited about exploring and advancing.

ICC Sydney_Convention_No Highway_20190324-578-2SS: How successful was the recent PCO Roundtable and what key lessons did participants take away?

GD: Our PCOs are a very important client group for us, and in March this year we held our second PCO Roundtable. PCOs act on behalf of many of our major international and national clients so it’s immensely important we communicate with them our developments, improvements and advances on a regular basis. [Afterwards clients such as] the CEO of Associations Forum and panel moderator John Peacock applauded us for establishing such a close relationship with PCOs, as did WALDRONSMITH Management Managing Director Kate Smith.

SS: Would you mind pointing to a couple of what you consider to be some other important events at ICC Sydney in the past year or so and why, looking back, they were successful?

GD: Over the past twelve to eighteen months we’ve delivered many major events that have been successful in their own right. [For example] the ASEAN Australia-Special Summit held in March 2018 saw twelve heads of state attend our venue for a high profile and high-security event, which our team delivered seamlessly. In October 2018 we also delivered Sibos, the world’s biggest financial services event. This saw us welcome more than 7,600 business leaders, academics and entrepreneurs from 150 countries.

Exhibitions are an equally important business segment for us and we’ve a number of major repeat events returning to us annually. The Sydney International Boat Show, which uses all of our exhibition space and event deck and builds a major temporary jetty facility in the adjoining Cockle Bay area to display yachts and super boats, is returning to us for the third year in a row next month.

320SS: What are your most important business segments? Do you still see big opportunities in the Asian incentive business?

GD: ICC Sydney was designed to [host] a broad range of market segments – from national and international conventions to trade and consumer events as well as important local events like gala dinners and sales meetings. We’re also the major down-town entertainment venue for the city, which sees us arrange live concerts, musicals and comedy shows.

In terms of economic contribution, venue capability and city reputation, international events are [obviously vital] for a convention centre like ours. Earlier this year we held our second annual CEO Asia Roadshow visiting Japan, China and Singapore as these are markets in which we see enormous growth and potential. We’re also ramping up our activities in North America [resulting in] significant success for both corporate and association events.

SS: Would you mind sharing some facts and figures about how important the integrated ICC Sydney has become for the state and national economy?

GD: Sure. Our first two years of operation saw events we hosted delivering a significant impact for the economy of New South Wales. According to a Deloitte Access Economics study in 2018, delegates attending ICC Sydney generated $820 million in direct expenditure for the state, an increase of $35 million on the $785 million direct contribution of the previous year. International and interstate visitors helped generate 72 percent of the total expenditure, resulting in more than 1.57 million overnight stays in Sydney accommodation and the creation of 5,248 full-time equivalent jobs for the local economy. Next month we’ll be releasing our 2018 and 2019 figures, and we expect these results will further show our contribution to the local economy.

320SS: Does ICC Sydney represent value for money and why?

GD: It has a burgeoning reputation for the highest quality of operation and with both client and delegate satisfaction ratings at 99 percent, yes, we believe we offer very significant value for money.

SS: How well have the people of Sydney embraced it?

GD: ICC Sydney has become the venue of choice for Sydney. As a landmark venue in the city we run a wide range of public events from children’s shows and exhibitions to those hosting international artists such as Kylie Minogue and Seinfeld. We also support events for charities like the Variety Children’s Charity Annual Christmas Party and Stand Tall event involving over 6,000 high school students. Earlier in the year we hosted the inaugural VIVID School, which brought together STEM students and budding artists from years nine to twelve from across the state.

SS: What are the priorities for you and your team right now?

GD: It’s a given that success will attract competition and our industry is immensely competitive, across the globe.

[So] the most important priority for our team is to maintain the highest-possible standards at the highest-possible level of consistency, ensuring we’re constantly reviewing and refreshing what we offer to clients across all our market segments.

SS: Are you still enjoying what must be a hugely challenging job? What pleases you most?

GD: Opening and establishing a world-class venue does come with challenges. What pleases me most is watching the team come together and receiving recognition for their extraordinary efforts across Australia and around the world. This is what I find most gratifying as a CEO in the venue business.

More info: sales@iccsydney.cominfo@iccsydney.com

GEOFF INSIGHTS

Geoff Donaghy is Director of Convention Centres for venue management specialist AEG Ogden, which operates convention facilities in Australia, Asia and the Middle East including the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney).

