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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

More reasons for another visit.

More info:

Events team: (66 2) 236 7777

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

www.shangri-la.com/bangkok

 

Where can you stay for business or leisure, an hour-and-a-half’s easy drive north of Sydney, and pay between $99 and $145 a night for outstanding, functional accommodation? Accor’s Ibis chain may provide the answer, as The Siteseer discovered.

To see first-hand what customers get for these low prices, I headed off north from Sydney for two nights: first to the basic but convenient and comfortable Ibis Budget Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast, then to the ritzier, full-service Ibis Styles at The Entrance, 30 minutes further north.

These properties were a revelation. The Gosford property, on sale online for as low as $99 a night, and which has recently been refurbished, has 78 quiet rooms well set back from a major thoroughfare, comfortable beds and plenty of parking. Some of the rooms overlook a gorgeous green corridor separating hotel and river. Naturally there’s free wifi, USB charging points in all rooms, and block-out blinds to sustain a good night’s sleep.

Ibis Budget Gosford’s cheerful and welcoming General Manager Karen Gibson (left), who’s worked at Accor hotels in Broome, Canberra and Newcastle, is enthusiastic about her property – and the surrounding attractions of the New South Wales Central Coast. “There’s a reptile park nearby, which many guests visit. It’s fascinating and fun for all; I don’t care how old you are! And right next door we have the race course, which is also an attraction for many groups.”

Beautiful beaches, great shopping and dining variety are among the other drawcards, she adds. “An RSL club is a five-minute walk away from here, and there’s a great pub five minutes away in the other direction. You don’t come here to spend time in your room. It’s not a resort obviously. You drop your bags off, you go and explore, you go to bed, get up and go out again. It’s an ideal base for that.”

Many group visitors are from sporting and musical organisations, and the hotel is getting busier, despite covid’s omnipresent impact, Karen says. “We’re expecting a big year ahead. There’s lots happening at Gosford and the Central Coast and we’ve built up a great family of guests.”

From AUD99 a night

While Karen says the Ibis Gosford offers consistently low rates all year, at peak times they may increase because of demand.

More information, click here.

Email: H5442@accor.com

Phone: (02) 4325 7692

Meanwhile, at Ibis Styles, The Entrance, the ebullient young General Manager Aaron Ficyk (below) presides over a different kind of arrangement, and not just because Ibis Styles is an Accor “full-service” brand with more facilities than the more basic Ibis Budget.

Here the new, 52-room hotel, set on a hill overlooking the dreamy waters of Tuggerah Lakes, exists in an integrated relationship with the Diggers RSL club next door. The Diggers is a recently refurbished restaurant and conference complex whose guests typically make use of the hotel’s accommodation, and where hotel guests likewise meet and dine.

“Some people have a bit of difficulty getting their head around our integrated relationship with the Diggers club,” says Aaron. “But once they’ve had a site inspection and see the conference facilities, we find it’s very easy to seal a booking.”

The arrangement represents outstanding value for money, he says, with a $49 full-day conference package that includes room hire, morning and afternoon tea, lunch and basic AV hire.

The Diggers manages many local conferences where guests don’t need accommodation, but when people come from Sydney and elsewhere they can get the complete package, explains Aaron. “They can room-charge back to the club and get one seamless invoice at the end of their stay. Plus they can access the club from the hotel and don’t have to leave the premises. And by showing their room key they can get the members’ discounts for food and drinks. This connection with the RSL club is pretty rare in the Accor group.”

The Pavilion Events Centre at The Diggers is a big space that can comfortably seat up to 200, overlooking the lake, and there are a variety of boardrooms for smaller functions. The club is recognised as a specialist wedding reception venue, and is “perfect” for any type of celebration including weddings, anniversaries and business functions, Aaron says. An events coordinator is always on hand.

“One of the greatest advantages for conference and events organisers is the proximity to Sydney,” adds Aaron. “It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes by car, and once you’re here it’s like you’re a million miles away. This entire Central Coast area represents untapped potential.”

The Ibis Styles at The Entrance has 52 rooms, including eight family rooms that sleep four people or five with an optional rollaway bed. Some have views of the lake, and there are wheelchair-accessible rooms on every level. “People generally recognise that we represent great value, even over Christmas and Easter peak seasons when the rates are a bit higher.. We’re four-star rated and guests who come here for the first time are surprised by the quality of the property. You’re getting a beautiful view, and the rooms are modern and fresh.”

Originally from the Blue Mountains, Aaron was involved as part of the opening team for nearby Magenta Shores for Mirvac in 2017. Then he moved to Newcastle to open a Novotel at Newcastle Beach. (Earlier he’d worked as a casual at Ibis Styles.) He was offered his current role of General Manager three years ago when new owners bought the property.

