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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From USD 245

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

Siteseer says:

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

More information:

+852 2584 7068

hongkong.grand@hyatt.com

Click here for more prices.

IMG_9071HK highres straightLobby 2018 2mbGrand Club Lounge - Night timePoolhouse exterior med res

 

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 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)

 

 

 

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 Millennium Hilton Bangkok looks directly over the Chao Phraya River, which snakes through the heart of the Thai capital. From all its 533 rooms, especially those on the upper floors of the 32 storeys, guests have spectacular views of the teeming life of the waterway.

There are plenty of hotels in Bangkok, and some are located near the Chao Phraya. So what’s special about this one? The resort-like attributes of the property are a big drawcard, explains General Manager Heidi Kleine-Möller, pictured below left.

Flow-Terrace“Staying in this kind of atmosphere, with a view of the river and its life is something visitors don’t usually find in other hotels in the city,” says Heidi. “European MICE clients coming to Bangkok tell me they prefer this kind of experience to the shopping-mall set-up they see elsewhere. That may be on reason our occupancies are so good.”

Though it’s not set precisely in the centre of Bangkok, the hotel is well connected to all parts of the city via the waterway and skytrain, and close to many local points of interest, shopping places and a bustling night market. It operates its own shuttle boats.

Another drawcard is splendid meetings facilities – high-ceilinged ballrooms (the Grand and Junior) which can seat over 700 guests and spacious pre function spaces. The hotel has 13 breakout rooms, ten of which are on the thirtieth floor with natural light and river views, says Assistant Director Marketing Communications Suteera (“Pui”) Chalermkarnchana, pictured below right.

Meetings clients have several choices of dinner venues. The ThreeSixty Lounge is an indoor- outdoor place that works well for welcome receptions. Delegates can dine here while taking in spectacular views of the Bangkok skyline. The Flow restaurant, an airy eatery looking directly out onto the river, serves a vast buffet and is flanked by an adjacent cheese room.

IMG_0610THB 1,500 meetings package

Yet another drawcard is price. The rack rate for rooms online (depending on dates) starts at around USD 125. A recent full-day meetings package offer for THB 1,500 (about USD 40) included two coffee breaks and lunch, all AV gear, water, mints and Internet access.

Of particular benefit to events guests, says Pui, is HiltonLink, a free service that makes it easy for individual clients to control their arrangements, enabling them to book online using the group rate they’ve secured.

“They have the option of building a custom web page or we can provide them with a booking link in up to 23 languages,” says Pui. “Then they simply share their link with their guests – send it in an email or post on other sites to spread the word.”

Many of the hotel’s MICE business these days comes from government and embassy clients, the IT industry medical and pharmaceutical companies and bridal parties, says Heidi. The hard-working staff spend much of their time “making the impossible possible,” as when they worked overnight recently to set up an Oktoberfest function, or when 400 people arrived for a dinner when fewer than that had been catered for.

Executive Suite“It’s about flexibility and how willing you are to make the impossible happen,” Heidi says. “Our attitude is of course we can do it. How we’ll do it is our problem.”

As a result the hotel is on the “TripAdvisor Hall of Fame” for consistently achieving good traveller reviews. “The five-day event was professionally slick and ran seamlessly and, most importantly, we received very positive feedback from our internal and external guests,” wrote one client. “We are pleased to share that our guests had had only good comments and positive feedback regarding the Hilton Millennium Bangkok.”

 

Siteseer says:

This is an elegant, comfortable good-value hotel in a spectacular location with excellent food, facilities and staff. But Hilton should review its irksome policy of charging guests for Internet access in rooms.

For more information, click here, or email bangkok.reservations@hilton.com.

The Siteseer was a paying guest of the Millennium Hilton Bangkok.

Millenium Hilton Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong is overcrowded, often smoggy, clogged with traffic and nobody there gives a damn about the environment. Right?

Wrong actually. As travellers’ enthusiasm for green products and services grows unabated, more and more hotel and meetings facility operators in this beehive of a city are embracing environmental credentials to meet the expectations of MICE visitors – and help give the seven-a-half million inhabitants a vision of a sustainable future.