CIC Portraits 100914.CEO of ICC Sydney, Geoff DonaghyHe is CEO of the ICC Sydney, which opened in December 2016 and established as one of the world’s leading convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities.In addition to his role at ICC Sydney, Geoff is Director of Convention Centres AEG Ogden and the immediate past President of the Brussels-based International Association of Congress Centres. He is on the executive committee of the Joint Meetings Industry Council.

Geoff’s experience in the business events industry was born from his airline and hotel industry experience. He headed the Cairns region’s successful tourism and convention bureau for five years before managing the 1996 opening of the Cairns Convention Centre. He also served for five years as Chairman of the Business Events Council of Australia. He has been awarded the Australia Centenary Medal by the Federal Government, the Australian industry’s Outstanding Contribution Award, and the Joint Meeting Industry Council’s Global Power and Profile Award.

 

TDP_Oct172016_ICC_01_3621

 

After malt whiskies in the club lounge, we return to our room on the thirty-third floor of the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, and find a note from the concierge. It’s a follow-up to a request my wife made earlier in the day.

“We have checked with the silversmith in the convention centre, and they can fix your silver necklace,” the message says, “but it will take seven to 10 working days.”

Richard Greaves 1 squareIt then lists another jewellery store that can fix the broken clasp the same day, 30 minutes’ cab ride away.

It’s the kind of obliging assistance we received continually during a recent four-day stay at arguably the finest meetings and convention hotel in Hong Kong.

Our 40-square-metre club room, with its vast white bed, muted carpets and colourings and classy artworks, had panoramic views of Victoria Harbour – and, everywhere, the city’s slim, towering skyscrapers which at night gleamed and twinkled like a giant jewellery box.

The food, service, facilities and proximity of this property to the pulse of the city may help explain why it’s won a swag of industry awards – such as best business hotel in Asia, best meetings and conventions hotel in Hong Kong, best city hotel for business events and others.

But there’s plenty of competition in the luxury hotel category in Hong Kong. Why should PCOs favour the Grand Hyatt? Richard Greaves (pictured above), Area Vice President and General Manager, is clear on this. A key factor that sets the hotel apart is attention to detail and emotional engagement with clients and guests, he explains.

“We strongly believe that to create exceptional event experiences for guests, we must first make the effort to get to know them beyond a mere superficial level, more like a friend,” he says.

Seafood & Oyster Bar + Salad Bar_3mb“How else can we expect to exceed their expectations and create the special details that make an event memorable?”

It’s a familiar theme, often-repeated by hotel operators, but the Grand Hyatt’s success suggests that it’s not just talk. The hotel has 22 flexible event venues which are much in demand for repeat business for meetings, incentives, conferences and private parties, catering for anything from 12 to 1,600 guests. The Grand Ballroom is one of the largest in the city, while the Poolhouse, an outdoor venue overlooking the swimming pool and gardens, can be set up to handle welcome or farewell cocktails.

 

In particular the hotel is a sought-after spot for weddings, of any size up to 888 people. Accommodation is included in wedding packages and there are preferential rates in its 542 rooms and suites for the guests. “We’re honoured to be regarded as the hotel for glamorous events,” says Richard.

“Our service team has always been our most recognised asset. It takes years of training and expertise to take care of the logistics of week-long events, as well as the everyday needs of conference guests and others staying at the hotel at the same time.”

Attendees have much to choose from pre- and post-conference, Richard adds. “The city, especially Wanchai where the hotel is located, has a lot to offer.”

Grand Deluxe City RoomFor example they can visit the Wanchai wet market for a glimpse of local everyday life. Or take a tram for a slow tour around Hong Kong Island, visit heritage buildings and temples around Wanchai, hop on the Star Ferry to cross Victoria Harbour, or shop in Central and Causeway Bay (10 minutes by taxi).

There are 11 restaurants and bars in the hotel, and a great spa (The Plateau) atop the building.

Grand Hyatt Hong Kong’s clientele typically includes financial and tech companies, and it hosts many medical and pharmaceutical conventions. Because it’s located next to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, it’s naturally popular with people attending trade shows.

 

From USD 245

So, what everyone considering arranging an event immediately wants to know: how much does it cost to book this gem of a property? Room rates online start from around USD245, and the Club rooms – offering access to the big club lounge with its jaw-dropping views of the harbour and sunsets – start from around USD 500. The conference full-day rate is from around USD154 per person, but the operators stress that PCOs and other event organisers should contact them to start a discussion about prices and venues.

