By Kristie Thong

Event planners like unique venues for the flexibility in incorporating themes and out-of-the-box ideas, but how these venues contribute to the overall guest experience will require more than a touch of innovation.

A themed party located in an old factory warehouse; an exclusive client dinner held on a luxurious cruise; a networking cocktail reception set up at the Great Wall of China in Beijing – these are just past examples of event ideas executed in unique, unconventional spaces. Greater emphasis on innovation has prompted a creative shift from traditional event formats, in turn posing an ever-present challenge for corporate event planners and organisers to conjure up fresh ideas.

“Part of the appeal of unique venues is the fact that they are not primarily meeting spaces,” says Steven Smith, senior director for Asia Pacific, CWT Meetings & Events.

“For example, they could be a restaurant or bar by night or an art gallery over the weekends. They have the ability to offer ‘out-of-the-norm’ and unconventional setups, therefore creating different experiences which hotels or conventional venues may not be able  to offer.”

Event planners may face difficulty finding non-accommodation venues in some major and saturated big cities, where the majority of venue stock comprises hotel ballrooms, function spaces, convention and exhibition centres, and restaurants. However, some countries that have retained their cultures amid globalisation consist of landmarks such as temples and historical gardens that selectively allow groups to use as event venues.

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NEW SAIL

Singapore’s countless four- and five-star hotels translate to a huge selection of meeting spaces and ballrooms, while the world-class convention and exhibition centres scattered across the city cement its reputation as the top Asian convention city. But unique venues are rare, apart from dining venues from the likes of Mount Faber’s The Jewel Box to the rustic-luxe colonial Tamarind Hill that can double up as event spaces.

The forthcoming arrival of a four-mast luxury tall ship in Singapore is perhaps a sign that the growing need for innovative spaces is being addressed. Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) is introducing the 47-metre long Royal Albatross by mid-year, which will be the only luxury tall ship for charter in the region that will also be available for corporate and private events.

The Royal Albatross combines the romance of a magnificent tall ship with four masts, 22 sails, state-of-the-art safety, navigation, communications and full audio visual support while maintaining her historical and traditional elegance,” said Peter L. Pela, owner and managing director of Tall Ship Adventure.

Designed and fitted out to provide a luxury and fully functional entertainment environment for corporate clients, the ship offers a spacious and airy Grand Salon, which seats up to 56 guests in an air-conditioned environment with built-in AV and customisable lighting. The upper deck seats a further 96 guests, with roll-away awning for rain and shade protection. It can also host larger corporate events and take over 200 guests alongside charter (ship remaining at her berth) or up to 149 guests for day cruising and 10 overnight.

Starting from S$5000 (US$3944) per hour, organisers thinking of hosting an event on Royal Albatross can also request for F&B and entertainment.

GO BAROQUE IN BERLIN

Unique venues are aplenty over in the capital city of Germany, with many combining a rich historical influence with modern amenities. The Orangery of Charlottenburg Palace, for example, was destroyed during the Second World War with the wing later reconstructed on the model of the baroque building. Initially housing a valuable citrus collection, it was later revived for cocktail receptions and other special events set in a majestic setting of the former Hohenzollern residence. Owned by the company IMaGE since 2006, it has welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and the Chinese Prime Minister in recent years, and is now open to social events alternating with cultural activities.
Boasting two galleries that can house 500 guests in a concert-seating and 500 for gala dinners per gallery, it is further able to take a total of 1000 indoors and 1-2000 in the garden. The use of the Orangery garden for tents or standing receptions is also possible on request.

New venues are also on the way in Berlin. In particular, DESIGN OFFICES Am Zirkus will be offering function spaces by the second quarter of this year. Planners can host a variety of corporate meetings and discussions in the new conference rooms, which are built with a focus on air, acoustics, technology, ergonomics, and individuality. It will also include a modern rooftop terrace able to take up to 90 guests.

GENTING’S OFF-SITE GEM

Venues that are not only unique, but iconic in various markets are growing increasingly popular, as destinations are starting to loosen restrictions for the hosting of events. For example, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Forbidden City in Beijing have been popular off-site alternatives for groups looking to go beyond the boardroom after long hours of meetings.

In late 2012, Malaysia announced the officiating of Chin Swee Caves Temple as its fourth shell site. Located in the most scenic site of Genting Highlands, the sacred worship place has played host to numerous cultural activities and promotional events responsible for drawing both local and international visitors. With one multi-purpose hall, two meeting rooms and the possibility of adding a marquee, the temple also consists of a vegetarian restaurant and medical clinic.

Smith noted that while there is an appeal to unique venues, event organisers will have to rely on outside catering as some venues tend not to possess their own kitchen or banqueting facilities.

“This may pose some challenges for on-site increase in demand or having to cater to special dietary needs.”
Such venues often have regular opening hours to the public, leaving event organisers with little time for set-up and preparation. Additionally, he added that it is fairly common for groups to have to work around local laws, such as no alcohol consumption on religious grounds.

“To the client or the event guests, the unique venue must be able to elevate the overall customer experience in a way that is exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime and memorable – something that cannot be bought off the shelf,” Smith concluded. m

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