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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

From AUD60 per day

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

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

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Geoff Donaghy is CEO of the International Convention Centre Sydney, which recently announced a naming-rights partnership with superannuation industry fund First State Super. He chatted to The Siteseer about what this means, and what else is new and exciting at Sydney’s premier, state-of-the-art events venue.

Siteseer: Geoff, what will the partnership mean in practice for the parties, and how will you both benefit?

Geoff Donaghy: [It’s] a commercial arrangement with mutual benefits. For First State Super the partnership gives their brand the opportunity to be in the heart of Darling Harbour and significantly increase their visibility while providing benefits for their members.

But the relationship runs much deeper than that, and shows their confidence in our operation. First State Super is an existing equity partner in the ICC Sydney project and we both see this as a great way to align our values, cultures and businesses. It’s this aspect we’re very excited about exploring and advancing.

ICC Sydney_Convention_No Highway_20190324-578-2SS: How successful was the recent PCO Roundtable and what key lessons did participants take away?

GD: Our PCOs are a very important client group for us, and in March this year we held our second PCO Roundtable. PCOs act on behalf of many of our major international and national clients so it’s immensely important we communicate with them our developments, improvements and advances on a regular basis. [Afterwards clients such as] the CEO of Associations Forum and panel moderator John Peacock applauded us for establishing such a close relationship with PCOs, as did WALDRONSMITH Management Managing Director Kate Smith.

SS: Would you mind pointing to a couple of what you consider to be some other important events at ICC Sydney in the past year or so and why, looking back, they were successful?

GD: Over the past twelve to eighteen months we’ve delivered many major events that have been successful in their own right. [For example] the ASEAN Australia-Special Summit held in March 2018 saw twelve heads of state attend our venue for a high profile and high-security event, which our team delivered seamlessly. In October 2018 we also delivered Sibos, the world’s biggest financial services event. This saw us welcome more than 7,600 business leaders, academics and entrepreneurs from 150 countries.

Exhibitions are an equally important business segment for us and we’ve a number of major repeat events returning to us annually. The Sydney International Boat Show, which uses all of our exhibition space and event deck and builds a major temporary jetty facility in the adjoining Cockle Bay area to display yachts and super boats, is returning to us for the third year in a row next month.

320SS: What are your most important business segments? Do you still see big opportunities in the Asian incentive business?

GD: ICC Sydney was designed to [host] a broad range of market segments – from national and international conventions to trade and consumer events as well as important local events like gala dinners and sales meetings. We’re also the major down-town entertainment venue for the city, which sees us arrange live concerts, musicals and comedy shows.

In terms of economic contribution, venue capability and city reputation, international events are [obviously vital] for a convention centre like ours. Earlier this year we held our second annual CEO Asia Roadshow visiting Japan, China and Singapore as these are markets in which we see enormous growth and potential. We’re also ramping up our activities in North America [resulting in] significant success for both corporate and association events.

SS: Would you mind sharing some facts and figures about how important the integrated ICC Sydney has become for the state and national economy?

GD: Sure. Our first two years of operation saw events we hosted delivering a significant impact for the economy of New South Wales. According to a Deloitte Access Economics study in 2018, delegates attending ICC Sydney generated $820 million in direct expenditure for the state, an increase of $35 million on the $785 million direct contribution of the previous year. International and interstate visitors helped generate 72 percent of the total expenditure, resulting in more than 1.57 million overnight stays in Sydney accommodation and the creation of 5,248 full-time equivalent jobs for the local economy. Next month we’ll be releasing our 2018 and 2019 figures, and we expect these results will further show our contribution to the local economy.

320SS: Does ICC Sydney represent value for money and why?

GD: It has a burgeoning reputation for the highest quality of operation and with both client and delegate satisfaction ratings at 99 percent, yes, we believe we offer very significant value for money.

SS: How well have the people of Sydney embraced it?

GD: ICC Sydney has become the venue of choice for Sydney. As a landmark venue in the city we run a wide range of public events from children’s shows and exhibitions to those hosting international artists such as Kylie Minogue and Seinfeld. We also support events for charities like the Variety Children’s Charity Annual Christmas Party and Stand Tall event involving over 6,000 high school students. Earlier in the year we hosted the inaugural VIVID School, which brought together STEM students and budding artists from years nine to twelve from across the state.

