Meet differently

Clowwise from top left: Indochina Sails, Vietnam; Flower Field Hall at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia
Companies looking to better engage their meeting delegates and inspire creative thinking are increasingly turning their attention to non-traditional venues, discover Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Paige Lee Pei Qi, S Puvaneswary and Mimi Hudoyo

Traditional meeting venues in hotels and multifunctional convention centres have always been a safe and natural option for corporate event planners, but times they are a-changing.

When meeting planners were surveyed for the 2013 American Express Meetings & Events Forecast, they said they were considering more non-traditional properties as locations for meetings, such as outdoor venues, universities and aquariums. This year’s study threw up similar trends, with Europe and Asia leading the charge with a 2.5 per cent increase in the use of alternative properties. In North America, the use of non-traditional facilities is expected to increase as a result of a stronger desire for locations that are considered “hip and trendy” for more promotional events.

Event specialists in Asia who spoke to TTGmice shared similar observations among their clients.

Yves Van Kerrebroeck, director of style and MICE, ICS Travel Group, which is headquartered in Bangkok and has operations in 15 countries, said: “Although there still exists and always will be a large demand for the more traditional meeting space at a hotel or resort, we…have seen these new trends develop over the years.”

He added: “We’ve always offered our American, European and Australian clients venues that provide a cultural connection to the region they are visiting, but we are also seeing a willingness among our Asia-Pacific clients to move away from the more traditional meeting venues. Over the last few years we have seen this trend develop most strongly among corporate clients from large international companies located in the traditional business capitals such as Singapore and Hong Kong.”

Explaining the growing interest in non-traditional meeting venues, Van Kerrebroeck said: “Increased competition has lead to a greater focus on non-conventional venues that save cost, offer more value and engage participants. Meetings require greater engagement and interaction, therefore there is a stronger need for looser structures that are more attendee-friendly and allow for dynamic and interactive breakout sessions. We have noticed an increased amount of unscheduled meeting time, which requires separate multifunctional spaces with hospitality services.”

Sharing the same view, RedAntz Group Malaysia’s managing director, Danny Chan, said: “The key reason for choosing non-traditional venues is usually related to trends. Plus, such venues give meeting attendees a chance to (think creatively) and spark the imagination. They create a non-conformist ambience for unobstructed flow of thoughts and ideas.”

Andrew Koh, managing director of Events Architects Singapore, observed that “organisers are pulling out all the stops to make events more appealing” and more clients are becoming receptive to the idea of meeting in a non-traditional venue.

And for meetings that must follow a fixed programme format and flow, using a unique venue “can change the mood and setting of the (event)”, Koh added.

According to event specialists, small-sized meeting groups are more likely to gravitate towards non-traditional venues.

Karma Events Jogjakarta’s Enny Ratnadewi said groups of less than 300 delegates were more likely to choose to meet in museums, university halls, galleries and houses that have been converted into function spaces.

“Events using non-traditional venues are usually small in size, with most of them being domestic corporate meetings. The programme would include teambuilding or outdoor activities,” shared Ketut Jaman, managing director of Melali MICE Bali.

For Chan, non-traditional venues are more popular with seminars and meetings with less than 50 participants “as they may not require the full services offered by a hotel or convention centre”.

Upper management meetings or board of directors’ reviews that require “something different to the classic meeting setup” were also more likely to go for alternative venues, observed Van Kerrebroeck.

Daniel Chua, managing director of Singapore-based conference organiser Aonia, pointed out that the choice of venue is also dependent on the message the event seeks to convey.

“A good planner will propose a venue that can convey messages more effectively. Most non-traditional venues are more suited to (marketing) events such as product launches. We also see greater financial prudence (among our clients), which may account for more cost effective venues – available in these locations – being considered.”

However, Chua admitted that some non-traditional locations could come with added costs “due to the uniqueness of the venue”.

Ketut agrees: “Such venues are not necessarily cheaper than hotels or convention centres, as you need to bring in support equipment such as sound systems, Internet routers and in some cases, air-conditioning.”

Enny also noted that some venues, such as museums, provide only a space to meet and organisers are expected to provide everything else. Despite their logistical shortcomings, she believes that non-traditional venues offer “memorable experiences for participants”.

“We held a conference at Batik Winotosastro in Jogjakarta, which was a little warm but delegates got to try their hands at batik-making and bring home their creations,” she added.

As price remains a key consideration for her clients, Jacqueline Haiu, senior manager events at Diethelm Events Malaysia, told TTGmice that the demand for non-traditional meeting venues is still relatively small.

“Hotels and convention centres are still most popular because they offer excellent rates with state-of-the-art meeting facilities. Non-traditional venues do not offer meeting packages and often require organisers to incur additional costs for stage and audiovisual set-up. We do encounter requests for such venues once in a blue moon (but) materialisation is low as pricing remains the key deciding factor,” said Haiu.

What’s your pick?

