Asia’s MICE gems
More Singapore employers are venturing away from the Central Business District, to hold their meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibition (MICE) events overseas.
To cater to them, countries across the region are stepping up their game to offer a compelling mix of cutting-edge event venues, luxury hotels, and unique activities to engage and train staff members.
Thanks to the growth of Asia’s emerging markets, new players like Yangon, Manila and Colombo are also emerging on the MICE scene.
MICE planners searching for memorable locations for their events consider a list of factors that includes safety, quality of facilities, accessibility, affordability, accommodation, and uniqueness of experience.
HRM Asia highlights three new hotspots in Asia that tick all the boxes.
Above: At Nam Restaurant in Langkawi, Malaysia, guests can dine kampung-style dinner next to a coconut plantation while traditional dancers perform. There's also a private dining room on stilts. [Photo courtesy of Destination Asia]
MICE event planners rate Malaysia highly for its exotic range of experiences, from lush tropical rainforests, to unique wildlife, to island resorts.
Adding to the allure is the country’s rich blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, and indigenous cultures, says Sadie Yeoh, General Manager for Malaysia at Destination Asia.
“Malaysia has excellent international air access, award-winning convention facilities, and good infrastructure. It also offers a wide variety of accommodation and economic stability,” Yeoh says.
The relatively weak Malaysian ringgit means even more bang for buck for event organisers and attendees, particularly as the US dollar continues to strengthen.
“Malaysia is very affordable, and organisers can lower their overall expenditure there,” Yeoh says.
Although the two Malaysia Airlines aviation tragedies in 2014 lowered Malaysia’s tourist arrivals by 6.2% between 2014 and 2015, the numbers have been recovering this year. The first quarter of 2016 saw a 2.8% increase in tourist arrivals.
“The business outlook is now turning around, with positive results forecast for 2016,” says Yeoh. A strong growth in visitor arrivals for the remainder of the year is expected.
To grow the MICE industry, Tourism Malaysia and the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau are working closely with destination management companies. Improvements and new programmes are on the horizon, as are additional funds to support a “confidence rebound”, Yeoh says.
In Penang, the Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau was recently formed as the state MICE bureau, for example.
Also helping to boost the industry are new developments across the country, including luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Ritz Carlton Langkawi.
The Langkawi International Convention Centre also opened its doors last October, with a ballroom that can seat up to 1,200 participants. A convention centre in Penang is also scheduled to open in early 2017.
“Malaysia has a great deal of unrealised potential as a destination,” Yeoh says.
In particular, the Langkawi islands off the northwestern coast are gaining popularity for hosting incentive events. The archipelago is known for its beaches, rainforest, mangroves, and paddy fields. “You can combine your meetings with exploring the idyllic villages, take to the waters for snorkeling and scuba diving, or just laze on the tropical island beach,” Yeoh suggests.
Above: The iconic 58-storey Grand Lisboa Hotel (right) is stands tall in the heart of Macau. As one of the most prominent gambling establishments in Macau, it also houses several Michelin-starred restaurants.
Once a favourite haunt for gamblers and holiday-makers, the Macau special administrative region of China is now building a reputation as a go-to hub for premier international corporate events.
A rising star in the Asian MICE scene, Macau has been gaining ground as a business travel destination, thanks to its blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures, ample entertainment options, and a slew of new hotels. This comes as the city is reducing its reliance on the gambling industry, with the glitz of its casinos now dimming amid China’s economic slowdown and corruption crackdown.
“Macau used to be a destination for gamblers, but it is now clearly becoming one of the best MICE and entertainment destinations for meeting organisers in Asia,” says Julien Delerue, CEO of Shanghai-based 1000Meetings, which maintains an online directory of hotels and meeting spaces and provides planning services for corporate meetings.
The convention and exhibition industry has been one of Macau’s fastest-emerging sectors in recent years.
In 2015, a total of 831 meetings and conferences were hosted in Macau, up 125 from the previous year.
Small and medium events are typically held in Macau’s historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Situated on the city’s picturesque waterfront is luxury hotel Sofitel Macau At Ponte 16, a popular venue for events for 20 to 120 attendees, as it is within walking distance of key tourist attractions.
For larger events with up to 5,000 participants, the ritzy Cotai area offers several hotels, a 50,000 square-metre convention space, a 15,000-seat arena, as well as large duty-free shopping centres and restaurants.
Meanwhile, new hotels and entertainment facilities are also lifting Macau’s popularity as a MICE paradise.
Cotai’s room inventory of 13,000 last year is expected to have doubled by the end of 2017, says Delerue.
Hollywood-themed resort Studio City opened to much fanfare late last year, boasting a Batman ride, a figure-eight Ferris wheel, and 1,600 hotel rooms.
Crowne Plaza Macau, a 208-room, five-star hotel under the InterContinental Hotels Group, also joined the scene in the historic centre last December.
“With the largest available convention spaces in Asia, Macau is definitely one of the best places to hold major conventions and host incentive groups,” Delerue says.
Above: Thailand's Chiang Mai International Convention and Exhibition Centre is one of the largest in Southeast Asia. It features comprehensive tradeshow facilities and can accommodate up to 10,000 people. [Photo courtesy of TCEB]
The Land of Smiles has long been known for its hospitality and service delivered with heart.
Thailand’s beautiful beaches and wild jungles, myriad of shopping areas, wealth of history and culture, as well as adventure and team-building playgrounds make it a favoured destination for holding business events.
Most MICE visitors to Thailand come from China, India and Singapore.
Despite recent unrest in the country and region, Thailand remains a popular MICE and tourist destination.
The ease of access and world-class infrastructure still make Thailand a go-to centre for connecting businesses in Southeast Asia, especially for those seeking a gateway into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community.
The country has seven international airports, and Bangkok’s mass transit system is also growing rapidly, with total routes set to extend beyond 500 kilometres by 2029.
However, some visitors may not be used to Bangkok’s mass of iconic three-wheeled taxis. The world-famous tuk-tuks, which are known for their careening ways on the roads, offer another valuable local transport option for MICE delegates.
Last year, a total of just under 1.1 million people attended business events in Thailand, raking in some THB 96 billion (US$2.75 billion) in revenue, according to the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). Conventions were the most popular type of event, bringing over 294,000 visitors.
“We enjoyed growth of at least five percent in both revenue and the number of travellers,” says Nopparat Maytheveekulchai, President of TCEB.
The ASEAN region has also looked to Thailand for help with its goal to boost the MICE industry across the region. It has adapted Thailand’s MICE Venue Standard as the model for improvement across all 10 member countries.
Topping the list of key MICE cities in Thailand is Bangkok, whose city centre alone boasts around 300 hotels. The capital also has seven convention and exhibition centres, providing more than 105,000 square metres of floor space in total.
Other popular Thai cities for business events include Chiang Rai, Kon Kaen, Phuket, and Pattaya.