Resorts are said to be more popular these days for MICE because people want more playtime even when they meet. Raini Hamdi looks at the ‚Äėbleasure‚Äô phenomenon, a blurring of lines between business with pleasure or leisure, which is forcing meeting organisers and venue providers to look at work-life balance seriously.
The quest for work-life balance among today‚Äôs road warriors has crept into the meetings sector, where providing wellness to delegates has become a serious thinking point of meeting planners and venue providers instead of an after-thought.
Research by at least three chains shows that ‚Äėbleisure‚Äô or ‚Äėbleasure‚Äô ‚Äď a mixing or blurring of business with leisure or pleasure ‚Äď is a real phenomenon.
Hilton HHonors‚Äô survey, for instance, shows one in three UK employees invite partners and families along on business trips, and a high percentage of employers (45 per cent) are sympathetic and supportive of their staff creating their own bleasure stays.
Even Chinese travellers today are ‚Äúnot shy‚ÄĚ to mix business with pleasure, a Wyndham Hotel Group survey shows. More than two-thirds of Chinese travellers (67 per cent) say they bring a spouse or a family member along on business trips and 59 per cent extend business trips to include leisure time.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in South-east Asia notes a 50 per cent rise in bleasure bookings among meeting delegates, who add on a leisure stay pre- or post-meeting. Not only that, it claims that the bleasure phenomenon is also changing the way people meet: resorts are becoming a more popular destination for business travel and meetings; less time is being spent cooped up in the boardroom (reduced to an average of a day, with as many as two or three days spent in break-out sessions); and more time is being spent on programmes that include working with social and environmental charities. In fact, IHG said around 25 per cent of enquiries now required at least a half-day be set aside for delegates to enjoy the spa or local excursions.
As a result of these findings, IHG is promoting blue-sky thinking and self-improvement meetings, according to Mark Flower, director of commercial, IHG South-east Asia.
Hotels and venues are rewiring to meet bleasure aspirations, with new properties having a better go at this.
The Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach Resort, for example, has a meeting room with its very own golf putting green.
The best spaces are also going to meetings, no longer in the basement like before. An example is The Summit, a meeting room at the top of a mountain offered by InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort.
The design of meeting rooms too is being redefined. The new Pullman Bangkok Silom Hotel G, for instance, has a meeting space called The Gallery, done in a New York-style art gallery. Apart from its conceptual decor and minimalist furnishing, the room offers plenty of daylight and is peppered with iPads for delegates.
‚ÄúClients want more flexibility, reactivity, multi-tasking, connectivity, which impacts the interior design and even the service,‚ÄĚ said Xavier Louyot, Pullman‚Äôs vice president global marketing.
Integrated resorts (IRs) such as Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Singapore see themselves as inherent venues for bleasure, due to the multitude of pleasure options available ‚Äď spa, entertainment, art, F&B, theatre, casino, etc. And while delegates can enjoy these at leisure, the IRs come up with ideas for groups, such as the Dine Around at MBS, which leverages on the property‚Äôs six celebrity chef restaurants. Delegates start with cocktails and canap√©s at the first restaurant, then move on to subsequent restaurants for starters, mains, desserts and digestifs. ‚ÄúThis allows clients to have a leisurely culinary adventure that they may not normally get to enjoy on their own time,‚ÄĚ said John Mims, senior vice president, worldwide sales and resort marketing Asia, Las Vegas Sands Corp.
‚ÄúExpectations of business travel have changed. More and more, pleasure is a priority than ever before and they expect a higher level of comfort and service while on business. Being seasoned travellers, they also expect to be surprised by new and innovative offerings that they have not come across before in other destinations ‚Äď comparing, contrasting and making mental notes of what they like,‚ÄĚ he said.
Have meetings gone soft?
But does bleasure put meetings in danger of becoming soft, pandering to a desire for more play-time?
Corporate chieftains such as David Levitt, president talent development of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who organised O&M‚Äôs Asia-Pacific conference in Kyoto last year, said the success of a meeting still lies fundamentally in how well it has been thought through by the company.
‚ÄúA lot of meetings follow a formula that is outdated and predictable. Because they lack a real set of tangible, aspirational meeting objectives, some well-thought out theatricality and sufficient investment in the areas that matter, disappointment can set in early.
‚ÄúThere is usually too much input/talking at, top-down, death by powerpoint and long-winded status updates, combined with a lack of real participation (not to be confused with insufficiently planned and thought through break-out sessions). Most meetings also suffer from over-packed, crammed agendas that would benefit from being ruthlessly pruned and focused. And finally, not enough imagination applied to breaks, meals and fun ‚Äď this is not about cost, it‚Äôs about imagination.