Siteseer says:

In the pantheon of good hotels in the former British colony, this is up there with the best. To help celebrate its thirtieth anniversary this year, most of the event venues have been renovated, as have the classy, understated rooms and suites. The club lounge, to which we had access, offers drinks all day and a free-of-charge, sumptuous buffet in the evenings. The eclectic mix of Asian and western fare here included pastas, patés, dim sims, seafood, soups, salads, hot and cold savoury taster dishes and much else. The staff were smart, charming and never missed a trick. Because it was my wife’s and my wedding anniversary, a bottle of champagne awaited us in the room when we arrived. And a charming card. We look forward to returning.

More information:

+852 2584 7068

hongkong.grand@hyatt.com

Click here for more prices.

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Karmina De Ungria, an ebullient young marketing executive at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manila, says The Peak is like nothing else in the city of 13 million people. She may have a point.

“It’s something very new to the market and sets a whole new standard in dining and entertainment,” says the enthusiastic Karmina (pictured below), Director of Marketing Communications for the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Manila.

IMG_1872Why? The Peak is a dining and bar complex atop the towering Grand Hyatt building – said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 318 metres. Occupying the sixtieth to the sixty-second floors, The Peak is a classy amalgam of interconnected, enticing indoor and outdoor terrace drinking spaces and cosy indoor eateries, most with sweeping views of the Manila skyline and the blue waters of the bay. Indeed its design, conceptualised by Tokyo-based international design firm Nao Taniyama & Associates, was inspired by penthouse living, with one room flowing to another, says Karmina.

 

It includes a grill restaurant, music lounge, whisky bar and The Peak bar, each flagged as a destination on its own. The centrepiece of the grill is an open kitchen where guests can view their food being prepared by Chef De Cuisine Manuel Baenziger.

“I think it’s what many guests are seeking right now,” Karmina adds, standing on a deck on the sixty-second floor, looking at the ramparts of the city below. “The views are exceptional [which helps to make it] an experience in itself.”

GHM The Peak VerandaHere, events organisers could consider the cosy Speakeasy restaurant (main picture) and waterhole which can be booked privately and accommodate up to 30 guests with a minimum total spend of PHP 80,000 (about USD 1,500). That’s about fifty bucks a head – reasonable given the attributes of the venue and the quality of the food and drink, ranging from Bordeaux to Bollinger and Maryland crab cake to Aussie wagyu beef. The hotel itself is spanking new, opened last year, which gives the entire complex a fresh, swanky appeal.

“We see a lot of the local market, as well as visitors who are looking for premium dining and entertainment,” says Karmina. “Of course Hyatt’s a well-known and established brand and we’re very pleased with how our rooms, restaurant concepts and event facilities have been received by the market. Everything’s been designed to give our guests a grand experience.”

The Peak is incorporated in the Grand Hyatt Manila hotel. For reservations and more details, call +632 8381234 or email thepeak.manila.grand@hyatt.com.

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Driving through the eucalypt forests of the Blue Mountains, two hours west of Sydney, a traveller comes upon a curious set of domed, crenellated buildings, perched atop a steep escarpment. What is this place?

Stretching for a kilometre and looking out over the vast Megalong Valley and red crags of the mountains, the complex resembles a cross between an old-style European spa and the art-deco Radio City building in New York. Step inside – and enter the extraordinary Hydro Majestic hotel, one of the quirkiest events venues in New South Wales.

IMG_1855This is a world of fanciful, almost baroque, style where lofty public rooms and bars pay tribute to the whims and art of the rich and famous of the earliest Twentieth Century. Further exploration uncovers a history that reflects human endeavour and hedonism in equal measure.

“We had electricity here five days before Sydney did, provided by coal supplies from down in the valley and generated by our own boiler,” laughs Adam Holmes (left), Operations Manager for the Escarpment Group, which owns the property. “When you think about those days, you wonder how on earth they got everything up here.”

Australia’s first prime minister, Edmund Barton, died of heart failure at the hotel in 1920. Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba sang here, as did English singers Dame Clara Butt and Nellie Stewart. Other guests included the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Many of these visitors were friends of Mark Foy, a colourful, womanising retail baron who opened the hotel in the winter of 1904. It was then Australia’s first health retreat, a place where woman drank separately from the men and a Swiss expert was brought in to design especially customised diets and steam treatments for guests.

Inspiring venues

Today the Majestic Ballroom, which can seat up to 250 for a seated dinner, and other function spaces offer extraordinary views of the valley below and serve as inspiring venues for weddings and corporate events, says Adam. But the views are not the only good reason to organise an event at The Hydro, he adds.