From AUD 125 a night

The hotel has “some fantastic offers” in off-peak times, Aaron says. “We do a winter promotion which is room and continental breakfast for $125. In 2022 we’re doing a devonshire tea offer. People come back every year, they know the package is there.”

More information, click here.

Email: reservations@ibisstylestheentrance.com.au

Phone: +61 2 4336 0400

 

Where do you stay when you’re planning a road trip with an incentive group and want to take your dogs with you? More and more hotels are meeting pet-lovers’ needs, The Siteseer discovered. Here are some New South Wales suggestions.

The Grove at Clifton Grove, near Orange

Heather Dunn and her husband Terry (below), who’ve lived in Orange, four hours’ drive west of Sydney, for many years, can cater for groups of up to five at their leafy property on the outskirts of the rural New South Wales town – eight kilometres’ drive from the Orange Post Office. Not only do visitors get an effusive welcome from their little dog, Lancelot, when they arrive, they discover that their own canines are welcomed equally enthusiastically.

“Ozzie just came and had a cuddle with us,” said Heather one winter afternoon after I’d checked in to their snug B&B, The Grove, for a couple of days. “Then she came with us for a walk when we went to feed the rabbits, and has had a marvellous time.”

While the extent of their tolerance for having dogs to stay and roaming their property may be unusual, demand for such pet-friendly service is growing, says Heather. “We’re getting more and more people interested in doing so,” she says.

In addition to people holidaying with their pets, travelling to the area to sample local food and wine, many clients are temporarily in town because they’re picking up puppies or new dogs from country properties nearby, Heather adds. “Since the lockdowns began, school holidays have been really busy. I think the fact that we’re pet-friendly gives families the peace of mind that comes with having their loved dogs with them.”

Rooms here, featuring beds with electric blankets, are AUD170 per night, with breakfast included.

For more info, click here.

Email: heatherbdunn@bigpond.com

 

Oasis Motel, Peak Hill

The managers of this discreet property in the small town of Peak Hill, set on the main road between Dubbo and Parkes, allow dogs to be brought into some rooms, which are all ground-floor with easy access to a grassy area, barbecue facilities and swimming pool.

The rooms are small and compact with the conveniences guests need in summer or winter: aircon, microwave, toaster, fridge and so forth.

The town has several shops and cafés, and an ex-services and citizens’ club with a good Chinese restaurant, a great Australian country tradition.

 

Among the local attractions are walking tracks, fishing and an defunct open gold mine, legacy of a gold rush at the end of the nineteenth century.

Rooms here are AUD90 per night.

For more information, click here.

Email: oasismotelpeakhill@gmail.com

 

Moonraker Motor Inn, Parkes

At the edge of the pretty town of Parkes, five hours west of Sydney, the Moonraker Motor Inn welcomes dogs and is in the process of renovating its 24 rooms to do so more effectively.

“We’re half-way through the renovations,” explains General Manager Vaseem (Vas) Ahmed. “The pet-friendly rooms will be the best in the motel once we’ve completed [the work].”

The rooms here are significantly bigger than those in standard motels and have easy access to a large grassed area, security-lit at night, where hounds can exercise. The licensed restaurant, Clarinda, does a brisk trade with a traditional Aussie menu with such staples as crumbed chops and mash, steaks and salads. The property is a couple of minutes’ drive from the town centre.

A well-known local attraction for incentive groups is the giant Parkes radio telescope, 20 minutes away, which is still operating and was one of the antennae used to receive live pictures of the Apollo moon landing. The staff in the facility’s shop allow dogs to be brought onto the premises.

Also nearby, at the airport, is the Parkes Aviation Museum whose exhibits include a variety of commercial and military aircraft. Visitors can enter the planes and look around at their leisure; admission is free.

Rooms at the Moonraker start at AUD 100 per night.

 

 

For more information, click here.

Email: info@moonrakermotorinn.com.au

 

Bathurst Explorers Motel

With a marketing tag of ‘spend a night not a fortune,’ this double-storey property in the city of Bathurst, three hours’ west of Sydney, welcomes dogs in its ground-floor rooms and is clean and comfortable, with a number of room configurations. The dining room represents great value for money, with continental breakfasts for $5 and a full breakfast plus coffee costing me $12. Electric blankets are a welcome feature in Bathurst’s notoriously chilly winters.

Rooms at the Bathurst Explorers Motel are AUD100 per night.

For more information, click here.

Email: info@bathurstexplorersmotel.com

 

 

 

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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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

IMG_1802

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

Exec Double 2

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Giant ballroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh destination

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

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

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

From USD 100

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

More info, click here.

Email: sales@landmarkmekonghotel.com.la