‚ÄúWe have learnt the hard way that meetings need to be given a serious amount of careful thought well in advance ‚Äď not simply¬†because¬†of the cost but to define what their purpose, motivational benefits and value are, and how to be able to sustain the momentum and commitments afterwards. All our significant face-to-face meetings receive a great deal of work in the planning stages.‚ÄĚ
That said, Levitt agrees that his meetings are not all work and no play. ‚ÄúThere needs to be reward in several forms,‚ÄĚ he said. Asked if hotels were pushing the work-life balance too far, he said: ‚ÄúWe ourselves are mindful of trying to get this right.¬†I suspect some try to do so more than others, especially if it is a resort location which, by the way, is a pointless location selection by meeting planners if all they intend to do is keep their participants in a windowless meeting room with no time to enjoy the location except for a token dinner by the pool or on the beach.
‚ÄúWe have learnt to seriously think more about the locations we choose, why and how to ensure they are relevant to the meeting‚Äôs goals and objectives and the wishes of participants.‚ÄĚ
All meet, no play makes Jack dull
Corporate end-users agree bleasure brings out the best in Jack. They tell TTGmice reporters why and how bleasure changes the way they choose event venues
“Meetings with more pleasure elements are more effective, especially for conferences that run longer than three days. This is an opportunity for busy people to bring their families along. Spouse and children can enjoy themselves in the resort while the delegate attends meetings. There is still quality family time spent, especially at breakfast and dinner. Should the delegate come alone, (he could take the) chance to relax, de-stress and reflect.
This is why I especially like beach and jungle resorts. If it is a city hotel, it must have flavours of a resort.
We add the pleasure elements after, not during, meetings, so there‚Äôs no concern about having too much (fun). We add spa and massage treatments, or go out to a venue that has good music and a dance floor. Malaysia is still lacking in this area. Bangkok and Singapore have better options.”
Congress general, 15th International Peat Congress 2016 in Sarawak, and Tropical Peat Research Laboratory Unit Director, Sarawak Chief Minister‚Äôs Office
“Amway hosts incentive trips combining business and pleasure with an aim to foster team spirit and trust.
In past incentive trips, participants jogged together in scenic Hangzhou, played basketball on a Mediterranean cruise, and so on. This year, there will be incentive trips to Hawaii and Taiwan, combining business sessions and pleasure.
In addition to business updates and outlook, speakers with weight and appeal add essence to the meeting. Break-out sessions and panel discussions are important, but so are pleasure elements that make participants feel unique and recognised. We have to have the right (content) for meetings and also set aside adequate time for pleasure.”
General manager, Amway Hong Kong
“Meetings are definitely more effective when some fun is injected in them.
Medical meetings are generally informative and educational, so relaxing locations and venues with a different atmosphere or unusual decor will help to lighten the mood. Some hotels also offer all-day coffee breaks, which are welcomed by delegates as they don‚Äôt have to stick to fixed coffee break timings.
However, the quality of service is most important to doctors and medical practitioners, not pleasure elements.”
Office administrator with a medical company in Thailand (company name withheld)
Blue-sky meeting venues
Don‚Äôt box your delegates into a room. Here are some unique ideas for blue-sky meetings. By Raini Hamdi, Liang Xinyi Pholsena and S Puvaneswary
M23 at Centara Grand Bangkok
Centara Grand‚Äôs new M23 event space is designed as an intimate setting with a high degree of social interaction. Covering more than 1,000m¬≤ on the hotel‚Äôs 23rd floor, the space is divided into four boardrooms with capacity ranging from 18 to 50 pax, and offer abundant natural light and views of Bangkok‚Äôs skyline.
The four meeting rooms are equipped with the latest comprehensive audio-visual capability, each with built-in LCD projectors and screens, high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access, personalised stationery, coffee machine, and stocked with a selection of soft drinks, still and sparkling mineral water and tasty lozenges. Meeting rooms M1 and M2 also have interactive screens.
A highlight of M23 are its four exclusive spaces that are kitted out for bleasure. Upon arrival, delegates are greeted in My Foyer, a reception area with modern interior design and plush seating. My Kitchen is a show kitchen and bar that can cater to tea breaks, luncheons and social events, with tables and high-seats for delegates to enjoy nibbles and refreshment during coffee breaks. The adjoining My Terrace features alfresco views of the bustling city below and is perfect for cocktails or a standing buffet. My Lawn is a 50m-long open-air patio with a putting green that adds a casual, fun element to corporate retreats, and can be used as a spot for post-meeting cocktails, dinners or BBQs.