Swimming PoolThe autonomous Chinese territory is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Yet, in addition to its other virtues, more local operators are promoting the fact that about three-quarters of it is countryside, with easily accessible walking trails and islands.

“Not far from the commercial district, as close as a five-minute cab ride, visitors can enjoy the silence of a country trail or take in the views of the harbour from a ferry to an outlying island,” says Gregory So Kam-leung, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, writing in the South China Morning Post recently. “Few cities have dense urban and commercial districts within such easy reach of harbour and hillsides.”

Eaton example

One hotel property that’s proud of its sustainability credentials is the four-star Eaton, in the city’s Kowloon area to the north of Victoria Harbour. Last year it won a gold award in the Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence (and other accolades), in recognition of its efforts to cut waste and source sustainable food.

Why? With 465 guest rooms and ten meetings and events venues, the Eaton has recognised that it makes good business (its occupancy rate is typically 80% to 90%) and environmental sense to make genuine efforts to be sustainable.

One noteworthy achievement is its investment in a drinking water purification system that removes bugs from H2O and allows glass bottles to be sterilised, refilled and reused and sealed in guest bedrooms. It’s already helped the hotel eliminate the use and disposal of 350,000 plastic bottles a year, says Environmental Officer Katrina Cheng (pictured below, right).

IMG_0536“Waste in a small territory like Hong Kong [1,100 square kilometres] is a big concern,” says Katrina. “It’s becoming an issue for hotel guests and MICE clients in particular expect us to acknowledge and do something about it.”

Shark’s fin soup, which represents a growing environmental issue across Asia, has been removed from the Eaton’s menus, which Katrina acknowledges has had some impact on the F&B business, but “it’s an important step for us”.

The hotel gets its seafood from sources that are reliably certified as sustainable and insists on buying Fair Trade products wherever possible. These feature in its “Green Meetings” package, offered standard with no premium, which includes “low-carbon menus,” “Fair Trade coffee breaks,” waste recycling and so on.

The list doesn’t end there. The hotel provides refillable dispensers in bathrooms, LED lighting, acoustic wall panels in bedrooms made from recycled materials and “low-carbon dining options”. Each year 300 staff volunteer for a beach clean-up day and other community service activities. “We all take it very seriously,” says Katrina.

Complimentary enticements

In addition to pushing its green credentials, the hotel seeks to add value to keep customers coming back, says Public Relations and Communications Manager Erica Chan (pictured above, left). Residents can enjoy complimentary walking tours of local shopping precincts like Temple Street and the Jade Market, take a free daily tai chi class and use on-the-house smartphones in every bedroom offering free mobile data, local calls and international calls to selected countries, says Erica.

There’s a roof-top outdoor pool and well-equipped gym, and an executive lounge arrangement, the “E Club,” aimed primarily at the business tourist sector, six restaurants and an alfresco bar. The E-Club guests are served free beers all day, free cocktails and canapes in the evenings, and can take their breakfast at an exclusive buffet in the lounge.

Executive Room“We’re in a great location three minutes’ walk from the Jordan subway station in Kowloon, which tends to offer a more authentic Hong Kong experience than Hong Kong Island which is more commercialised,” says Erica.

Ten function facilities

The ten function rooms include three ballrooms, one of which can accommodate up to 500. The hotel’s events business is roughly split between local companies and delegates from southeast Asian countries – Singapore in particular – as well as Australia and the UK, says Erica.

“We deal with a lot of pharmaceutical companies. They can be demanding customers but we like that; it’s a challenge and keeps everyone sharp.”

Though some critics of Hong Kong point to higher room rates than those in other southeast Asian nations like Cambodia and Vietnam, there’s much to recommend it, especially for shorter (two- to three-day) events, observe Erica Chan and Katrina Cheng.

As a business, financial and trading centre, Hong Kong is accessible to about half the world’s population via a flight of five hours or less. The public transport system is cheap and one of the best in Asia. Entry is hassle-free, with visa-free access for about 170 countries.

And finding the right venues at the right price is not difficult. Hong Kong has some 74,000 hotel rooms and tourism authorities expect another 10,000 to come on stream by 2017. That may explain why the number of overnight MICE visitors increased from 1.2 million in 2009 to 1.8 million in 2014, even though leisure tourism numbers have declined slightly in recent months.

