Tag Archives: resort

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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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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Siteseer was a paying guest of Le Méridien Noumea.

More information, click here.

LMN - CLASSIC AND SUPERIOR ROOM AND VOYAGEUR SUITE BATHROOM (3)

 

 

 

Hotelier Marlon Hirsh, General Manager of the Crown Towers and Nobu Hotels in Manila’s City of Dreams gaming, events and leisure complex, has a long pedigree in Asian luxury properties. Having been in his current role since the resort’s opening almost three years ago, he predicts a stellar future for the booming Bay district – which is helping transform the way potential visitors view the city, he says. In an interview with The Siteseer, dapper, quietly-spoken Marlon shared insights into his events and leisure businesses and outlined his vision.

Siteseer: There’ve been press reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere recently that Melco Resorts Philippines [owner of the City of Dreams complex] is the world’s most successful casino stock, mainly as a result of expanding business from China. How important is the Chinese gaming market for you?

Marlon Hirsh: Well obviously extremely important. The market continues to grow as the Chinese gain more discretionary income and are starting to travel, not just to southeast Asia, but to Europe and America, really expanding their horizons. It’s vital that we capitalise on it.

If you look at issues like visa processing, proximity and travel costs, the Philippines is a great destination and source of business. The country has a tremendous amount to offer, and not just to the Chinese.

IMG_9527SS: All those beautiful islands within easy flying distance?

MH: Absolutely. If you look at [the Philippine islands of] Cebu, Palawan and Boracay for example, they’re within easy reach of not just China but Korea as well. The Koreans are a strong part of our business mix, as are the Filipino and Japanese – and even the Americans are starting to come. So the City of Dreams continues to grow.

SS: It must be pleasing for you, seeing as the business took a while to build momentum after opening.

MH:  It did take a while unfortunately. But by the time we got our international marketing together, by the tail end of 2015, we started to see things really picking up. We’ll continue to target certain markets, especially the corporate and MICE businesses. Right now we have a pretty good mix; we’re happy with our direction; it’s full-steam ahead.

SS: And the MICE business? How’s that performing for you?

MH: It’s growing. When we opened, somebody asked me to predict what the MICE market would represent at the City of Dreams. Off the cuff I pulled out a figure, said it would probably be around 30%, and that’s where we’re at.

Look, this is a great facility. It’s understated in the sense that we not only have great entertainment, but great ballroom facilities, and the AV and technology to go with them along with a choice of three hotels [with a Hyatt on site in addition to Crown Towers and Nobu] and twenty-plus restaurants to choose from.

any people may underestimate the City of Dreams. It’s much more than just a casino. It’s an integrated resort with world-class entertainment. There are plenty of other single-standing hotels that can offer several hundred rooms around town. Well here we have nearly a thousand rooms between three international-branded hotel properties, and they’re all luxury five-star. Not everyone may realise that.

IMG_9520We have the F&B, the entertainment and DreamPlay [pictured left and below, a family play space with attractions also suited to teambuilding activities] which is a first in the world. Couple that with the service we provide. In my opinion, and of course I’m biased, it’s a no-brainer. Why not come here?

SS: I guess the triangle of good hotels in one location near the airport is a strong selling point?

MH: Yes, especially now that there’s a new, short expressway from the airport that was fully opened in December. We’ve seen an increase in our gaming business coming into the property as a result. It takes ten minutes to get from the terminals to our hotels, and about 20 to 30 minutes to [the key business centres of] Makati and Bonifacio Global City. Manila traffic hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest of reputations. The freeway has removed much of the anxiety about city traffic that [events planners] may have had when contemplating a trip to Manila.

SS: Who mostly makes up your MICE business?

MH: Lots of pharmaceutical companies, sales teams, doctors. As of now much of this business is regional, and we get some [events] visitors from Australia and Singapore.

I believe that will continue to build. People will realise that with 575 guest rooms between the Nobu and the Crown alone, the number of twin double [queen-sized] beds is significantly higher here than what you’d find in other hotels. So from a MICE perspective it’s very advantageous for planners. We can accommodate larger groups and are able to provide, say, 200 rooms for 400 people twin-sharing. That helps overcome a challenge many hotels face. All we have to do is shift our business around internally to be able to accommodate events guests. It’s almost unheard of.

IMG_9521SS: In the general scheme of things is the City of Dreams a value-for-money destination?