Meet in a ‚Äėhut‚Äô at Best Western Premier Hon Tam Resort & Residences
Aside from being on a private island¬† ‚Äď Hon Tam Island in Nha Trang, Vietnam ‚Äď this resort has a unique Flamingo Meeting room that immerses delegates into their surroundings with its original hut concept and outdoor environment. The hut can accommodate around 100pax.
The resort features 49 oceanfront villas, a stunning beachfront location and an array of leisure facilities including a huge driving range and other recreational activities. Amenities include iPod docking stations, LCD flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi access.
Playful W Bangkok
The new 407-key W Bangkok aims to stir the Thai capital‚Äôs meetings scene with stylish and playful design ethos.
W Bangkok offers more than 1,300m¬≤ of meeting and event space, featuring seven meeting rooms and an outdoor space outfitted with adaptable conference furniture and state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment.
The 425m¬≤ pillarless Great Room boasts nine-metre ceilings outfitted with shades of LED lighting for sparkling and electrifying occasions.
For meetings booked under the W‚Äôs Sensory packages, planners can get ideas flowing with mood music and the hotel‚Äôs signature scents, while the Recess packages offer a menu of activities, including a tangle toy for delegates to play with and de-stress as they attempt to ‚Äėuntwist‚Äô it. Meeting planners can also throw in customised activities such as cooking, deejaying or mixology classes for delegates to get out of the mid-day rut and learn new skills.
Escape from mild meetings at W Bali
W Retreat & Spa Bali ‚Äď Seminyak aims to be the perfect hotel for work and play through creative approaches and innovative design.
Its meeting rooms, including the Strategy Room, 1 Below, Studio or the 350m2 Great Room, may be small spaces, but the hotel is big on bleasure ideas.
A programme called Work Your Style gets attendees to design their own T-shirts or shoes, while the W Runway turns them into runway models. There are programmes for fitness buffs too, such W Olympics, where your group can compete in a variety of sports such as mini-soccer, beach volleyball or dodge ball. There‚Äôs even a 45-minute Calorie Burners session, which is a mix of cardio activities incorporating aerobics, martial arts movements and stretching that you can weave into the meeting programme.
Meet at The Summit at InterContinental Danang
Set in the Son Tra Peninsula (also known as Monkey Mountain during the Vietnam war) with its own private bay, the 197-room InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort celebrated its grand opening on March 28.
Located on the highest point of the 39-hectare resort, The Summit events space comprises a main 296m¬≤ ballroom, an auditorium and four meeting rooms ranging between 36m¬≤ and 83m¬≤. The entire events area features an imaginative and grand design, blending an airy architecture with contemporary interpretation of Vietnamese design elements, such as green and yellow meeting chairs to offer interesting twists for delegates.
The adjoining terraces open onto spectacular views of the surrounding lush mountains and turquoise sea; the close proximity to nature will lighten the mood and bring delegates out of the typical ‚Äúboxy‚ÄĚ meeting room setting. Also, delegates can enjoy a sumptuous coffee break over spectacular views of the mythical Monkey Mountain on the terraces.
Jeff‚Äôs Cellar at Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat
This 25-villa wellness resort in Malaysia‚Äôs Ipoh has a conference room that can seat 18 pax boardroom-style, but for a more unique venue, there‚Äôs its wine bar, Jeff‚Äôs Cellar, a 280-million-year-old cave which, on request, can host meetings.
Jeff‚Äôs Cellar can comfortably accommodate 30 delegates, said Lybanor P Godio, resort manager.
The environment and philosophy of Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat are designed to encourage renewal through wellness. Meeting delegates can opt for with yoga and breathing or tai chi exercises before breakfast. After the meeting, a Banjaran signature massage which combines the therapeutic and healing effects of Malay, Chinese and Indian techniques will follow.
Delegates staying at the resort for two nights or more can opt for a 30-minute wellness consultation to assess their lifestyle before a programme for weight loss, rejuvenation, longevity and detoxification is designed for them.
They can also detress after a day of meetings at the geothermal hotsprings or, for the adventurous at heart, follow a jungle walk trail to enjoy the flora and fauna.
Meaningful fun at Pullman Lijiang
At Pullman Lijiang Resort & Spa, conference groups may learn about the history and culture of the local Naxi people including their Dongba hieroglyphics, dance and music, or discover Accor‚Äôs Planet 21 environmental and sustainability programme while exploring the resort gardens and learn about local flora.