Hydro Majestic, Blue Mountains, Flavours of NSW, Amanda Davenport, 2016“The hotel is a destination in itself, and you take a journey back in time when you visit it. It’s no cliché!”

Indeed the owners’ fairly recent refurbishment has ensured that none of the original structures have been “built over”.

“It’s lovingly maintained, yet each area of the hotel has a different theme which is evident when you walk through it,” says Adam, a Sydneysider with hotel management experience in the Middle East, Maldives and Mauritius. “That’s why we have a strong events business and a wedding here almost every weekend.”

Each one of the 67 bedrooms has a view of the valley, too, as does the main dining room, the Wintergarden, which resembles a spacious, silver-service eatery on an old-style transatlantic cruise liner.

The cuisine here is as mouth-watering as the view. On a recent Siteseer visit, starter options included butter-poached lobster tail and seared nori-crumbed tuna, while mains choices were organic lamb loin and pan-seared duck among others. For every dish there were accompanying wine suggestions. In another restaurant, The Boilerhouse, the hunger-busting lunch menu included a rich bouillabaisse and crumbed porked chops.

One of the lasting impressions of the property, in all its spaces, is tranquillity. In the bedrooms, which have views of the valley below, there’s a hush of the kind urban dwellers sometimes become aware of when they suddenly find themselves in the countryside.

IMG_1843The Hydro Majestic is one of four properties in the Blue Mountains owned by the Escarpment Group. The others are Lilianfels resort, Echoes hotel and Parklands Country Gardens and Lodges. (The latter is a relatively little-known asset, says Adam, attractive especially for small, discreet conferences. It has 28 rooms.)

For delegates there’s much to do in the mountains, Adam adds. To facilitate events and team-building, Escarpment uses companies including Pinnacle, Team Building Australia, Fantastic Aussie Tours (rock-climbing, abseiling, canyoning), Scenic World, which operates one of the steepest train journeys in the world, and Dry Ridge vineyards in the valley below. The Retro Bus Company, which runs an old clipper bus, does food and wine tours in the area.

“Then every two to three months we host the Hydro Express, a train that travels from Sydney’s Central Station on a Saturday and Sunday and stops at Medlow Bath station across the road from the hotel,” says Adam.

 

“Over 220 guests off the train spend about three hours here, look around, have lunch and go for walks. We don’t organise these tours but we’re fortunate enough to have had the train named after us.”

A prime advantage of having conferences at the Hydro is the fresh air and ability to simply enjoy fantastic scenery, with little noise and few people around, he says. “You have time to think, to sit and do nothing and look at the view in a wonderful environment. And you can say you’ve been to a World Heritage-listed area; there are not too many of those around. [The Blue Mountains are] over a million hectares of sandstone plateaux, escarpments and gorges blanketed in forests including 91 species of eucalypts.”

From AUD85

Conference day rates at the Hydro start from $85 per person, based on a minimum spend. Most of the events business is from Sydney, though more Japanese groups are visiting, Adam says. Many clients are corporate, and the weddings business is obviously mostly at weekends. “We organise our own special events, too, like our Rio-to-Rome dinner where we’ll have a live band in the Wintergarden dining room. Or in February we’ll have our Roaring Twenties promotion which is a celebration of the 1920s; everyone gets dressed up accordingly and has great fun.”

Times outside school holidays or special days like Christmas are generally better options when you’re seeking the best conference deal, he adds. “Mid-week, too, is quieter, because our room rates fluctuate.” (Rates at these times start from around AUD230 a night)

More info:

www.escarpmentgroup.com.au

Ereservations@hydromajestic.com.au

Ph: +612 4782 6885

 

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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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Set a short walk from famed Waikiki Beach, the Hawai’i Convention Center is an event destination like none other, say its operators. They don’t exaggerate. Walk into the vast lobby and you find yourself in a captivating environment of airiness, light and space.

HCC_Teri OrtonHere, live palm trees soar toward distant glass ceilings on slim trunks while huge fans circulate the tropical air. Mezzanine terraces provide gathering places, and escalators sweep upward to a multitude of meeting rooms and conference halls. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events voted this Center, completed in 1998, the most beautiful in the world.

“A comment we frequently receive from meeting planners is that their attendees feel more relaxed in Hawai‘i and in our beautiful open-air building,” says Teri Orton (left), general manager of the Hawai’i Convention Center (which is managed by LA-based venue-management organisation AEG Facilities). “Indeed they’re in an environment that inspires networking and collaboration.”