SS: What are the priorities for you and your team right now?

GD: It’s a given that success will attract competition and our industry is immensely competitive, across the globe.

[So] the most important priority for our team is to maintain the highest-possible standards at the highest-possible level of consistency, ensuring we’re constantly reviewing and refreshing what we offer to clients across all our market segments.

SS: Are you still enjoying what must be a hugely challenging job? What pleases you most?

GD: Opening and establishing a world-class venue does come with challenges. What pleases me most is watching the team come together and receiving recognition for their extraordinary efforts across Australia and around the world. This is what I find most gratifying as a CEO in the venue business.

More info: sales@iccsydney.cominfo@iccsydney.com

GEOFF INSIGHTS

Geoff Donaghy is Director of Convention Centres for venue management specialist AEG Ogden, which operates convention facilities in Australia, Asia and the Middle East including the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney).

CIC Portraits 100914.CEO of ICC Sydney, Geoff DonaghyHe is CEO of the ICC Sydney, which opened in December 2016 and established as one of the world’s leading convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities.In addition to his role at ICC Sydney, Geoff is Director of Convention Centres AEG Ogden and the immediate past President of the Brussels-based International Association of Congress Centres. He is on the executive committee of the Joint Meetings Industry Council.

Geoff’s experience in the business events industry was born from his airline and hotel industry experience. He headed the Cairns region’s successful tourism and convention bureau for five years before managing the 1996 opening of the Cairns Convention Centre. He also served for five years as Chairman of the Business Events Council of Australia. He has been awarded the Australia Centenary Medal by the Federal Government, the Australian industry’s Outstanding Contribution Award, and the Joint Meeting Industry Council’s Global Power and Profile Award.

 

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Karmina De Ungria, an ebullient young marketing executive at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manila, says The Peak is like nothing else in the city of 13 million people. She may have a point.

“It’s something very new to the market and sets a whole new standard in dining and entertainment,” says the enthusiastic Karmina (pictured below), Director of Marketing Communications for the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Manila.

IMG_1872Why? The Peak is a dining and bar complex atop the towering Grand Hyatt building – said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 318 metres. Occupying the sixtieth to the sixty-second floors, The Peak is a classy amalgam of interconnected, enticing indoor and outdoor terrace drinking spaces and cosy indoor eateries, most with sweeping views of the Manila skyline and the blue waters of the bay. Indeed its design, conceptualised by Tokyo-based international design firm Nao Taniyama & Associates, was inspired by penthouse living, with one room flowing to another, says Karmina.

 

It includes a grill restaurant, music lounge, whisky bar and The Peak bar, each flagged as a destination on its own. The centrepiece of the grill is an open kitchen where guests can view their food being prepared by Chef De Cuisine Manuel Baenziger.

“I think it’s what many guests are seeking right now,” Karmina adds, standing on a deck on the sixty-second floor, looking at the ramparts of the city below. “The views are exceptional [which helps to make it] an experience in itself.”

GHM The Peak VerandaHere, events organisers could consider the cosy Speakeasy restaurant (main picture) and waterhole which can be booked privately and accommodate up to 30 guests with a minimum total spend of PHP 80,000 (about USD 1,500). That’s about fifty bucks a head – reasonable given the attributes of the venue and the quality of the food and drink, ranging from Bordeaux to Bollinger and Maryland crab cake to Aussie wagyu beef. The hotel itself is spanking new, opened last year, which gives the entire complex a fresh, swanky appeal.

“We see a lot of the local market, as well as visitors who are looking for premium dining and entertainment,” says Karmina. “Of course Hyatt’s a well-known and established brand and we’re very pleased with how our rooms, restaurant concepts and event facilities have been received by the market. Everything’s been designed to give our guests a grand experience.”

The Peak is incorporated in the Grand Hyatt Manila hotel. For reservations and more details, call +632 8381234 or email thepeak.manila.grand@hyatt.com.