They can also race and navigate radio controlled boats around Camellia Lake or play PC games.
These are just two of various expert recommendations the resort team has up its sleeves to ensure business is mixed with a fine dose of pleasure.
Life‚Äôs a beach on the Margaret River
Break for a few hours to kayak, surf or fish on the beach in front of the Pullman Bunker Bay Margaret River, or to engage in teambuilding in its gardens or on the beach.
Cooking or wine master classes can also be held in the garden and function rooms, while wine-tasting, whale watching and cave exploration are all within 20 minutes of the hotel. Welcome drinks and canap√©s on its terrace come with unrivalled views of the Indian ocean and guests can watching whales breach between August and December.
Master the art of zen at Sofitel Plaza Hanoi
Following a top-to-toe renovation by Singapore-based architects DPD+ Design in 2011, the 317-room Sofitel Plaza Hanoi was relaunched in April 2012 to further highlight the French art de vivre at its lakeside location. Its 10 meeting venues were also given a new look.
Overlooking the leafy Pho Duc Chinh street, the Hoi An room features large windows and roofs that can be partially opened to let in abundant sunlight, as well as natural finishings such as wood to create a Zen-inspired space. The black-lacquer windows adorned with pictures of bright-orange goldfish add splashes of colours to room, while potted plants deflect negative energy with their relaxing hues.
On the ground floor, the magenta-hued Library features a six-person board table, sofa, 50-inch TV, as well as framed black-and-white photographs, offering a cosy setting for small business meetings.
Le Panorama on the 19th floor has a large terrace where guests can take in clear views of the two lakes ‚Äď Truc Back Lake and West Lake.
When the meetings have ended, head up to Summit Lounge, the penthouse-style rooftop bar on the 20th floor for 360-degree views of the city‚Äôs skyline.
Cross over to GTower Hotel Kuala Lumpur
This 180-room hotel is on level 11 to 13 of GTower. Apart from the meeting and relaxation facilities provided on these three floors, guests can use the Club Floor facilities on Level 28 and gym facilities on level 7, which include a heated swimming pool, both of which are managed by Goldis, which owns and runs the hotel.
All hotel guests are entitled to Club Floor access. The venue‚Äôs highlight is its Bridge Bar ‚Äď a bridge connecting the two towers that form GTower. The Bridge Bar is a great place to chill after meetings and provides great views of Kuala Lumpur‚Äôs skyline. Parts of the floor are made of see-through glass and, looking down, one can see the traffic 28 levels below.
Other Club Floor facilities include three soundproof boardrooms with seating for 10 to 20 pax and a lounge area with Wi-Fi¬† access, ideal for informal discussions.
Check out also the Rooftop Bar on the 29th floor, the highest point of GTower. It provides panoramic evening and night views of Ampang Hills and Titiwangsa mountain range.
Fun convention centres?
Think convention centres and what come to mind are halls, more halls, even more rooms and equipment ‚Äď not exactly a place for bleasure.
But these venues beg to differ.
‚ÄúWe take the work-life balance seriously and we want to ensure that delegates have the best possible experience while they are in Kuala Lumpur and at the centre,‚ÄĚ said Angeline Lue, director of sales & marketing of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) in Malaysia.
Lue gave examples of how KLCC helps delegates achieve a work-life balance through initiatives such as free cultural activities ‚Äď henna art, Chinese calligraphy, batik painting, pewter-smithing, songket and basket weaving and gamelan and wood carving ‚Äď for delegates who do not have the time to explore Malaysia‚Äôs multicultural diversity and arts and craft heritage.
The centre occasionally hosts art exhibitions of local and international artists in designated public areas.
On KLCC‚Äôs top-most level ‚Äď level four ‚Äď there are informal sitting rest areas littered with bean bags, offering delegates a chance to relax and take in the beautiful views of the well-manicured park. The level also offers free Wi-Fi access.
One of its dining establishments, The Park View Restaurant, offers iconic views and is flooded with natural light. It caters to special dietary requirements.
There is also a concierge service at KLCC. Event attendees can obtain information and recommendations on places to eat and shop, offerings within the KLCC precinct and directions to the covered pedestrian walkway connecting the shopping centres and hotels along the Bukit Bintang area to KLCC.
Over in Hong Kong, AsiaWorld-Expo CEO, Allen Ha, said convention centres are ‚Äúdefinitely pleasurable places‚ÄĚ.