MH: One hundred per cent yes. The perceived value for money is overwhelming – [ranging from] the way the sales team engages with clients, accommodating their last-minute requests, to the ease of use and ease of doing business. It’s a winner. Value lies also in the product and facilities and the great team of staff who work in these hotels. Their knowledge of the product, and food and beverage, and their ability to deliver services in the way we’d like our guests to experience them, are outstanding.

We’re in the Bay area of Manila, which is a rapidly developing commercial enclave. So if you want shopping we’re very close to the Mall of Asia, one of the largest in southeast Asia. If you want cultural perspectives, you’ve got Intramuros [the oldest part of the city that dates back to Spanish colonisation].

And if you want to play golf there’s a course at Intramuros as well. Makati is 20 to 30 minutes away. There’s something for everybody.

In addition, in a couple of years from now there’ll be another new, huge mall of 3.8 million square feet right across from the City of Dreams, accessible from us via a pedestrian bridge. It’ll have five storeys of retail space and more restaurants. The foot traffic will be unbelievable.

SS: You’ve talked in past interviews about the passion and engagement of the staff at the City of Dreams. How do they compare with those in the other hotels you’ve worked in?

MH: That belief still holds water. We’re fortunate enough to work in hotels that give new employees ample training, emphasising quality and standards. They have a wonderful attitude. There’s a particular pride and passion among staff to deliver five-star luxury experience.

I’ve discovered there’s something in the theory that hospitality is innate in the Filipino culture. I’ve been an expat for sixteen years, and in southeast Asia for fourteen of them: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore. Filipinos’ English, widely spoken in local communities, is a huge plus for many international visitors.

It was interesting for me a couple of years back when we opened and had our mass recruitment drive. I had an opportunity to engage with the staff and interview every person who works for me. It was a phenomenal experience, bringing the corporate vision to life. The staff continues to perform and execute to this very day.

SS: Did you work for hotels in the States before coming to Asia?

MH: Yes, I started my career over twenty years ago with Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and then Shangri-la. I’ve worked also in the Middle East and Europe.

MNLHY_ExteriorI’m proud of my luxury hotel experience which covers the gamut of line staff positions – security, night manager, housekeeping, guest services. We’re all professionals. A house keeper is not a maid; he or she is someone who provides a professional service.

It’s been a wonderful joy ride for me and my family and I’m fortunate to do what I enjoy and get paid to do it. My father taught me a long time ago that going to work should be like going on vacation. he luxury hotel business is like that. There are never two days exactly alike.

Whether you’re talking to kings and queens, high-end personalities, A-list celebrities and so forth or talking to staff who are new in the city, you find everybody has something useful to impart and contribute. You can’t stereotype anybody.

SS: Does [the actor] Robert de Niro still visit?

MH: He’s been here twice. He visited during the pre-opening and did a walk-through of the guest rooms, cracking jokes, being hands-on, sitting on sofas and testing them for comfort, checking the density of the pillows and that they were to specs. He came back for the launch of the Nobu.

We’re also lucky to have [Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa after whom the hotel is named] come to the property once or twice a year. We recently had a wonderful dinner for 300 covers here and book-signing with him. Incidentally he was just recently conferred a food and beverage lifetime achievement award by Esquire in the UK.

SS: In ten years’ time what will the City of Dreams and its hotels be like?

MH: I’ve got one line: the future is ours. This is a fantastic, world-class facility that’s competitive in every way. The area in and around Entertainment City will continue to expand. There’ll be more malls, embassies will come in, it’ll become even more of an entertainment centre, and we’ll be helping change Manila, putting it back on the map.

For more information about the City of Dreams, Crown Towers and Nobu hotel (one of whose rooms is pictured below), go here.

And see more Siteseer stories on the City of Dreams here:

http://siteseerlive.wpengine.com/articles/city-of-dreams-now-a-tonic-for-teams/

http://siteseerlive.wpengine.com/articles/manilas-new-entertainment-epicentre/

Nobu room

It’s a small thing for some people, sure, but it suggests a well-run establishment, whose operators are mindful of the green sensibilities of many of today’s travellers.

I’m talking about the two-litre glass, recyclable bottles of drinking water that are provided in the 48 guest bedrooms of The District hotel, Boracay, one of the most beautiful of the 7,107 islands in the Philippines. As anyone who knows Asian beaches can attest, discarded plastic is a ubiquitous scourge, and in a small way The District is trying to do something about it.