GHM The Peak Music Lounge 1

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GHM The Peak Whiskey Room

It was an “oh no” (or more epithet-rich) moment. I’d arrived at the Garuda Indonesia Business Class lounge in Denpasar International Airport, and realised I didn’t have my laptop with me – I’d left it in my hotel room.

What to do? A traveller’s nightmare. My work was on the laptop, and not backed up. I couldn’t go back to fetch it; I’d already checked my suitcase in, got my boarding pass and been through customs.

I rang the hotel and an obliging staffer said he’d bring the laptop to the airport in a taxi.

Airbus 330 - ex SYD ex MELThen I explained the situation to a smartly-uniformed young woman, whose name tag read Devi Susanti, working at the Garuda Indonesia Business Lounge front desk.

Don’t worry, Devi said. She’d meet the hotel bloke outside the terminal, negotiate her way back through customs and bring the missing Mac to me in the lounge. “Meantime relax and have a drink sir,” she smiled. I did, and half an hour later I was reunited with my laptop.

The story exemplifies The Siteseer’s recent experience with Garuda Indonesia, flying business class Sydney-Denpasar return. For many, travelling economy on any airline internationally is an ordeal. I discovered that this business-class offering, on the other hand, is genuinely something to look forward to. And more business-events travellers are enjoying it, according to Garuda Indonesia, as various accolades attest.

Not everyone knows it, but in 2018 for the fifth year running Indonesia’s national carrier maintained its five-star rating, and was acknowledged as having “The World’s Best Cabin Crew” by Skytrax, the international air transport rating organisation. It also maintained its ranking in the Top 10 of “The World’s Best Airline” list.

Why? In business class it’s a combination of a well-trained and committed cabin crew, the flat-bed seating, the western and Asian cuisine, the fresh modern aircraft and competitive pricing, a spokesman for the airline told The Siteseer.

The pricing in particular is an attraction. Recent promotional offerings for Sydney to Bali/Denpasar business class return on Garuda Indonesia, for instance, were less than AUD 1,000 each way.

It’s another reason for the spokesman to assert that “in a competitive market, we’re holding our own”.

“Competition is fierce,” he says, “but as the only full-service airline to Bali [from Australia], passengers appreciate our offering.”

DSC000351-1024x682Moreover, Garuda Indonesia actively targets group and conference travel as part of its marketing plans, having recently hosted two major Australian groups to Bali along with many school and special interest travellers.

In other news, the airline recently launched its Bali-to-Mumbai direct flights with A330-300 aircraft, new destinations in China as well as several new domestic routes. Its most important markets from Australia are Bali and the Indonesian archipelago, served by a large network to the islands. Meanwhile Jakarta-London services that had been suspended were resumed in December.

Siteseer says

I especially liked the in-seat power for my digital devices, the bus that collected business class passengers from the base of the boarding stairs once we’d left the plane at Bali (after a short return trip from Denpasar to Lombok). Plus the fact that my case arrived off the belts almost immediately, the beautiful uniforms of the women staff (inspired by a batik motif), and best of all the lie-flat bed with thick warm blanket, which meant I could get some actual sleep on the overnight leg from Bali to Sydney.

IMG_2849The service and food were a match for any airline business class offering I’ve experienced. The flight departed virtually on time when I left Sydney, even though the airport was experiencing delays that day because of storms, with only a single runway operating.

Lunch selections on the Sydney-to-Denpasar leg, after a choice of starters, such as Indonesian beef-rib soup, included braised chicken leg with curry sauce, grilled beef tenderloin with thyme sauce and vegetables, pan-seared barramundi with mushroom ragout and roasted asparagus tart.

Checking in as a business class passenger, for this scribe, in Denpasar, was a first-time-ever experience. Guided by a Garuda Indonesia staffer, I bypassed the economy queue and was ushered into a separate check-in enclosure where I could sit on a sofa while my bags and boarding pass were processed.

A short walk took me through customs and up an elevator to the lounge – the one in which I was reunited with my laptop – with great hot and cold Indonesian food, local beers and an Australian wine selection.