Ha noted that there had been a crossover of B2B and B2C events at the centre over the past few years, creating a new breed of events called ‚ÄúEXPOtainment‚ÄĚ.
AsiaWorld-Expo also works with attractions in the Lantau neighbourhood ‚Äď Hong Kong Disneyland, Ngong Ping 360 cable car, the Big Buddha, SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course and Citygate Outlets mall ‚Äď to provide bleasure to delegates.
Ha said: ‚ÄúTogether it all adds up to create an ideal integrated business and leisure location for the MICE sector. Events would be greatly enriched by the collaboration between AsiaWorld-Expo and third-party attractions, enabling event organisers to create itineraries that seamlessly blend business with pleasure,‚ÄĚ he pointed out.
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) managing director, Monica Lee-M√ľller, said to cater to a growing number of exhibitors and visitors and to give them work-life balance, the in-house F&B team creates unique and enjoyable dining experiences.
The seven F&B outlets inside HKCEC offer an array of international cuisines including Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Shanghainese and Cantonese.
Flexible and convertible venues also allow event organisers and production houses to create innovative and unique catering events.
Lee-M√ľller added: ‚ÄúIn addition, HKCEC is located right in the heart of Hong Kong, on the prime waterfront of famous Victoria Harbour. The floor to ceiling windows inside most of the meeting rooms, Grand Foyer and restaurant provide the best harbour view for event attendees.
‚ÄúFurthermore, HKCEC is adjacent to a variety of leisure and shopping options and tourist attractions including Golden Bauhinia Square, shopping malls in Causeway Bay and Pacific Place. Visitors can simply take a 10-minute ferry trip to Tsim Sha Tsui.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď S Puvaneswary and Prudence Lui
Give me a real break
Industry players share their favourite coffee break experiences
‚ÄúWe have seen some interesting ideas for coffee breaks. One is a university campus set-up with activities such as pinball and soccer board games offered at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok. Another is neck and shoulder massages offered in an Osim or Oto massage chair at the Langham Place, Beijing Capital Airport‚Äôs club lounge meeting room.‚ÄĚ
Head of Project and Business Development, Towa Tours/MICE WORLD Hong Kong
‚ÄúOne of my favourites is the Trebuchet Challenge at InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort. Delegates are given instructions on how to build a medieval catapult ‚Äď a Trebuchet ‚Äď and compete to fire watermelons as far as possible, or water balloons at each other. What a great way to release mid-meeting tension!‚ÄĚ
Director of commercial South-east Asia, InterContinental Hotels Group
‚ÄúMy favourites are massage stations providing foot, head, shoulder and neck messages at coffee breaks. I also like the Hammer Game, like those found in carnivals. Delegates use a mallet to whack the base as hard as possible, causing an object to shoot upwards and ring a bell.‚ÄĚ
Senior manager, inbound tours, Panorama Tours Malaysia
‚ÄúWe do several unique coffee breaks. One of them involves well-known local tai chi masters leading meeting delegates to stand up and follow their moves. The activity gives delegates an opportunity to de-stress and relax their muscles, and soft music is played in the background as they practise their new skills.
We can invite famed local musicians to teach delegates how to play music instruments such as traditional Vietnamese drums. The musician will introduce the background of the instrument, then break participants into groups and let them take turns at playing the instrument.
At the end, everyone will come together to form an orchestra, and even perform at their gala dinner.
We can also create a mini golf driving range and install a backdrop printed with different company targets. Meeting delegates are required to hit the various targets with a golf club and golf balls.
Founder and CEO, Oriental Events Thailand
‚ÄúAmari Orchid Pattaya has 27 themes for enhancing a coffee break into an energising experience. Probably the most energising of themes and my favourite, is the Formula 1.¬†It‚Äôs designed to reinvigorate delegates between conference sessions, based around the Grand Prix.
Meeting planners have options of a Lite or Deluxe themed Formula 1 break, depending on their budget.
As delegates arrive at the Formula 1 themed coffee break, they are welcomed by Pit Stop Babes waving black and white chequered flags.
Atmospheric crowd and motor sound effects complement the backdrop scene. A large screen presents a montage of Grand Prix races and movie clips from the Italian Job and Fast and Furious.
An ice carving in the shape of a Formula 1 car and other motoring-themed props, such as tyres and spanners, add to the mood and tone.
Themed table linen decorates the coffee station and tall cocktail tables. Radio controlled cars race around a miniature track to engage delegates and to tease out their inner Schumacher.‚ÄĚ
Executive director, events, Amari Watergate Bangkok¬†and Amari Orchid Pattaya