Cover story - Taking the pulse of luxury business events

    Cover Story | September 2017

    Luxury business events are far from dead, but they have become less ostentatious, more experiential, and more conscious of the returns they bring to the bottom line. Karen Yue reports


    Business event specialists may differ in their report on the frequency of luxury business events these days, but they share one common observation – companies’ greater need for compliance and spend transparency are resulting in less ostentatious programmes.

    Eda Ozden, country manager Turkey with Pacific World, believes that while the need for luxury business events remain, gone are the days of showing off.

    “Firms are becoming more transparent and private, and are thus scaling back (on luxury business events). They need to prove business results in such events,” Ozden explained.

    She added that security reasons and “shareholder perceptions” are also pushing luxury business events into the shadows, “away from prying eyes”.

    “We see a shift from large fireworks to more private entertainment within enclosed spaces,” she said.

    Jamie Roseburgh, market leader Singapore and ASEAN, American Express Meetings and Events, noted that transparency and compliance are important factors too which are impacting clients’ event spend.


    “We typically define luxury events as those which don’t necessarily need to have a measurable ROI, such as executive rewards, incentive programmes, or other non-revenue generating meetings. Such events are more likely to have uncapped F&B budgets and focus on experiences and enjoyment rather than a content-driven agenda.

    “That said, there has been a noticeable shift in focus on compliance and greater transparency over meetings and events spending over the past few years. Companies are very selective when it comes to luxury events. They haven’t been removed altogether but companies are very discerning and luxury events are less frequent,” Roseburgh said, adding that the change is most apparent among US-based companies operating in Asia-Pacific.

    It is all about the experience

    With the stronger emphasis on event ROI, planners are challenged to deliver luxury business events in less ostentatious ways.

    “Event planners need to be a lot more creative in how they use the tools and technology at their disposal to conceptualise and create luxury events within tighter budgets,” said Petrina Goh, business development manager of CWT Meetings & Events.

    “Luxury business events today are no longer about the cost per head, but rather about the service and event experience provided to each participant to make the event one of a kind. The challenge, of course, is to achieve this while simultaneously fulfilling the event and business objectives,” Goh added.

    Goh believes that “planners today are better equipped than ever before to create highly creative and personalised events”, thanks to the advent of new event technology such as mobile apps and virtual and augmented reality platforms.

    Different preferences of the younger generation of event attendees are also pushing planners to come up with “less apparent luxury and more money-can’t-buy experiences”, Ozden told TTGmice.

    “Once-in-a-lifetime experiences are still popular. It might be a chef’s table with a Michelin-star chef, a design workshop with a famous designer, or a private concert of a famous artiste. Agencies that can make these happen are more valued than ever before. Clients are looking for agencies that can open otherwise closed doors,” she said.

    According to Roseburgh, luxury events today are allowing greater personal choice. “Providing unforgettable experiences, such a volunteering in a community-based activity in South-east Asia, is an effective way to meet the objectives of a luxury meeting while managing costs.”

    Love for local flavour

    At The Fullerton Hotel and The Fullerton Bay Hotel, both located in Singapore’s Fullerton Heritage precinct, luxury business events are observed to take in unique local experiences.

    General manager Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale shared that a typical luxury business event could involve a gala dinner at either hotel, a late-night party at the Lantern rooftop bar – in The Fullerton Bay Hotel where guests could enjoy a signature Merlion Cocktail and a panoramic view of Singapore’s cityscape – and a day programme of activities in and around The Fullerton Heritage precinct.

    “For example, the spouses could join our complimentary Maritime Journey Tour or Fullerton Monumental Tour, and rent a Segway from One Fullerton to tour the neighbouring Civic District, with a pit-stop at Merlion Park for an iconic photo opportunity,” he said, adding that The Fullerton Experiences at The Fullerton Hotels was recently launched for guests to experience local culture first-hand.

    Fay-Linn Yeoh, senior director, brand management and marketing Asia Pacific, Marriott International, who does numerous branding events for her portfolio of hotels comprising luxury brands The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and Edition Hotels – Asia-Pacific, said: “Events should be tasteful and not decadent. We need to be sensitive and wise with the event budget. My recommendation is to work within three-quarters of the budget and balancing it with considerations of whether an element is a need or a want.”


    Yeoh added that the right venue setting could bring out the luxurious side of an event. Citing an example, she said The St. Regis Singapore’s John Jacob Ballroom was transformed into a tropical oasis, inspired by the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Botanic Gardens, for the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup Patron’s Dinner in June. The lush and elegant ambience drew compliments from guest of honour Prince Henry of Wales who said in his speech that the ballroom was one of the most elaborate spaces he has ever experienced.

    Who’s splurging?

    It is no surprise that client-facing events enjoy the fattest budget.