The four-star hotel is set on Boracay’s famed White Beach, a stretch of gleaming talcum-power sand on the western side of the seven-kilometre-long island, in the busy central tourist area known as Station 2. This precinct’s unimaginative name belies the beauty of the beach itself – and of the hotel. It’s a delightful white-painted building whose cool interiors, symmetrical lines and elegant stone pathways and finishes are redolent of hostelries of the Greek islands and southern Spain.

The District Boracay - FacadeStandard room rates include round-trip transfers from the airport at Caticlan on an adjacent island, involving a private speedboat ride and a choice of breakfast or brunch buffet for two. The District is in fact the only resort on the island that offers guests the option of either breakfast or brunch as part of the regular rate, says Marketing and PR Manager Vina Mataganas.

It’s great value for money for events and leisure visitors alike, Vina says. “You can have your late breakfast or brunch till 1pm, and guests enjoy complimentary massage samplers at our spa or complimentary drinks at the bar. In addition to the physical treats they enjoy personalised service, which I think is really at the core of a great resort or hotel.”

Wedding ceremonies are a key component of the District’s business, as are private dinners and corporate events. The conference room can accommodate up to 80, and can be easily converted into two rooms to cater for smaller groups. And there’s an events roof deck (and bar) that overlooks the beach. On this elevated first-floor perch guests can enjoy evening cocktails while watching the sun sink into the South China Sea.

The hotel’s MICE business is at present mostly local, but it also hosts international incentive visitors, says Vina. One recent group, for example, came from Russia.

The District Boracay - Deluxe Room (King)There’s a serene lap pool as well as a spa and fitness centre, and two restaurants serve as well-priced alternatives to the plethora of other outlets that front onto White Beach.

One of the District’s restaurants, the Caruso, has tables inside the hotel, on the ground floor, and set out on the beach after dark. (It will operate at The District until May 31 then be replaced later in the year by a new restaurant, The Plenary, offering comfort food, and a café, the House Brew.)

The breakfast and brunch buffets offer a variety of local and western fare, from fresh fruit and salads to Filipino dishes like fried pork and noodles. In an egg station, smiling chefs whip up omelettes to order, virtually in an instant. The buffet restaurant, The Star Lounge, has both alfresco and indoor areas, the latter suiting diners who prefer eating in cool surrounds.

But, undoubtedly, one of the most attractive features of the establishment is the beach itself. Guests leaving the hotel step, literally, from the front door onto the sand and into the shade of rustling palm trees. The azure water, fifteen metres away, is a balmy-bathwater temperature all year round.

“Most important of all, we know our guests by heart,” says Vina. “We offer unrivalled and personalised service; in fact we’re a consistent recipient of TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award, mainly because of our service, as well as our location and facilities.”

From USD180 per day

Meeting package rates here range from PHP 1,800 (USD 36) to PHP 3,200 (USD 64) per person per day, depending on menu choice and whether organisers opt for half-board or full-board meals. Room rates start from PHP 9,900 (USD 198). “But we customise packages, which gives our guests flexibility in managing their budgets,” says Vina.

Events visitors, meanwhile, appreciate The District Boracay’s embrace of sustainability principles in a variety of ways. For example the hotel uses solar power to augment its electricity needs, via a hundred solar panels installed on the rooftops. “We’re for sustainable tourism; that’s why we make sure we do our part in offsetting our operation’s carbon footprint,” says Vina.

More information here.

The District Boracay - Resort Grounds

 

 

The first striking feature visitors note when entering the lobby of the ibis Styles hotel at Bali Kuta Circle is a startling angular swimming pool, which seems to be suspended in air. Closer examination shows that it is.

Guests can walk under the pool, supported by pillars, and through glass windows set into the bottom, and swimmers can peer down to the floor below. Flanked by a cute bar and small but well-equipped gym, the pool is set in a quadrangle between white-painted and balconied hotel rooms rising several floors above the waterline.

RestaurantAccor’s ibis Styles group of 141 hotels, comprising the chain formerly known as All Seasons (rebranded in 2012), gives the lie to the old Ibis image of a basic hostelry with plastic shower cubicle, cell-like room and vending machines dispensing food and drinks. This is a transformed offering.

The corporate undertaking is to ensure each ibis Styles establishment has a different design and offers a resort or boutique-style experience.

Despite its not-too-snappy name of ibis Styles Bali Kuta Circle, this property, one of three “Styles”-branded hotels on the Indonesian holiday isle, has a bright, breezy, welcoming feel. It’s well-maintained and its public areas, like the room interiors, are painted in vivid colours. That, along with the sharp, colourful uniforms of the staff help impart a young, go-getter branding.

