Countries with top-notch MICE facilities and entertainment remain popular incentive destinations, but destinations offering a raw, novel charm are starting to steer groups their way.
By Kristie Thong
There has been significant mention of the importance of incentive travel and the value it brings. Gradually viewed as a segment equally if not more important than exhibitions and conferences that draw large delegate numbers, Asian destinations have been pumping in more efforts to capture a greater share of the global incentives market.
“Incentive planners are starting to look for novelty experiences, and especially those that are more family-oriented,” says Singapore-based EAST WEST PLANNERS CEO, Janet Tan-Collis.
While sophisticated and mature MICE markets continue to attract incentive groups due to guaranteed security and premium services, emerging and newer destinations in Asia are slowlt raking in more incentive dollars due to the unique experiences they offer.
Boracay earns the reputation of one of the best island destinations in the world for its pristine beaches lined with palm trees, warm crystalline waters and endless activities on offer under the sun. Serviced by the Kalibo and Caticlan Airports, new international routes introduced in the past 1-2 years have also contributed to Boracay’s increased popularity as an incentive travel destination as visitor figures exceeded one million from January to September 2013. Always popular among incentive groups from China, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, Boracay is also seeing a notable rise in groups from Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and Russia.
Boracay has three main beaches: White Beach is a famous four-kilometre stretch of powder-fine white sand, split into three stations offering top Boracay hotels and resorts, wide variety of local and international cuisines, shopping, entertainment, and budget and native-styled bungalows. Puka Beach, situated along the northern tip of Boracay, is a quiet stretch of white sand that is named after the puka shells gathered by locals for some of the jewellery sold on the island. Bulabog Beach, a 2.5-kilometre beach with large waves and strong winds year-round, is a famous water sports hotspot for windsurfing and kite-boarding.
According to the Philippine Tourism Promotions Board, Boracay fits the bill as a destination that offers incentive groups to unwind at a reasonable price. Catering to groups interested in water sports such as windsurfing, sail boating, kayaking and diving, or other outdoor activities such as horseback riding, trekking and mountain biking, inexpensive accommodation allows for value-add experiences in the form of cocktail parties on the beach at sunset after a day of adrenalin-charged team-building activities.
International cruise ships have started making day-long stopovers in Boracay, an indication of growing visitor figures. With the expected influx, local players are pushing for improved accessibility as well as infrastructure developments. Some new properties in the pipeline include a 200-room Crimson Resort and Spa Boracay by 2015, and a 500-room The Savoy Hotel by 2016.
Cambodia’s allure lies in its ancient culture and experiences unique to a destination blessed with Angkor Wat, the largest monumental temple in the world. Once considered unsafe due to political unrest lasting until the late 90s, it has blossomed into an exotic incentive destination in recent years.
Nick Ray, company adviser of locally-based Hanuman Travel, said that a lot of incentive enquiries come from groups in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia in Asia.
There is a misconception that the attraction lies in a single monument, Mr Ray said, when in fact Angkor comprises several temples in the same location. Despite it being known as an emerging market, Cambodia has no end to four- and five-star hotels, as well as comfortable, spacious boutique hotels.
Hanuman is the mastermind behind Temple Safari, a unique concept first introduced to a Moet Hennessy group back in 2003. Incentive groups can get a feel of an authentic Cambodian experience living in makeshift, sustainable African tents in the jungle, complete with team-building activities such as an Angkor treasure hunt, cultural performances, and culinary challenges hosted by celebrity chefs.
Cambodia is served by Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap Internaitonal Airport, both of which provide international flights to and from Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Taipei.
Sabah, one of the states of Malaysia, is a popular incentive destination thanks to its nature diversity in the form of lush rainforests, islands and one of Southeast Asia’s tallest mountains. Groups get a good variety of full-fledged island resorts, forest lodges, and domestic and international business hotels, complemented by offerings such as jungle trekking, diving, and a selection of cultural villages and performances.
The destination is well-served by direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Osaka, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Singapore, Taipei, Jakarta, Bali, Perth and Manila among others. The Star Cruises also operates from Sabah, currently on a Sabah-Bintulu-Brunei route with more routes expected to launch.
A spokesperson from Sabah Tourism Board said Sabah offers an experience with an educational value. While the destination is working to attract incentive groups from new markets, air accessibility remains a crucial point in targeting them.
“Australia has a big potential now that there are direct flights from Perth to Sabah, and many other states are connected via Brunei, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.”
Da Nang is a promising MICE destination that resonates particularly well among incentive travel planners due to the distinctive Oriental charm from historical sites Hoi An, Hue and My Son situated close by. It also boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world recognised by Forbes, a lusty mountain run, two world-class golf courses, and 97 kilometres of white sandy beach.
“There are a great variety of activities which can be catered to culture, sports, amazing races, local life activities, entertainment which can be organised to please requests of many different events/incentive planners,” Furama Resort Da Nang general manager, Matthias Wiesmann said.
On the STREETS
Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An, is home to STREETS Restaurant Cafe, as part of a global social enterprise with an aim to develop and operate sustainable programmes for street kids and disadvantaged youth in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Situated in a restored shophouse, it is a hands-on learning platform for youth inducted in the 18-month programme to cultivate skills in culinary arts or hospitality. All trainees spend part of each week at the restaurant and apply what they’ve learnt from their classes, with the restaurant revenue going towards supporting the programme.
Featuring a quality menu of carefully selected contemporary Vietnamese and International cuisine, STREETS is open daily for lunch and dinner, serving specialty tour groups, locals and travellers.