“It all depends on the nature of the meeting. If the staff is arranging for something that can allow for more flexibility like a casual, themed meeting and the event is internal, we can afford to think out of the box. Non-conventional venues will definitely be more interesting and attractive because they promise some fun.”
Irene Leong
Singapore travel lead

“We hardly hold meetings at outdoor or non-traditional venues as we have meeting rooms in our office. If the number of participants is more than what can be accommodated in our own premises, we will choose to hold meetings at hotels with appropriate facilities.
As Ikea views itself as a low-profile company, we do not engage in extravagant practices. If we were to spend more money on such activities, it will impact costs and product prices, which we do not want.”
Warakorn Sinthuwongsanont
Administrator executive/travel Thailand, Ikea Trading (Hong Kong)

“Hotels are too predictable sometimes. From the room setting to the typical tea breaks, you can expect the outcome of the meeting or function before even attending. It lacks excitement and surprise. Non-traditional venues offer room to create more excitement. Such places are also more trendy, and at times, give a better package price as compared with traditional venues.
With the influence of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, the sharing of images and updates have become second-nature. Can you imagine placing delegates in an environment where there are four walls and zero excitement? The influence of social media will eventually drive meeting organisers to go beyond the norm and create more exciting and memorable events.”
Elaine Choo
Marketing manager
Rohto Mentholatum Malaysia

“Organising events at (non-traditional) places can be a little cheaper than in a hotel, but that is not always the case. Some places are even more expensive, but we get a different ambiance so that is worth it.”
Wanda Febriane
General manager of procurement
Mitra Adiperkasa

Attractive alternatives

By Karen Yue, Paige Lee Pei Qi, S Puvaneswary, Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Greg Lowe, Mimi Hudoyo, Prudence Lui, Rosa Ocampo and Rohit Kaul

Indochina Sails

Location Halong Bay, Vietnam
Why it’s great Delegates can enjoy gorgeous views of limestone mountains dotting Halong Bay while meeting onboard a traditional wooden boat with luxury services. Meeting planners seeking longer itineraries can organise a special cocktail party on the sundeck followed by dinner in a natural cave. For overnight cruises, the boat will be anchored in the bay and delegates can look forward to waking up to a glorious sunrise over Halong Bay. Customised cruises are available for private charters. Indochina Sails offers three boats with 15 to 23 cabins.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 30-50 pax
Contact Luxury Travel;

Hoi An Ancient Town

Location Hoi An, Vietnam
Why it’s great Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port, Hoi An Ancient Town is a quaint and easy-to-navigate destination with plenty of shops and restaurants, a wide range of international-standard hotels and resorts, and a plethora of activities such as scooter tours. A rolling agenda of workshops, destination presentations and more traditional meetings can be held in different venues across town, including the atelier of one of Vietnam’s most famous tailors, a repurposed former police station set in a beautiful colonial building and a typical local coffee shop overlooking the stunning riverside.
Drawbacks Limited infrastructure and a lack of experienced suppliers outside of traditional meeting venues, so more planning and preparation work are required. Hoi An Ancient Town is a car- and motorbike-free zone, but this limitation can be turned into an asset by using local modes of transport (cyclos, bicycles, small boats, etc) to move clients around. This adds another cultural dimension beyond the traditional meeting set-up.
Capacity Small groups only; very few venues can seat more than 50 participants. For larger groups, this can be overcome by splitting groups and using a rolling agenda of activities in different venues across town.
Contact ICS Travel Group;

Saigon Opera House

Location Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Why it’s great A major landmark of Ho Chi Minh City, the stately French colonial architecture befits corporate groups seeking a grand and atmospheric meeting venue. Venue possibilities at this three-storey historic building range from the main auditorium to meeting rooms of various sizes. Following meetings, planners can also arrange for delegates to watch performances at the opera house, which is home to the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera and the A O Show, an acrobatic performance.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 80-400 pax
Contact Vietnam DMC;

The Pod

Location National Library Building, Singapore
Why it’s great The National Library Building itself is hailed as a knowledge icon and a prominent landmark in the heart of the arts, cultural, entertainment and civic district of Singapore. Strategically located on the sea-facing side of the building and sitting on the 16th floor, The Pod offers a panoramic view of the cityscape.
Drawbacks There is only one elevator serving The Pod, so brace for traffic congestion at the start and end of meetings.
Capacity 132 pax, theatre-style
Contact (65) 6332-3133

Forest Lodge

Location Singapore Zoological Gardens
Why it’s great This air-conditioned function venue is decked in warm shades of wood and exudes a resort-like feel. It is ideal for companies looking for a less formal setting for their meetings. An outdoor patio is also available for meal service or teambuilding activities.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 280 pax, theatre-style
Contact (65) 6360-2285

Big 5 Pavilion

Location Safari Park, Bukit Gambang Resort City, Malaysia
Why it’s great Delegates can meet in the wild and yet still enjoy creature comforts. The Big 5 Pavilion, scheduled to open end of 2014, will have elephants, lions, hyenas and other wild animals roam free beneath. A giraffe may greet meeting delegates at the window occasionally. There will also be ample space for breakout sessions and dining gatherings.
Meanwhile, meeting groups will be supported by hotels and resorts within the new-build Bukit Gambang Resort City integrated resort in Kuantan, which is also equipped with a dedicated business events centre.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 240 pax, theatre-style; 180 pax, classroom-style; 120 pax, banquet setting
Contact Sharifah Normah Ahmad, (60-3) 8943-8388 /