All in all, an experience to be savoured, and repeated.

More information

“Conference organisers seeking group rates should contact Garuda Indonesia directly, or their travel provider,” the spokesman says.

For Garuda Indonesia group bookings phone + 61 2 9334 994, or click here.

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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.

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Now is probably the best time, ever, to organise an event in the islands of Hawaii, thanks to a great airfare deal being offered by Hawaiian Airlines. Groups can travel from Sydney and Brisbane to Honolulu return from $799 per person including taxes.

Unusually for this kind of offer, PCOs have plenty of time to arrange their trips to the islands because the deal is available for booking until the end of December. It’s based on economy-class fares and a minimum of ten people travelling together.

Hawaiian Airlines operates seven days a week from Sydney and three from Brisbane. In addition to the low fares, the current group offer delivers a swag of other advantages, according to Joyce Weir (pictured below), National Business Development Manager MICE for the airline.

JoyceThese include a two x 32-kilo baggage allowance (and 11.5 kilos of hand luggage), 68 “extra comfort” seats on each flight for an additional $165 per person per sector with extra legroom, amenity packs and preferential boarding, and one guest for every 20 people booked flying free of charge.

Plus there are $110 return add-ons to the beautiful islands of Maui, Kona or Kauai, with 170 onward flights a day from Honolulu, the capital. From Australia, the carrier offers one-stop services via Honolulu to twelve US mainland cities.

Wearying question

Many of the islands’ tourism and travel officials are weary of having to answer the question: is it safe? This is understandable, as images of the recent volcanic activity, depicted in lurid technicolour on news bulletins, mischaracterises the volcano’s impact on the islands as a whole, Joyce explains in an interview with The Siteseer.

 

“It’s disheartening, especially when you realise some people believe [that the volcano has had a big impact] to be true!” she says. “Hawaii Tourism and its marketing partners have been working diligently since Kilauea erupted on May 3 to clarify the public record, correct misinformation and communicate the message to the marketplace over and over again that we’re open for business.

The exception is the area of lower Puna on the big island of Hawai’i, where the total lava flow area is less than ten square miles, about 0.2% of the entire island. Local businesses and tour companies, outside of the active areas, are open, and no other island in the entire chain is affected. (The state of Hawaii comprises hundreds of islands).

“We’ll continue to reiterate this message in weeks and months to come, emphasising that visitors have absolutely no reason to change their travel plans,” says Joyce. “All our flights are operating normally and demand remains strong.”

Many price points

Hawaii is a naturally beautiful and inspiring destination in which to hold a meeting or convention, she adds, with attributes to make events of all sizes a success, in particular terrific facilities and food, friendly people and an environment in which it’s generally easy to do business. With more than 50,000 hotel rooms throughout the six biggest islands, “there’s a price point for every budget”.

HARP-15551_Plane_Clouds_4C“In addition to excellent accessibility, high-quality infrastructure and off-program activities, there’s what we call the aloha ambience, where, according to surveys, attendees leave Hawaii feeling refreshed, invigorated, at ease and with a yearn to return,” Joyce says.

Hawaiian Airlines is Hawaii’s longest serving carrier, now in its eighty-ninth year of operation. “From the moment your clients step on board they’ll experience our signature hospitality with our warm and friendly celebration of the culture, people and aloha spirit.”

 

Another prime advantage for PCOs is the friendly and efficient service offered by the Hawaiian Airlines Groups Team based in Sydney, she says. The MICE market is “extremely important” for the company which aims to help PCOs sell Hawaii as well as its mainland US destinations.

Meantime, despite lava flows and mischaracterisations, Hawaii’s welcoming message seems to be resonating with travellers. Visitors spent a total of USD1.42 billion in April 2018, an increase of 13.4% compared to last year, and visitor numbers grew 5.5% to around 230,000 in the same period, according to statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The airline is keen for Siteseer readers to do the same.

More information:

groups@hawaiianair.com.au

https://www.meethawaii.com/why-hawaii

 

“Why choose our meetings facilities?” says Gregory Preslier reflectively. “Without sounding selfish, look at the destination. Bangkok gets 37 million visitors a year, but in a way it’s the best-hidden secret in the world.”