E Club (2)Another drawcard, according to local journalist Yonden Lhatoo, writing in the South China Morning Post, is that Hong Kong is the safest city in the world, with a good, corruption-free police force. “The can-do spirit is for real,” he says.

Meetings packages from HKD 350 a day

Meetings packages at the Eaton Hotel including coffee breaks, break-out facilities, lunch and AV equipment start from around HKD 350 (USD 45) a day and the rack rate for the rooms is around USD 200.

For more information, go to hongkong.eatonhotels.com.

Eaton_eco-friendly purified water system

 

The air is dense and humid in this green and tranquil place. I pass a glassy lake flanked by lawns and broad-leafed trees. Now I find myself in a garden of vivid orchids, approaching a serene colonial house whose windows are framed by Asian screens and shutters.

Where am I? In the heart of the pristine, 74-hectare Singapore Botanic Gardens. In more than 150 years of existence, this urban oasis has become one of the world’s centres of expertise for breeding hybrid orchids, survived the interference of Japanese wartime occupiers and been listed as a World Heritage spot.

It’s also developed a reputation for being a charming events venue. The structure ahead of me, Burkill Hall (main image, courtesy National Parks Board), named after a former director of the gardens, is becoming hugely popular as a place for corporate functions, product launches and weddings, say marketers.

The only surviving example of an Anglo-Malayan Plantation style house in the city, with high ceilings, wide eaves and broad verandas on the first floor, it overlooks the National Orchid Garden, where new hybrids and clones of orchids and ornamental plants are displayed. Level one can accommodate 80 people, and level two can take 100.

SBG_The Bandstand (credit National Parks Board)Nearby, with a capacity for up to 180 guests in seminar-style seating, the Function Hall is used mainly for conferences, workshops, exhibitions and retreats.

Each booking here must be made for a minimum of four hours – including time for catering and setup and tear down.

In addition, a function room can host up to 50 seated seminar-style.

Part of the facility’s charm is that it’s a significant spot in the history of Singapore and the region, and the serenity of the gardens belies their tumultuous history. Within a few days of the Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1942 to 1945, Professor Hidezo Tanakadate of Japan’s Tohoku University assumed control of the property and asked some of the senior staff to resume their work. Other staff were not as fortunate, and were sent to work on the Siam-Burma railway. (Image above courtesy National Parks Board)

Orchid obsessions

In addition, a tour of the orchid gardens makes for a genuinely interesting pre- or post-conference activity. Orchids, bred here since 1928, are among the world’s most complex and ubiquitous plants, growing wild on every continent except Antarctica. Some orchid blooms have a perfume-like scent; others stink like rotting meat. One can grow to weigh two tons; another has flowers smaller than a pinhead.

USD 400 an hour

The rate for Burkill Hall and the other venues is extremely reasonable. The hourly cost of hiring the hall, including 7% GST, is just S$560 (USD 400) an hour, for a minimum of four hours, and the other venues are available for less.

Go here for more details:

https://www.sbg.org.sg/images/Venue%20Hire/Venues%20Rental%20Rate.pdf

Visit the gardens’ website at www.sbg.org.sg, or contact NParks_SBG_Venues@nparks.gov.sg.

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Meetings on ships are easy to arrange, cost-effective and exciting, and there are more benefits aboard than ever, says Joyce Landry (below), CEO and co-founder of cruise events specialist company Landry & Kling. The Florida-based industry pioneer talked to The Siteseer about her business and what’s on offer.

The Siteseer: Are you really finding there’s more interest in meetings afloat these days?

Joyce Landry - PhotoJoyce Landry: Yes, meetings and incentive planners are looking for new experiences and more opportunities to boost motivation and loyalty. At the same time they’re challenged to demonstrate strong return on investment and return on engagement [ROE], often with tough time and budget constraints. An event at sea delivers it all – great experiences, creative meeting spaces and with multi-generational appeal, and it’s all-inclusive and easy to plan.

SS: Tell us a bit about your company.

JL: My partner Jo Kling and I are former cruise line executives who shared a common vision back in 1982: to bring cruising and the corporate world together. Our company was the first resource for business meetings on cruise ships, and that’s still our primary focus more than thirty years later. We provide cruise solutions and custom cruise planning for ship buy-outs, incentives, cruise meetings, theme cruises and dockside ship charters. We’re the only cruise event specialist that’s been inducted into the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame.