The hotel is in a busy business area adjacent to a mall, ten minutes from the airport and a brief, two-kilometre cab hop to the restaurants and buzz of Kuta Beach, Legian and Seminyak. It has a restaurant, “internet corner” and shuttle service.

The 190 rooms have good airconditioning, important in Bali, and include 32-square-metre loft duplexes designed to accommodate up to four. All rooms have king-size beds, safe deposit boxes, mini bars, hairdryers and free wifi internet access. Family rooms, also 32 squares, can accommodate the same number.

Room 2Online room rates start at around AUD 50, and include a full breakfast. Meeting packages start at around AUD 24 for a half day, including lunch, AUD 30 per person for a full day, or AUD 43 for full-board meetings, including two coffee breaks, lunch and dinner. Also thrown in are welcome drinks, free internet and discounts of up to 20% in the on-site spa.

There are two meeting rooms of 101 square metres and 83 square metres, able to accommodate up to 100 and 80 respectively in a theatre configuration. They have the AV, digital, wifi and other bells and whistles that come standard with vastly higher-priced facilities in other properties.

Interestingly, the group has embraced green principles, with flow regulators on taps, recycling of food waste for compost or energy, promoting of local food in the restaurant and in-room recycling. It’s also involved in a program to protect local children.

More info: Email H8118-RE1@accor.com

Or visit

http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-8118-ibis-styles-bali-kuta-circle/index.shtml

Lobby

I was strolling the narrow streets of Coron Town, Philippines, when a late-afternoon thunderstorm blew in from the sea. The tropical deluge forced me to run up a set of ramshackle stairs off the main square, to take shelter in a tiny wooden-framed restaurant. It proved to be an excellent decision.

From my first-floor seat on the covered balcony, I watched motorised tricycles scud by through the downpour, and ordered an ice-cold San Miguel Light, one of the country’s most popular brews, followed by another. Then came fried calamari along with a delicious green chicken and coconut curry. When the rain stopped and the bill eventually arrived, I forked out the equivalent of AUD 8 for my meal and all the drinks. “Come again tomorrow,” said the restaurateur, Malou, with a gap-toothed smile.

IMG_0936The affability of the people and value for money are among the most notable attributes of this place, a coastal settlement flanked by the green karst mountains of Busuanga Island north of the larger isle, Palawan.

With a scattering of hotels and island resorts, relatively few tourists and pristine beaches and coral atolls providing some of the best diving and boating opportunities in the Philippines, undeveloped Coron Town and the surrounding Calamian archipelago may represent some of the great incentive trip surprises of the Western Pacific.

That may change of course, with Palawan having been named best island in the world by Conde Nast Traveler fairly recently. Meanwhile bargains for incentive groups – and brilliant experiences – await those prepared to hop on one of the daily 50-minute flights to Busuanga from Manila. (Starting from about AUD 150 for each leg on local airline Skyjet, for example. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines also fly this route).

An essential part of a visitor’s itinerary should be an island-hopping day trip from Coron Town to nearby beaches, inlets and reefs. The guided tours invariably take place via native, double-outrigger bangka boats, and start from the wharf on the town foreshore. I paid roughly AUD 35, which included the tour, lunch and refreshments.

IMG_0956Tours typically include visits to seven or eight spots, diving and snorkelling onto the remains of a merchant ship in shallow water – the area is also renowned for WW2 wreck diving – lunch on an icing-sugar beach and a climb up, and down, to Kayangan Lake, a body of clear blue water set in a “hole” of its own among steep, heavily wooded hills and cliffs.

Here’s a typical online comment about one of the island resorts in the area: “It’s like you died and woke up in beach heaven . . . the sand is talc and the water is crystal clear. . .”

While isolated luxury resorts in this region, like Huma Island (www.humaisland.com) are brilliant incentive destinations in their own right, one hotel, the 80-room Westown, pictured above, stands out as a meetings destination close to restaurants and shops in Coron Town.

With four-star-standard rooms with great views, three swimming pools, a spa, bars and restaurant, the Westown is a five-minute trike ride from the town centre. It has three main meeting venues and rates are extraordinarily low. For example one package that includes use of a venue for 20 people for three hours, waiter service, sound system equipment and a plated three-course lunch starts at PHP 400 (about AUD 12) per person. Rates for the well-air-conditioned, spacious rooms start at around AUD 115 per night.