The urbane, immaculately attired Area Director of Sales and Marketing for the InterContinental Hotels Group in Thailand is chatting over coffee in the vaulted lobby of the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok. IMG_1505

Events organisers at the 381-room hotel have 22 meeting rooms, all on the same level, to choose from, Gregory observes. Yet the bustling urban precinct in which it sits is probably just an important consideration as venue flexibility and price.

It’s no cliché, he adds. Bangkok is a dynamic mega-city with wonderful attributes, for Gregory a mix between Casablanca and London, and it has two tiers. One involves the Thai culture which is manifest in the restaurant scene and food variety and quality. The other relates to what you can do for fun.

 

“The tourist places, shrines and cultural areas convention people can visit in Bangkok are extraordinary. There’s so much to do. The hotel is fantastic, sure, but you don’t need to stay in it all the time. You can’t be a hypocrite and deny what’s around here. Clients [we talk to] like this aspect because we’re not selling anything. We’re introducing a product but at the same time there’s so much more the destination itself can give.”

Located adjacent to a big Holiday Inn, the InterContinental Bangkok itself has one of the largest hotel banqueting, meeting and convention facilities in the city. Its main ballroom takes 800, theatre-style, and caters for many weddings – especially at weekends – of up to 1,200 guests. “You can come here for a conference, exhibition, seminar, product launch or fashion show and do everything on the same floor,” says Gregory. “They’re purpose-built facilities so we’re never improvising; I have fifteen people in my events team alone.”

Moreover it’s easy to get to. The two good airports have great connections. In addition investors from round the world – and Asia especially – are investing in Thailand and Bangkok, whose infrastructure grows all the time. “There are a lot of positives here and people like going to positive places,” says Gregory. “Wherever you are as an events planner in your industry, things are happening here. Medical, association, sport, education, welfare and so on; there’s really a mix of everything.”

Premier Suite BedroomImportantly, it also represents good value. A hotel in New York comparable to InterContinental Bangkok would cost three times as much, Gregory says, so the tagline “affordable luxury” here means what it says. “For a hundred and sixty US dollars you can get outstanding bed and breakfast at the Intercontinental Bangkok. I hear sometimes from clients that we’re expensive when they’re talking in baht, and sometimes hear ‘five thousand baht, that’s a lot of money!’ It is, to some people, don’t get me wrong, but for many typical international congress or conference organisers, I’d like to see them do an event for that price somewhere else in the world in a hotel of this calibre.”

The staff, 99 per cent of whom are Thai, are continually trained and participate, too, in a variety of charitable and team-building work on an ongoing basis that helps them connect, also, with guests. “Our people go directly to hospitals and schools to help out; it’s not just about giving, it’s about connecting, caring about something other than yourself.”

Gregory, 43, born in England and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, speaks from considerable experience. He’s worked in London, Morocco, Dubai, France, (his father’s French and his mother English), and Monte Carlo. He was involved in the opening of Le Grand in Paris, a beautiful 500-room hotel on the Opera square, and the Atlantis, Dubai, which has 1,500 bedrooms, and One&Only Resorts.

intercon-11Few of the properties he’s worked in have matched the InterContinental Bangkok for position. With a BTS station, Chit Lom, on its doorstep, the hotel offers easy access to the city’s major business precincts along with shopping destinations and dining, in addition to the hotel’s plethora of eateries. These include Theo Mio, an Italian restaurant with open-to-view kitchen on site named after famed London chef Theo Randall, who was on hand to meet staff, clients and media when The Siteseer visited recently.

IHG has recently also opened in front of the complex a new beer house and brasserie, Beer Republic.

Offering seventy beers, twenty of them local, alongside delicious Thai and European bar food, it’s due to open mid-December as an independent, chilling-out venue, accessible from outside the hotel.