One of our specialties is cruise ship charters. We also originated the concept of using chartered cruise ships as floating hotels to provide supplemental dockside housing during big city events, like the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

Ovation of the Seas (1)SS: What’s new in the industry?

JL: Well Asia-Pacific cruising is booming! For example Royal Caribbean International signed a deal recently with the Singapore Tourism Board and Changi Airport Group to promote and launch more cruises than ever from Singapore. Royal Caribbean also plans to increase the number of departures from Singapore on Mariner of the Seas [which can accommodate over 4,000 passengers] to more than forty a year.

Their new ship,Ovation of the Seas, will homeport in Sydney for winter 2016-17 and will be the largest and most technologically advanced cruise ship in the region. Meantime MSC Cruises is sending MSC Lira to China in early 2016 and may be building new ships for the Chinese market.Princess Cruises is also building a new ship that will be based in China year-round.

SS: What are the main advantages of using a specialised agency like yours?

JL: We’re not an all-purpose travel agency and we don’t work for any single line; we offer impartial cruise event advice and a menu of services – everything from ship selection and operational planning to onsite staffing and marketing support. Most members of our team have a background in the industry and we know what it takes to convert a land-based program to a cruise environment.

SummitAmericas-Dockside Trinidad-Ship-BannersOver the years, we’ve established relationships with cruise lines and suppliers, and we have lots of creative ideas for customised experiences. We’re based in South Florida, widely known as being the cruise capital of the world, so we can inspect many ships and meet face-to-face with line executives on behalf of our clients.

SS: What are your most popular programs? Is there an “ideal” size for a conference or incentive group aboard, or length of cruise, in your experience?

JL: Our most popular events at sea are incentives, all types of meetings and conferences, as well as ship charters – anything from an executive retreat for fifty people to a 5,000-person convention. The length of cruise programs are typically four to seven nights, with most top-tier incentive programs on new or “ultra-premium” ships sailing for seven nights.

We’re always on the lookout for outstanding short cruise itineraries and last-minute charter opportunities to share with clients. We keep an updated list of these short cruises on the Cruise Gems page on our site.

SS: What are the other benefits of conferencing afloat?

JL: [There are distinct trends like] enhanced onboard wifi capabilities and more competitive Internet service pricing, high-tech entertainment venues, more culinary options, celebrity chef partnerships and interactive dining experiences, and more outdoor spaces for eating, entertainment and sports. There are also more active and authentic adventures ashore, and exclusive private [“ship within a ship”] enclaves available for groups to book, like MSC’s Yacht Club concept, and “The Haven” concept on Norwegian Cruise Line vessels.

SS: Where does your clientele hail from, mostly? Are you finding they’re becoming more budget conscious?

JL: They span the globe, from North and South America and the Caribbean to Europe and Asia-Pacific. While we’re noticing a return to high-level incentives, planners are still watching their bottom line. The all-inclusive aspect of ships obviously make them an attractive alternative to land-based venues. Meals, entertainment, sports facilities, meetings space and AV equipment are all complimentary.

The-crowd-onboard-ITS-THE-SHIP-2014SS: Can you point to recent examples of successful events for which you’ve been responsible?

JL: Our website has some good meetings-at-sea stories, including the SKF Latin America Distributor Conference. This presented us with some onboard challenges that required creative solutions, like building plasma screen kiosks to showcase products that were too large to bring on board, sourcing a translation services company to provide simultaneous multilingual translations in meetings, and working with the ship’s staff and chief engineer to create a big farewell event on the sports deck.

We’ve also had great success in planning and operating music-themed charter programs, like The Livescape Group’s “It’s the Ship” festival (above), Asia’s largest music event at sea. [See the promo clip here: https://youtu.be/NuJ3xh1IyIo].

The 2014 event was very successful and the November 2015 sailing is quickly selling out. An estimated 3,100 electronic dance music fans are expected to be onboard Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas when she sails from Singapore for three nights of performances by dozens of international and regional acts.

SS: How does your ship selection process work?

