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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

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Organise an event at Papua New Guinea’s Stanley Hotel and Suites, a towering landmark a five-minute drive from Port Moresby airport, and you can be sure of one thing: you’ll meet Niko Parman.

IMG_1932The Director of Conferences and Events for the “Stanley,” one of few five-star hotels in the wild, exotic territory of PNG, lives on site and puts in as many hours per day as required to keep his clients happy.

“For the client I’m invariably the one-stop-shop,” says the dapper, energetic Australian (pictured left) who’s been here for three years, since the hotel opened. “Large events represent good turnover in Port Moresby, so you have to deliver, and it’s all about inter-personal relationships and trust. They want to see the face who sold the event space executing the event. That’s where I come in.”

 

The space he has to offer them is, he points out, the largest and most flexible in PNG. The hotel’s centrepiece ballroom is complemented by eight smaller meeting rooms which can be set up in a myriad combinations, anywhere from 10 to a thousand people seated banquet-style. The meeting rooms are on the same level; one has an open-air balcony that can accommodate 450 people.

The vast majority of delegates and clients can be accommodated on site in 420 well-equipped rooms (all with work desks), including 80 one- and two-bedroomed apartments, and a Presidential suite which has hosted the likes of President Xi of China. The hotel is targeted very much at business, primarily comprising local and international governments from the US or elsewhere working with PNG authorities, oil and gas mining enterprises, and NGOs such as the International Monetary Fund or Asian Development Bank. “The country is still largely dependent on aid from these bodies, and markets like these are our core. The majority of our business is sourced locally but funded from overseas.”

HyperFocal: 0Why hold an event here? For a start the events management at The Stanley, top-heavy with expatriate talent knows what it’s doing. Its conference-driven MICE business is “massive,” according to Niko, dwarfing food and beverage. Much of it is inbound, and people flying in have to be accommodated. The property typically hosts opening cocktails and dinners, and its F&B outlets are like satellites. Accommodation comes with breakfast, and if delegates have a free night they’ll automatically fill up the restaurants and bars, Niko says. Indeed delegates don’t have too many options about places to go outside the property other than a range of eateries in the big adjacent shopping mall.

 

And that’s a positive for many PCOs. “We’re in a closed environment, so we have a captive market in a sense,” says Niko. “For many conference organisers that’s a perfect business model. They want to concentrate on the business at hand, with few distractions.”

Plus it’s good value. The Stanley charges for venue hire, depending on the size of the space required, and the full day rate is 155 Papua New Guinea kina – about AUD60.

Though Port Moresby has relatively few hotels, Niko says he and his colleagues don’t take business for granted. “In these days of social media, good service or bad service goes viral. If you dazzle people you get repeat business! It works, which is why we have great occupancy rates and we’re the market leader in the city.”

171006-2054The reason for that, too, he says, is consistency. You can have wonderful product but if you’re not consistent a hotelier can run into trouble, he adds.

Niko tries to help ensure that consistency extends to the F&B outlets. The café in the grand, cavernous lobby serves coffee, freshly squeezed juices, sandwiches and pastries, operating from early till 6pm. In addition to the main restaurant, also on the ground floor, the Monsoon Bar is open from 3pm till midnight and the Silverleaf fine dining eatery seats 40 people on the nineteenth floor. There’s an executive lounge, with a clubby feel and excellent canapés after five.

For pre- and post-conference events, Niko can refer clients to trusted suppliers for everything from exhibition booths to entertainers, having attracted well-known names including James Morrison and Samantha Clarke.

From AUD60 per day

The conference rate includes buffet lunch, arrival tea and coffee with pastries, and morning tea with a choice of sweet and savoury items, which more and more guests want. “I can guarantee it’s on par with what Sydney and Melbourne can offer,” says Niko.

More information, click here. Or email dce@thestanleypng.com.

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Reflected candlelight shimmers from the marble floor of the lobby in the Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai. Beside a picture of the King of Thailand, seven young girls clad in gold satin perform an immaculately choreographed traditional dance to celebrate his birthday.

They pride themselves on doing everything well at the Shangri-La Chiang Mai. It may be one of the reasons it’s been acknowledged by the Thai government as having the best meetings facilities of all five-star hotels in this relaxed city of 130,000 people.

IMG_1922They’re certainly the biggest. There’s a total of 2,350 square metres of meetings space here, including a ballroom that can accommodate 1,800 and an auditorium that can take 99. In the sprawling gardens, there’s plenty of room for special events like dinners, team building, lunches, cooking classes, yoga and other recreational activities. Venues in the grounds include the cabana area adjacent to the pools, ideal for smaller events; what the hotel calls its “secret garden;” and the swimming pool area itself which can be used for functions, cocktails and dinners.

 

In some ways this is a typical Shangri-La hotel, with the marque’s well-known tropical gardens, peaceful aromatic spa, selection of pleasant restaurants, sparkling pools, obliging and smiling staff, and 277 flop-down-on-the-bed-and-sigh rooms.

The mountainous surrounds of the upland city, about 40 minutes flying time north of Bangkok, and the hotel facilities combine to make it an enticing venue in every sense, according to Wiyada Sornprapha (top left), Director of Sales and Marketing.

Moreover the Shangri-La is the only hotel in Chiang Mai that has a comprehensive security system for checking vehicles and bags coming into the property, which is much valued by clients, especially those holding high-profile international events here, says Wiyada.

Outdoor venue_Poolside“That’s not to say Chiang Mai has security issues, it doesn’t!” she laughs. “But we live in an unpredictable world.”

Another huge advantage is the property’s location, adds Communications Manager Saranya Buntem (top right). “We’re in the city, yes, but we’re close to markets, five minutes’ walk from our night market, shops, restaurants and the river and we have wonderful gardens and facilities in the hotel,” says Saranya. “The airport is 15 minutes’ drive away. It seldom takes more than ten minutes to get anywhere in Chiang Mai.”