What’s the best time to organise a conference at the InterContinental? It’s pretty busy all year round, says Gregory, but some times may best be avoided, like Chinese new year and other occasions when there are lots of leisure guests. Otherwise January-February, just before Chinese new year, are good, then April to June. “Because we’re so close to China, Singapore and Hong Kong, our market and calendar of availability is not just about Thailand, it’s about the region. For example when Australia Or India have holidays it impacts Thailand as a destination.”

Meanwhile the IHG group is expanding. It has 24 hotels in Thailand including IHG brand, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Indigo properties.

Online rates start at around US160 a night. More info at http://bangkok.intercontinental.com/

Siteseer says: I loved the airy feel of the hotel and its meetings room. Especially liked the muted-ochre colours of the guest rooms and the fantastically comfortable bed, which has a choice of sink-into-and-sleep pillows. The sounds of the busy city are well muffled by the windows.

The pool on the thirty-seventh floor is of generous size considering how far it is above street level, with a pint-size bar and good bar menu. Other minor much-appreciated attributes include plenty of drinking water in the room.

intercontinental-bangkok-hotel-02

Shortly after taking off from Sydney on Philippine Airlines flight PR 214, I dropped my mobile phone down the side of the business-class seat. Nothing, absolutely nothing, the cabin crew or I did could get it out. It was lost in the works, down there somewhere.

This was worrying. Like everyone else in the digital age, I need my phone. The purser and his sympathetic team said they’d call a mechanic to help extricate it when we arrived in Manila around noon. But obviously no one could say exactly how long this recovery process would take. And while I waited on the plane after everyone else had got off, my bag would end up on the carousel in Manila Airport’s Terminal 2, alone. Then what? Would someone pinch it?

Ian Robinson_ppAs it turned out I needn’t have worried. After an eight-and-a-half-hour journey, during which I napped under a blanket on a flat bed, watched movies and was served outstanding food and drinks with pristine white linen and silver cutlery, the door opened.

Within minutes, while other passengers were still disembarking, a technician had arrived, dismantled the seat and presented me with my phone. I offered him a gratuity. “No sir,” he said, “it’s my job, and welcome to the Philippines.”

For me this was one of many reminders why group and MICE people travelling from Sydney to the Philippines should consider the national carrier (PAL). It should be considered by anyone seeking good deals for air travel to Asia from Australasia – and not just to Manila. From the capital the airline flies onwards to some 30 domestic and 40 international destinations, at competitive full-service prices.

 

Full service to Asia

Indeed flight frequency and direct full-service flights from five Australian gateways – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin and Cairns – ensure the airline is the best option for travel between Australia and the Philippines, says Ian Robinson (pictured above), the airline’s ebullient Regional Manager Australia and New Zealand.

This is particularly true for Australasian corporate and group clients seeking a good value-for-money experience, says Ian. “The year-round PAL fares are consistently much lower than those of our competitors on these routes,” Ian says. “In fact our current promotional fare for two passengers travelling together is quite easily the best business class fare to Manila in the market.”

Business class passengers get priority boarding, lounge access (the Singapore Airline lounge in Sydney), an exclusive menu and wine service on board, flat beds and a 40-kilo checked baggage allowance.

3. BUSINESS CLASS A330The experience is set to become even better. Newly refurbished A330-300 aircraft will introduce a level of service and product that PAL has never offered before in the Australian market, says Ian. These planes are already flying from Melbourne and will be in service on the other Australia-Manila routes by September 2017.

A special feature of these “tri-class” Airbuses, which have a new premium economy option, is high-tech Vantage XL seats (pictured left) made in Ireland by aircraft seat specialist Thompson Aero Seating.

What do you get with these? More comfort. Each seat has an adjustable air cushion system and full-flat bed mode, with lots of “living space” to eat, relax or work in enhanced privacy. Each also has direct aisle access, a massage function, adjustable mood lighting and other gadgetry.

Easy upgrades

It’s worth noting that PAL offers some of the most easily “upgradeable” options for group and leisure travellers. There are two options to upgrade from economy to premium economy or business class from Sydney and Melbourne to Manila at present, Ian observes.

You can buy a business class upgrade on departure at the airport, with some exclusions and conditions, depending on seat availability on the day. The deal comes with lounge access and the 40-kilo baggage allowance. (Overall, it’ll still be a cheaper business class fare than those of other carriers.)