JL: There are over 300 cruise ships sailing, so busy meeting planners simply don’t have time to sort through all the choices to find the best fit. That’s where we come in. We listen to clients, and research and recommend the best options based on their needs. We then use our knowledge and experience to get the best deals.

CelebrityReflection-ConfRoom-ASS: What does the future hold?

JL: More than 30 new ships are currently on order, including mega-yachts, expedition ships and river vessels, and with cruise lines recognising the burgeoning international MICE market, I believe the future of meetings and incentives at sea couldn’t be brighter.

For more information visit landrykling.com,shipcharters.com or call +1(305) 661-1880.

See a clip of Joyce Landry giving some great packing tips here: https://youtu.be/vtokO8D-QDQ.

And Landry & Kling’s “Scuttlebutt” blog here: http://blog.landrykling.com/2015/08/25/meeting-at-sea-the-inside-scoop-for-planners-down-under/.

 

 

 

Soon after Flavie Thevenet first visited Cambodia from her native France more than 20 years ago, she walked past a family eating lunch outside their home on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh. It was obvious that they were desperately poor, yet the family insisted she share their food, and she accepted.

Flavie, pictured below, reflects on that small act of generosity often. She’s experienced such unconstrained hospitality many times over the years – more than a decade in total – that she’s lived in the southeast Asian nation and in her current role as country manager for the tour operator Khiri Travel.

IMG_9814Though still poor and relatively underdeveloped, Cambodia has moved on and is recovering well from its nightmarish past, says Flavie, who loves the country. “People here want to move forward,” she says enthusiastically over coffee at a Siem Reap café. “So many have started from absolutely nothing, having been through terrible times in their history, and they’re making real progress, as you can see in the standards of many businesses and hotels.”

Flavie is passionate, too, about responsible tourism, which means that Khiri Travel, which is active in supporting local communities (tagline: people, planet, profit) is proving to be an excellent fit for her.

Typical of the company’s embrace of sustainability is its pledge this year to donate to youth development 2.5% of its revenue from new educational travel group bookings visiting southeast Asia. It also supports Khiri Reach, a charity to help disadvantaged people through community development, conservation and other projects.

Established in 1993, Khiri is headquartered in Bangkok and specialises in tailored inbound tours to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Maldives with staff support in each: 14 in the capital Phnom Penh and four in the smaller city of Siem Reap, which is close to the Twelfth-Century Angkor Wat temple complex, below, the largest religious monument in the world.

One of its key offers is incentive experiences – at a wide variety of price points – ranging from community-based tourism and city escapes to country “immersions” throughout Indochina.

angkor-wat-3-1566714Each incentive trip that Khiri people organise is customised, and many are innovative, Flavie says. They can range from a trip on a private jet to a wedding in a preferred hotel, dinner on a private island, afternoon tea in a royal palace and a private caving expedition in the karst mountains of Vietnam.

 

A great attraction for organisers on strict budgets is that Cambodia is, in the parlance of some experts and enthusiasts, fantastically cheap. As the 1.5 million tourists who visited it last year know, this is reflected in hotel prices. According to the most recent hotels.com index that compares room rates internationally, Cambodia topped the list of cheapest hotel destinations for Aussie travellers in 2014, at an average nightly rate of AUD73, followed by Vietnam at AUD91 and Thailand at AUD113.

“The potential for incentives is wonderful here because as a MICE destination it’s really affordable as well as being authentic,” adds Flavie. “It’s not commercialised, it’s exotic and has great history; what’s more you can feel comfortable in Cambodia, it’s safe and easy to find your way around.”

IMG_9885Day on the lake

To experience a Khiri Cambodia adventure first-hand, I accompany Flavie and her colleague Bunseun You, Khiri’s branch manager based in the provincial capital of Siem Reap, on a day trip to “Komphong Khleang” in August. It’s one of several fishing villages set along the shoreline of Tonle Sap Lake, a freshwater system in the 13,000 square kilometre Cambodian floodplain about an hour’s drive from Siem Reap. It’s a hot, sunny day as we set off in a diesel-powered wooden boat to explore the vast lake, whose tea-coloured waters teem with fish.

As we chug along a narrow canal leading to the main body of the lake, we spy fishermen, their heads bobbing in the water, arranging circular nets at regular intervals. As we watch, one small group hauls a glittering catch of several hundred into a canoe.