IMG_0915Busuanga has great venues and outdoor experiences, representing fantastic value – as do so many of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, where almost everyone speaks English and domestic carriers serve dozens of routes. More info:

coronwestownresort@yahoo.com.ph

www.coronwestownresort.com

www.tourismphilippines.com.au

 

 

If you line up 20 boxes that Bangkok ticks that places like Singapore, KL and Sydney don’t, it wins on price, food, service, luxury and setting, says this hotelier. And the City of Angels has one other, matchless attribute.

“If you’re bringing eighty or a hundred people to a conference and you tell them it’s in Bangkok or Thailand, they’ll be excited,” says Paul Counihan, Cluster Director of Sales and Marketing for the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort and Spa.

“On the other hand if you say it’s in Bhutan or KL, they might decide to give it a miss. That’s because Thailand has an allure that makes it a wonderful choice for MICE decision-makers.”

IMG_0777Paul Counihan (pictured) should know. The engaging, effervescent 36-year-old is a career hotelier who admits to having started pulling pints when he was 14 years old in his native Ireland.

He’s lived and worked in Bangkok for the past nine years, and in his current post has helped make the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort – a sprawling, leafy resort on the banks of the Chao Phraya River – a five-star property that challenges brands like Peninsula and Shangri-la for luxury and service.

Thanks in part to Bangkok’s growing international appeal, the Anantara Riverside is attracting unprecedented levels of business and enquiries, Paul says. “The number of events we’ve hosted recently or that we have booked in is extraordinary.”

Recently a global pharmaceutical company had their annual conference at the hotel. It’s also hosted a German car manufacturer’s Asia-Pacific team, an airline’s internal meeting and launch, and a clean energy organisation among others.

Anan 1Another key reason for his property’s – and Thailand’s – success as a MICE destination is price, Paul observes. The feedback he and colleagues are getting from clients in Australia, Singapore and elsewhere is that with the current economic and political uncertainty in the world, organisers are seeking to cut costs, while wanting to reward their people with great incentives at the same time.

‘Cheap as chips’

Room rates at Anantara Riverside Bangkok including all taxes, services and gourmet breakfast served on the hotel’s serene riverside terrace start at 5,000 Thai baht (about USD 140). Day conference rates range from USD 50 per person and delegates can upgrade up to USD 100 per person per day if they want to tailor-make the experience with, for example, additional servies like in-room baristas.

“In a city like Sydney you’d be paying $450 per night at a minimum to get into a place anything like this, with all additions on top of that,” says Paul. “We do fantastic private gala dinners for clients with over 20 live stations and 30 chefs serving, for around USD 50 per head; that’s cheap as chips.

“I’ve been in Bangkok for almost ten years and I want to cry sometimes at the prices I confirm for our premises, because it’s such good value! If I go to a meeting in Singapore and pay three times in a four-star hotel that I’m paying for a five-star suite on the river at Anantara, I’m reminded again that Bangkok is a winner.”

This may all help explain why the Anantara Riverside, a pleasant shuttleboat jaunt away from the centre of Bangkok, is seeing growth in events business that would normally have gone to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and other such destinations.

Hi_ARIV_43418935_Tropical_garden“We’re seeing more quoting up against other international cities than ever before,” Paul says.

The hotel is the flagship of the Anantara brand (owned by the Minor International group), which now operates 35 resorts in 11 countries.

With 408 bedrooms, which recently benefited from a USD $20 million upgrade, it’s set on 11 acres with 1,200 trees and 283 plant varieties growing on site. From the walkways of the lavish gardens and rooms, the Chao Phraya River and its teeming boat traffic are invariably visible.

The 12 meeting venues, spanning more than 3,000 square metres, all have natural light and include a grand ballroom that can comfortably seat 600 and which recently also underwent a million-dollar upgrade.

Avani opening next door

These spaces will be complemented by the addition of Avani Riverside, a new hotel, events and shopping precinct (opening scheduled April 2016) located adjacent to Anantara Riverside Bangkok. The $90 million Avani complex has 26 storeys, and when entirely complete will have 68 bars, restaurants and shops, and meeting facilities of 4,500 square metres (the new ballroom is pictured below). Each of the 248 Avani guest rooms and suites will have uninterrupted river and city views, Paul says.

IMG_0795Avani hotels, also owned by the Minor group, are what Paul describes as lifestyle, contemporary and international-style properties while Anantara represents more of a retreat and an experience – “luxury, relaxation and cultural experience of the location”. Avani is the first purpose-built hotel that Minor’s created worldwide.

“Meanwhile we’re developing an Avani in Perth, on Australia’s Gold Coast, and we’ve got 12 in Africa, having taken over half the Sun hotel group last year.”