    For Goh, B2B and B2C events such as brand immersion and channel partner/distributor events are the most resistant to budget cuts as companies are more willing to spend on rewarding their distributors, channel partners and customers in order to build loyalty and greater brand presence in the market.

    Ozden observed that luxurious experiences are still being ordered for member-only events and financial firm-led events meant to impress and reward top clients, celebrations for large-scale mergers and acquisitions or market entries.

    “Luxury executive retreats and incentive programmes are most resistant to budget cuts because the focus continues to be on delivering an excellent experience for attendees, within the allocated budget. Even if budgets are flat or have decreased, planners look at the most cost-effective approach to delivering an experience which will still be considered luxurious,” said Roseburgh.

    Yeoh remarked that “flamboyant events are limited to mostly social galas these days” and within the corporate realm, branded lifestyle events are the ones with the money, although even these are watching their expenditure carefully.

    When asked which industry sectors are still splurging on luxury business events in the current economic climate, event specialists told TTGmice that technology and automotive companies are tops.


    “An Australian incentive house contacted us regarding a welcome reception at an off-site venue where they needed a British countryside theme. They requested staff to be dressed as “bobbies” – English policemen, in British hunting attire – think tweed and wellington boots. (The venue came with) a croquet set, fake bucolic wooden fences and our favourite part – 10 English Bulldogs wearing Union Jack bow ties and jackets!”

    Kaci McAllister, general manager, Destination Asia (China)

    “Once, we received a request to invite the famous Bollywoood actor, Shah Rukh Khan, to attend an award ceremony night. The organisers expected him to perform a 30-minute dance show together with his entourage during their gala dinner. All this Shah Rukh Khan had to for free, with no royalty fees. It did not happen, of course.”

    Andy Yow, director of sales &
    marketing, Vivanta by Taj – Rebak Island Langkawi


    “A group of 30 people on a corporate incentive trip asked for an experiential half-day ‘Fear Factor’ activity. We privatised a head-hunting village for an initiation ceremony. They had a butad (white thick caterpillars that taste like sago) tasting, tribal dancing and blow-pipe challenges. The day finished with a village ceremony in the ancestral village’s longhouse hall decorated with real “trophy” skulls from ancient times, which the tribesmen traditionally believe they gain energy from.”

    Kristina Gardin Forssell, managing director, 8th Wave Events & Destinations, Singapore

    “Keen on impressing a small group of important foreign clients, a corporate relations officer who shall remain unnamed asked about using butandings or whale sharks as the main highlight of their marine-themed entertainment. When told that butandings cannot be taught tricks like their small cousins seal or sea lion, the officer suggested dolphins or barracudas or other bigger marine creatures.”

    Anonymous, DMC manager, Cebu


    “Once, Marina Bay Sands worked with a US-based MLM incentive group to introduce a lavish rewards initiative in the form of pre-loaded credit cards, which were awarded to every delegate. Delegates could use these cards to spend across all the attractions at Marina Bay Sands, from celebrity chef restaurants to high-end boutiques.”

    Mike Lee, vice president of sales, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

    “A luxury sports car brand once approached us to take over our majestic lobby and transform it to a showroom by parking six vehicles there. We couldn’t bear the risk of cracking our vintage Italian marble, which is no longer in production. We turned down this lucrative piece of business.”

    Vindy Lui, director of catering and conference services, The Peninsula Hong Kong


    “With luxury events, there is pressure to consistently outdo previous experiences – shock value begins to take a premium when budget is not a concern but rather ‘wow-ing’ a crowd that has many times seen it all. It’s a fun challenge which (leads to) truly bizarre requests. Live animals at events seem to be a recurring theme – everything from doves flying out of a car, an emcee riding a horse on stage, and even having live tigers as part of the interactive entertainment.”

    Olinto Oliveira, director, business development & events, MCI Macau Office


    “I worked on a Chinese incentive event where the client’s vision was to fly out 50 gophers to Australia to serve their 20 VIPs. The client achieved their vision; the gophers were responsible for fetching towels and water for the VIPs and catering to any of their requests. To date, it is still the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen.”

    Anonymous, event director, Sydney


    “We had an opportunity to create something new and different for a 600-pax Welcome Cocktail held outdoors by Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel’s Tiki pool. We poured 10,000 ping pong balls into the pool to create a white canvas on top of the water. We then used a high-powered projector to flash images onto this canvas.

    For another event (at the same hotel), we created five iconic Asian landmarks in our Kashgar Ballroom for a technology company’s (dining event). The Taj Mahal was a stunning centrepiece. Delegates could walk into each iconic landmark to enjoy speciality dishes from each destination.”

    Daniella Tonetto, general manager, sales and marketing, Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel, Cotai Central and The St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central

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