But another choice allows you to bid for upgrades to business online. The airline launched the program recently in partnership with technology service provider Plusgrade. It invites eligible passengers via email to submit upgrade bids up to 36 hours before the flight. (Or you can visit the “myPAL Upgrade” web page to check if you can bid for a better seat.)

A pre-determined minimum and maximum price is defined by destination. You then, with the click of your mouse, simply choose within the defined range how much you’re willing to untrouser for the upgrade.

IMG_1135If your bid’s a winner – and much evidence suggests that chances are usually good – you’re notified via email at least 24 hours before departure. In these instances it could cost you as little as around AUD 1,000 to travel business class for each leg of the Australasia-Manila journey.

At present the upgrade bidding program applies to international flights including Auckland, Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Brisbane, Cairns, Canton, Darwin, Fukuoka, Guam, Haneda, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, Macau, Melbourne, Nagoya, Narita, New York, Osaka (Kansai), Port Moresby, Saigon, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Toronto, Vancouver, Quanzhou (Jinjiang).

The program will later be expanded to cover domestic routes and Middle East destinations.

PAL celebrates 76 years of service in 2017 and has been flying to Australia since 1965. It recently set itself a target to become a five-star airline by 2021, and the introduction of the refurbished A330s (and more new planes on a variety of routes) is a step towards this goal, Ian says.

“For those who haven’t visited the Philippines for some time it’s worthwhile to reacquaint themselves with what the islands have to offer the MICE market,” he adds. “Manila’s one of Asia’s most vibrant and colourful cities with expansive MICE facilities and excellent pre-and post options in the idyllic archipelago.”

He recommends customers talk to their specialist MICE agent or PCO when sourcing fares or beyond on PAL. A groups desk and agents support team located in Sydney can assist agents with fares and other related services. Ph 1300 887 822 or email agent@philippineairlines.com.au.

Siteseer says:

I recently flew Sydney-Manila return, in business class. Here are some of my impressions:

The flight PR 214 departure time of 6am on a weekday morning meant getting up seriously early, but I vastly prefer this than having to wait an hour or more in the frustrating runway queues that occur at later times on Sydney’s ridiculously clogged airport.

This flight was on time. Not only that, it got in to Manila around midday, leaving time for work in the afternoon and less exposure to the city’s infamous rush-hour traffic.

Before boarding I had an excellent light breakfast – good coffee, fruit, smoked salmon – at the lounge in Sydney.

It sounds like a cliché, yes, but the Filipino crew were wonderfully obliging and considerate in their on-board service. There was (more) breakfast shortly after take-off: smoked ham, salami, cobram and goat’s cheese served with celery, grapes and fresh breads, followed by heartier options including chicken adobo, pork in ginger-onion sauce and veal chippolata and beef patty. Even at that time of the day there was champagne and plenty of other booze for those who wanted it.

IMG_1113 newSoon the lights were dimmed and I napped comfortably for a couple of hours while my kindle charged via the in-seat power port. (And, as mentioned, while my phone languished somewhere below in the electronic workings of the seat.)

Later, before more food was served, I accessed the “myPAL” entertainment system, which on this flight involved the use of an airline iPad, to watch a movie, of which there was a reasonable choice. Like many carriers these days, PAL has no individual entertainment screens – “embedded systems” – on many of its planes, an arrangement that cuts the aircraft’s weight. (The airline is apparently reviewing in-flight entertainment options.) For me, not having an embedded screen was no bother; I prefer reading anyway.

Coming home to Sydney from Manila, the experience was equally good. The flight was almost on time, I had plenty to eat and drink in the Mabuhay Lounge at Manila airport, the fare, drinks choice and service aboard were splendid, and it was another day flight.

Flight PR 213 left Manila at 11.15am and got to Sydney shortly after nine that evening, when the baggage hall ws almost deserted. For someone who dislikes overnight flights from Asia to Australasia, this was yet another bonus for travelling on the islands’ efficient, value-for-money carrier.

agent@philippineairlines.com.au A330-w-Clouds-2

 

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