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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

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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

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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.

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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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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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The engaging, effervescent Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the DoubleTree Hilton in Waikiki Beach, Cheryl Nasser, is an enthusiastic advocate for the islands of Hawaii – and her hotel. The Siteseer chatted with Cheryl recently to find out what makes them special, and why PCOs could profitably consider meeting there.

The Siteseer: So Cheryl, why should an events organiser hold a meeting in Hawaii, and at your property?

Cheryl Nasser: The people, for one thing. In the 14 years I’ve been in Hawaii I’ve lived on three islands, and the people share something wonderful in common. They aren’t all necessarily of Hawaiian blood, like me, I come from California, but they all embrace the generous Hawaiian culture. This places great emphasis on friendliness and family, and Hawaii in turn embraces the diverse people who’ve come to live here. I really love and appreciate this, both in the workplace and in my personal life.

The DoubleTree Hilton itself embraces that inclusive culture, and it starts on arrival with the friendliness of the staff, the chocolate chip cookies and so on that are presented to you. It’s about caring, and that’s also part of the DoubleTree brand and its standards.

43602248SS: Where do your meetings clients mostly come from?

CN: Some business is from local enterprises, government and military around the island of Oahu [where Honolulu and Waikiki are located] for meetings and leisure. Our meetings encompass anything from seminars and training sessions, to banquets, weddings and celebrations like high-school reunions.

SS: Do you get many inbound events?

CM: Yes, our hotel and Waikiki itself are popular with Japanese visitors for example. We do lots of student group tours from Japan, on exchange programs or the programs they need to do to get into college. We also have a definite and emerging Chinese market, matching what’s happened around the world everywhere from New York to Chicago, Australia and elsewhere. In the years that I’ve been here I’ve seen huge growth in this sector.

SS: One of the first things a PCO or anyone looking to organise a meeting wants to know is what they’re going to get for their money? Do you represent value?

CN: Part of our value is that we’re centrally located, a very short walk from Waikiki Beach. It’s a place where people can meet and be close to the beach, restaurants, shopping and so on. We have beautiful weather throughout the year, and there’s easy access by air. There’s also what can best be described as a sense of place when you’re in Hawaii; you know you’re going to have an enjoyable leisure component, that you’re going to meet, yes, but you’re not going to meet all day. You can have fun, see the island, and Hawaii has been put on the map [gastronomically] in the past few years, with great seafood especially. We have top chefs here.

We’re close to the widest stretch of the beach on Waikiki, which many people don’t realise. We’re set next to a pretty park which is government land that will never be built on – a great place to relax and stroll. Plus the Hawaii Convention Center is only two blocks from the hotel.

IMG_1799There’s a big emphasis on sustainability, which more and more visitors expect. For instance the Governor of Hawaii wants us to be completely sustainable in the next ten years, in everything from agriculture to food production, and to look after our ocean environment, which is vitally important for the future of the world, not just Hawaii.

SS: What would the average rate be for a typical conference or wedding here?

CN: Our conference day rate depends on the package and whether you’re going to have food, [so it’s negotiable].

 

It goes by season but during the summer the room rate would be in the USD 200 to $220 range; at other times it would be $180 or $190. We look at the market and see what demand is.

Look, at some level we’re not going to be able to compete against some countries in terms of cost. We’re part of the US and have certain standards for wages and so on. But the experience you get is great value. People see that when they’re here.

Many groups will incentivise their sales teams with a trip to Hawaii, and some of the outer islands with high-end resorts are outstanding places for such groups. Every island has just about everything you want to experience as a delegate, from horseback riding to diving, hiking, eating out, sampling local beers and spirits. We have it all really.

SS: Is there a better time of the year to get better deals for conferences and events?

CN: The [northern] winter time, November December, is a better time to get the best value on meetings and room rates. You see better prices for airfares, from all over, as well in this period. And we have a spring rates period through April and May.

We continuously upgrade and refresh the property. The hotel runs at high occupancy so we get lots of constant trade. Book early! 

HNLKADT_meetings_full_ilimaSS: Tell us about the hotel’s meeting facilities.

CN: We have ten thousand square feet of meeting space within 10 meeting rooms. This doesn’t include our pool deck and the penthouse lanai, which have beautiful views and are popular for outdoor events. Our largest space can accommodate up to 180 people for dinner.

As mentioned we’re a great location, a two-to-three-block, eight-minute walk from the beach and close to our sister resort property, the Hilton, and Hilton Hawaiian village [a major hotel, restaurant and shopping precinct] which has thousands of guest rooms in five towers.

 

SS: Tell us a bit about your background.

CN: I’ve been in the industry about thirty years. I started my career in front office, working on the US mainland, in southern California and San Francisco. I worked back of house for a time as well. I joined Hilton out at the Hawaiian Village and also worked on the island of Maui, where I lived for six years. I’ve been with the DoubleTree here for five-and-a-half years, having started out in revenue management and staying in that area until the beginning of 2018. One of the great things about working in this industry is that you have opportunities to get, and give, promotions.

So at the beginning of 2018 I was given the opportunity to take over sales and marketing as well as revenue management. I now oversee a team of six.

It’s a great place to work. We have many team members who’ve worked here and in the wider Hilton group for 20 years or more. We have a new general manager, Fernando Vasquez [pictured below, with Cheryl], who recently joined us.

SS: You must have had interesting experiences dealing with guests?

CN: Yes, we’ve had vice president Biden visiting here, and actors from Hawaii Five-O.

One time when we had an overbooking, a businessman refused to leave even though we said we’d pay for a room at another property. He wouldn’t budge and said he was going to sleep on a couch in the lobby. Eventually, though, he did leave and the next day he called to apologise for his behaviour. I always say to the team that when guests arrive you don’t know what they’ve experienced to get here. They may have had flights cancelled or delayed, and one little thing tips them over the edge.

There are so many Hilton hotels. In all of them [success is] about building relationships. And one of the challenges for us is that there are still many people who don’t know we’re here. And as I said, our location is ideal.

More information, click here.

Email cheryl.nasser@hilton.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From AUD59 per day

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

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

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

More info, click here.

Email: reservations.wollongong@sage-hotels.com

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