Paul recognises that, now more than ever in the MICE market, corporate people are making big budgetary decisions when opting where to put their key people together for four or five days for an event. “Corporations see it as an opportunity to get two, a hundred or a thousand people in a room because that helps drive their business for the next year and beyond.

“We take the product we offer seriously, to create the right environment in which to conduct business and reward people, entertaining delegates and giving them a fantastic experience.”

For example at Anantara Riverside Bangkok the outdoor terrace has its own purpose-built stage and a light show, and executives can arrange to have private breakfasts on the river for up to 80 colleagues, he adds. Helping to ensure the success of tailor-made events are 630 staff. “It’s their dedication and service, which comes from the heart, that defines their work and our reputation. Their welcome is authentic and it’s what international guests expect.”

bangkokriverside@anantara.com

Hi_ARIV_43418899_Dining_by_design

The ribbon-cutting’s over, the teething troubles have been ironed out and visitors are pouring in. More and more incentive organisers are now considering the City of Dreams hotel and casino complex in Manila as a venue with a difference.

So says Jenny Gabon-Santillan (below right), the vivacious Sales and Marketing Director for the sprawling, 6.2-hectare entertainment complex which opened a year ago. Many pundits are expecting the Asian gaming market to rebound in 2016, says Jenny. That’s why operator Melco Crown Resorts believes the property, set close to the city’s international airport and the blue waters of Manila Bay, is well-positioned to play a role in boosting the Philippines as a leisure and tourism destination in the western Pacific.

IMG_0752 (1)With the City of Dreams resort now being visited by thousands of local and international visitors each week, its reputation as a glitzy, out-of-the-ordinary urban incentive destination is growing, says Charisse Chuidian (left), Vice President Public Relations for the complex and doyenne of the hospitality industry in the Philippines.

More corporate events organisers are showing interest. Along with two boardrooms, a sumptuous ballroom seats up to 600 for a banquet and up to 900 theatre-style. It can be broken down into three banquet rooms, says Charisse.

Though there are few smaller breakout rooms right now of the kind many conference organisers favour, in 2016 City of Dreams events staff will have the flexibility of using some of the F&B outlets for this purpose, says Jenny.

“We’ll also be able to offer themed events for clients using these. Seventy to eighty percent of our clients are corporate, mostly from regional centres and as far afield as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.”

A big drawcard for incentive visitors is the 5,000-square-metre, “DreamPlay” facility, a family entertainment centre with attractions that are perfect for teambuilding activities, says Charisse. It presents a variety of team-building exercise options including climbing “the wall of destiny”. DreamPlay is the first play space in the world inspired by the DreamWorks animation company, Charisse adds.

IMG_9527“We’ve been using DreamPlay regularly for team building,” explains Jenny Gabon-Santillan. “Last year we had a major incentive here for a big soft drink company, who ran an all-day event in the ballroom and afterwards at about 4pm went to DreamPlay for a bit of competitive fun – and loved it. More recently we hosted a pharmaceutical company whose doctor guests really got into the swing of things.”

The ideal size for groups for team building is 50 to 60, and they’re usually hosted on weekdays because the retail businesses in the complex are so busy on weekends.

With six hotel towers incorporating Hyatt, Nobu and Crown properties, the City of Dreams has a vast casino, two nightclubs, 21 restaurants, ritzy branded shops and a quadrangle-like centrepiece of gardens, walkways and three discrete swimming pool areas, each attached to its respective hotel, on site. In combination, the hotels offer 940 classy rooms.

The fact that the City of Dreams is close to the airport is a bonus for visitors familiar with Manila traffic, says Hyatt’s engaging, ever-cheerful Marketing Communications Manager Jose (“Ouie”) Torres Badelles (pictured top). He and colleagues primarily use radio and social media to promote the hotel and the broader facility, which he says gives the best results.

MNLHY_Lobby2_NoPeopleRates from USD 160

Online rates for rooms at the Hyatt and Nobu hotels start at around USD 160, and at around USD 260 for the Crown Towers.

Events organisers are encouraged to discuss their requirements with City of Dreams staff.

Jose Badelles says a room at the Hyatt plus conference package including meals kicks in at around USD 330 (PHP 15,000) a day.

Contact the property here and Hyatt City of Dreams here.

Actor Robert de Niro and casino identities Lawrence Ho and James Packer (co-chairmen of operator Melco Crown) were at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Nobu Hotel at the complex. View it here.

And see last year’s Siteseer story here.