“They get a lot here; the lake is very productive,” says Bunseun. “It’s one of the richest ecosystems in Asia.”

Soon we pass a floating community, which consists almost entirely of fishing vessels and home-made houseboats kept afloat by oil drums lashed together, moored close to each other. People in these floating villages are mostly Vietnamese, Flavie says. They’ve been living like this for centuries, since they migrated to Cambodia, and their livelihood depends mostly on their proximity to fish – fresh, smoked or salted – which they also sell at markets.

IMG_9964These villagers seem to do everything on or in the water. Next to one floating home, its deck lined with colourful flowerpots, young kids are diving and swimming. Then we pass by what appears to be a community hall afloat.

In another houseboat, whose sides are open to catch a cooling breeze, a family is gathered round a table having a meal, and a man is asleep in a hammock. Almost all the vessels have antennas, and most people we pass smile and wave, even though tourists must be a common sight here.

“It’s typical,” says Flavie. “Cambodians are so enthusiastic about sharing their food and customs and hosting visitors. It’s contagious.”

Stilt village

This is demonstrated further after we end our lake cruise and arrive at another small village. At this one, which is land-based, Flavie and Bunseun lead me to the foot of an extraordinary timber dwelling, perched on ten-metre-tall stilts. This is a necessity in the wet season when water levels can rise dramatically. Scores of these spindly homes flank a dusty street, resembling a bizarre lakeside forest.

IMG_0084The lady of the stilt house greets us shyly, her eyes curious, as we clamber up a steep flight of steps to the first level. Bunseon introduces her to us as Bun Kimheang, his mother-in-law. Bun, pictured in her home, left, bustles about, serving us a simple but delicious Khmer lunch of braised pork, rice and fresh local vegetables, which include yellow pumpkin-like portions, as well as ice-cold Angkor lager.

In the wet season the water can lap at the floorboards of these houses, says Bunseon, pictured below, and in such times travel is limited to wooden canoes and makeshift craft in which children paddle to and from school. People on some Khiri tours can actually stay overnight here, Bunseon explains. He shows me a curtained-off section of the next floor up, where mattresses line the floor. It’s minimalist and spotlessly clean.

Flavie, Bunseun and their colleagues pride themselves on being able to introduce visitors to experiences like these, and on their local knowledge. “We know the best restaurants, hotels, and transport companies by heart in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and many of our team possess exceptional training,” she says.

“We choose our clients and agents carefully, because our priorities are to meet customers’ expectations while always protecting the destination; we love being in Asia for the right reasons, not only for profit or because it represents a cheaper option.”

IMG_0091Other Cambodia tour options from Khiri include “Cambodian Island Paradise,” “Exotic Capital, Local Delights,” where visitors can sample Khmer food on a walking tour through the heart of Phnom Penh, and “Banteay Chhmar Tented Camp”.

The latter involves overnight stays at Khiri’s luxury tented camp surrounded by massive temple ruins in the northwest of the country, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Siem Reap. This one-night, two-day trip starts from USD422 per person. See the video and get more information here:

https://youtu.be/N6DPSi0xhXg.

Many visitors to Siem Reap aiming to see Angkor Wat also take a drive, an hour by tuktuk or 45 minutes by cab, to the landmine museum. This is a facility started by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who cleared landmines with a stick and at one stage lived in a house full of ordnance. Today the museum cares for poor children who live on the site.

How much?

Khiri packages for hotels, tour guides, transport and lunch start from around USD60 per person per day, says Flavie. Five-star hotels in Cambodia, like Hyatt, Raffles and so on start from USD150 a night in the low season from about March to October, and good four-star hotels, like the Somadevi, whose pool and gardens are pictured below, in Siem Reap, cost around USD40.

Operators’ advice

Flavie Thevenet: “I recommend that travellers to Cambodia do not limit their exploration to Siem Reap and its temples. Angkor Wat and the majesty of the Khmer Empire are mesmerising, a must-see, but many other historical and scenic places are equally appealing on a smaller scale and without the distraction of huge crowds. By spending time in the countryside, travellers have more opportunity to interact with local people. Hearing their stories is equal parts charming and inspiring.”

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