Visitors can connect easily in the sprawling common areas and choose between 47 meeting rooms. The 1.1 million square feet of meeting space can accommodate events for more than 13,000 attendees.

 

There’s a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall, two theatres, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and a registration lobby of the same size, as well as a vegetation-fringed, 2.5-acre landscaped rooftop events terrace used for banquets and receptions.

There are more than 30,000 overnight rooms in Waikiki, and more than 28,000 of them are within a two-kilometre radius of the center, which is 10 kilometres from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and close to some of Hawai‘i’s top museums, shopping, dining and entertainment spots.

Central location

The Hawaiian Islands are in the middle of the Pacific. So why would international meetings organisers choose to hold an event here? It’s an easy question to answer, says Teri; Hawaii is centrally located for visitors from North America and the Asia Pacific, with not-too-trying travel times.

“They see value in Hawai‘i because of our accessibility, multi-ethnic food, wonderful weather all year round, and the opportunity to rejuvenate and relax. And just because it’s paradise doesn’t mean you can’t get business done.”

Getting business done

Plenty of visitors realise this, she says, as did the American Dental Association recently when it hosted its annual meeting here. It was one of the biggest gatherings ever hosted by the HCC, attracting over 16,200 dentists, dental professionals and hygienists from 52 countries over five days.

Hawai‘i claims to offer the best of business and leisure. It features a world-class meeting and convention facility and is one of the most sought-after vacation destinations on earth. It’s also known for its innovation and leadership in medicine, technology, business and science.

IMG_1743For PCOs considering it, there’s much assistance on hand. Meet Hawai‘i, a collaboration of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), HTA’s Global Marketing Teams and the Hawai‘i Convention Center, has an extensive local network of professionals and outreach initiatives – including the Elele Program, which enlists the support of community leaders, known as ambassadors, who have ties to professional organisations. These volunteers often have insights and personal relationships that help the Meet Hawai‘i team craft more thoughtful bids and reach key decision makers, they say.

Many national and international conventions require an invitation from a Hawai‘i contingent to consider the islands as a destination, so the local ambassador can be a valuable asset in securing business for the Hawai‘i Convention Center and hotels in the state. “The Meet Hawai‘i team also has representatives in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Oceania,” says Teri.

 

Value for money

Critics say PCOs find it hard to get the same bang for their buck in the US as they would in Indochina, for instance. The Meet Hawai‘i team is clear on this: it depends on how you define value, on who you are and what you seek. They say they take time to understand their clients’ objectives, program needs and budget. Then they apply their knowledge of the destination to ensure the right results. she says.

The center hosts a variety of events. At the end of November it hosted the Pacific Rim Futsal Cup. This tournament will be held on the new indoor athletic courts for the next four years, using the nearly 89,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall 1 to set up five courts for simultaneous play. Statewide spending for this event alone is estimated to be around USD $3.8 million.

Sustainability in mind

The HCC has been designed in alignment not only with what the locals call the Hawaiian sense of place, but with sustainability and efficiency principles in mind, and careful attention being paid to reducing waste in each stage in the event process, says Teri.

IMG_1770It recently launched its “Hoʻomaluō Program,” a comprehensive approach to environmental sustainability aiming to “enhance the guest, planner, staff and community meetings and events experience”. This project was launched in conjunction with the 2018 American Dental Association meeting.

The center has won a swag of sustainability accolades, such as the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification. And through its One Million Trees effort, it supports reforestation on the Hawaiian Islands. “The awards recognise the dedication of our staff to providing a world-class experience in Hawaii,” says Teri Orton.

Meanwhile the operators are continually seeking ways to improve the conference experience for exhibitors. Such steps recently involved the addition of massage chairs, charging stations for mobile devices, a new business center, plush furniture, an online interactive map and 3D floor plans that allow exhibitors to view and tour services and spaces.

“Our guests, planners, staff and communities have come together for more than two decades to preserve, protect and enhance the natural beauty of the Hawaiian Islands,” says Teri Orton. “Since our opening 20 years ago we’ve been deeply committed to a multi-faceted approach to environmental conservation that inspires everything we do and touches everyone we serve.”

More information, visit www.hawaiiconvention.com

Hawai‘i Convention Center
1801 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

E-Mail: info@hccaeg.com
Phone: +1 (808) 943-3500
Fax: +1 (808) 943-3099

 

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