 

Unlike many other Thai cities, Chiang Mai has no big shopping offer or beaches but it’s culturally rich with – because if its elevation – refreshing weather, says Wiyada. And not everyone wants to shop and breathe traffic fumes. “It’s perfect for those seeking a less hectic city experience in a serene and natural green environment,” she explains. She points out that it was declared “Best City in Asia” and “Third Best City in the World” at the Travel + Leisure awards in 2017. It was also recently designated a UNESCO Creative City.

But one of the best attributes of the Shangri-La, perhaps, is cost. Room rates start at around 130 US dollars, while the full-day conference rate is around 60 US dollars, including lunch. “That’s fantastic value considering we’re a five-star hotel and have indoor and outdoor facilities,” says Wiyada. “We’re very flexible. And when we talk about value, we’re not just referring to price; it’s also about value-added and the offer that we have generally.”

The hotel’s events campaign tagline is “Meetings Made More Rewarding”. In practice that means additional benefits that conference organisers don’t expect, like free cocktails, complimentary upgrades and discounts from the master bill.

Deluxe RoomAnd organisers and delegates can select what they like to match their requirements. There’s a “one-stop” events service, with dedicated staff helping organisers through every step of the process, from the time they arrive, she says.

Rates across the board for rooms and meetings depend on the season, with especially good deals available during the “green” period from April until October, Wiyada adds.

MICE clients include Thais (17% of the total business), mostly from Bangkok, while better air accessibility has resulted in growing trade from elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. For example there are direct flights to Chiang Mai now from major cities in China, Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and from Hong Kong, which is two-and-a-half hours away.

Indeed the expansion of the China business has been remarkable, adds Wiyada, with Chinese people travelling more than ever before and accounting for over a fifth of the hotel’s MICE enquiries. The Shangri-La has appointed staff who speak Chinese to help cater for this influx.

Events clients also come from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Europe, the US and Australia. About a third of the conference business is corporate, and a significant percentage of these inbound visitors bring their spouses with them, seeking a holiday or engaging outings, such as visits to the nearby elephant sanctuary.

“Weddings are also a big business for us, both for locals and internationally,” says Wiyada. “We’re considered to be the leading wedding venue in town because of our capacity and car park.”

With beautiful assets, business for the Shangri-La Chiang Mai is likely to continue to expand, and official government figures support this view. Last year, Chiang Mai welcomed around 10 million tourists, 7 million of whom were locals and 3 million of whom were foreigners. As of November, tourist arrivals to Thailand had reached 34.43 million, up 7.53 percent, generating an estimated Bt1.8 trillion (AUD 86 billion) in revenue for the country.

More information:

Call (66 53) 253 888

Email chiangmai@shangri-la.com

Web: www.shangri-la.com/chiangmai

Sukhothai RoomIMG_1905Outdoor venue_Cabana areaOutdoor venue_Secret GardenPhayao RoomCHI Spa Room

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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There are many wonderful hotels in the Thai capital city, but IHG’s five-star Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park in the heart of the CBD can justifiably claim to be something special – attractive in price and aesthetically pleasing to boot.

When they step into the street-level entry a short way from the roaring traffic of the “Rama IV” thoroughfare, an elevator whisks arriving guests to the lobby and reception area on level 23. This is a peaceful, tastefully lit space of mirrors, sombre panelling and comfy chairs and sofas.

Crowne-Plaza-Bangkok-Lumpini-Park_Sathorn-Meeting-Room-01_Low-Res_RETOUCHNearby, glass-walled elevators glide up and down a soaring atrium whose walkways provide access to all of the 243 guest rooms. A few steps away, also on the 23rd floor, the Panorama all-day-dining eatery has a terrific bird’s-eye view of the city.

The Crowne Plaza Lumpini Park has a selection of meeting venues at good prices. For example, a full-day meeting package starts at around AUD 75 per person per day, including the notorious Thai taxes and services charges. It allows for room rental from 8am to 5 pm, complimentary coffee and tea throughout the meeting, morning and afternoon coffee breaks with two kinds of snacks and fruit juices, a lunch buffet of grilled meats and fish, prawns, sushi and sashimi at the Panorama on the 23rd floor, or a Chinese set lunch at the (outstanding) Xin Tian Di restaurant a floor below.

Twelve meeting rooms, 145 square metres in total, are set over the entirety of the 21st floor, and the largest of these, when fully opened-up, can accommodate 400. Its best-known venue is “The White Room” with sweeping walkways and staircase and much in use for parties after weddings. “[It’s] more like an art gallery than a function room,” says a hotel spokesperson. “So your product or service is ‘framed’ to be the focus of attention at all times. The White Room has been designed to promote and flatter any event, whether it’s a product launch, press conference, wedding or mini-exhibition. It’s also ideal for company events as well as private parties and receptions.”

The guest rooms themselves are adorned in bright, jazzy and engaging colours, with rack rates starting at around AUD 210 a night, which is competitive, to say the least, for a five-star property.

But the facilities are what you’d expect – five restaurants and bars, a spa, outdoor pool overlooking the city on Level 24, outdoor jacuzzi and a well-equipped fitness centre.

The hotel “guarantees” PCOs that it’ll respond to enquiries within two hours and provide a full proposal by the next business day. At the end of meetings each day a Crowne meetings director will proivide an itemised account of that day’s expenditures, gather feedback and handle further requests.

There are also club floors with lounge benefits like free breakfasts and cocktails, all-day snacks, late check-outs at 4pm and complimentary laundry and local calls.

More info: Call +66 (0) 2632 9000 or click here.

Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park_Crowne Ballroom 10_Lo Res copy

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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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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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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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