Sarawak Cultural Village

Location Kuching, Sarawak
Why it’s great This is a living museum of the seven major tribes in Sarawak, set against a backdrop of rainforest and Mount Santubong. City warriors will appreciate a refreshing touch of nature in their meeting environment. Five meeting spaces of various sizes are available to accommodate groups of 30 to 400 pax. Teambuilding and casual gatherings can be hosted in the village’s outdoor venues.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 400 delegates, theatre-style
Contact /

Patio Function House

Location Jakarta, Indonesia
Why it’s great Originally a Japanese restaurant, the Patio Function House is now a dedicated venue for event hire. It offers a bar, a lounge and three meeting rooms overlooking fish ponds and gardens. Overall, the venue exudes a homely, relaxing atmosphere. Meeting planners are supported by Patio Function House’s list of catering service associates. The management can also help to arrange with vendors for other necessities such as additional furniture, sound system and decoration.
Drawbacks The partitions of the meeting rooms are not soundproof to the standards of convention centres.
Capacity 50 pax

Sukhothai Historical Park

Location Sukhothai, Thailand
Why it’s great This Unesco World Heritage Site was once the capital of the Sukhothai kingdom during the 13th and 14th century. It boasts more than 190 ruins over a 70km2 area, but the best place for events lies within the walls of the ancient city. Delegates can meet under marquees and later enjoy a traditional Northern Thai khantoke dinner and cultural show.
Drawbacks It’s outdoors, so watch the weather. Event facilities must also be arranged by the organiser.
Capacity Less than 100 delegates

FullyBooked Top Shelf

Location Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, the Philippines
Why it’s great The rooftop of this five-storey bookstore is often used for book-themed events and offers views of the cityscape. Delegates who are meeting on this deck can also browse books at the bookstore during their free time.
Drawbacks Event organisers will have to source for their own caterers should food be required. Also, some creative decorations will be needed, as the rooftop is dressed only in plain flooring and white walls.
Capacity 200 pax, banquet-style

Jao Tsung-I Academy

Location Kowloon, Hong Kong
Why it’s great Sprawled over 32,000m2 on a hillside at Lai Chi Kok, the new Jao Tsung-I Academy (JTIA) is a Grade III historic compound that was once the former Lai Chi Kok Hospital. Following a revitalisation project, JTIA now houses five double-storey buildings with 89 furnished guestrooms and the Academy which offers a range of spaces for meetings and networking functions. Meeting planners can choose from a theatre, multifunction halls, a skylight atrium, classrooms and workshops.
Two other winning points about JTIA is its free Wi-Fi access and proximity to MTR Mei Foo Station. Free shuttle service to MTR Lai Chi Kok Station and MTR Mei Foo Station is available every 30 minutes.
Drawbacks Priority booking is offered to NGOs.
Capacity 100 pax in the theatre and lecture hall; 200 pax in the Skylight Atrium; 20 to 70 pax in the 10 activity rooms
Contact /

Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium

Location Melbourne, Australia
Why it’s great It was recently renovated to offer fresh attractions and unique spaces for meetings, seminars and corporate dining functions. Conferences can be held in the Yarra Room, which offers clear views of the Yarra River. The chilly Antarctica room, where King and Gentoo penguins hang out behind a glass enclosure, is sure to keep delegates awake in the morning and right after lunch. A number of other attractions within the aquarium are also available for event hire, such as the the Coral Atoll which boasts a large, stunning aquarium as its centrepiece, and the Upper Deck which is themed after the Australian rainforest.
Drawbacks None
Capacity The Yarra Room can accommodate 120 pax theatre-style, while the Antarctica room can seat 160 pax.
Contact /

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Location Melbourne, Australia
Why it’s great It is regarded as one of the world’s greatest sporting arena and its grounds bear the footprints of many sport legends. From a meeting planner’s point of view, Melbourne Cricket Ground offers a variety of spaces to suit different events. There are 12 venues available for hire, with most offering sweeping views of the lush cricket ground. Delegates can even unwind at the end of a long day of meetings with pre-dinner cocktails in the National Sports Museum, where iconic cricket memorabilia are put on display.
Drawbacks Should catering be required, planners are only allowed to engage the venue’s official caterer, Epicure. That said, Epicure is a popular and well-regarded catering specialist in Australia, and food quality is guaranteed.
Capacity The largest venue is the Members Dining Room, which can seat 1,000 pax. This is followed by the Olympic Room, good for 800. Smaller groups can consider the Hans Ebeling Room, which has a capacity for 180 pax.

National Museum of the Philippines

Location Manila, the Philippines
Why it’s great The venue is a work of art in itself: two colonial buildings packed with history and where the country’s priceless treasures are kept. High ceilings, elegant architecture, marble flooring and art pieces serve as built-in décor in the museum’s multiple venues: conference rooms, special exhibit halls, session hall, courtyard.
As a bonus, the museum’s various galleries can be opened for meeting delegates.
The attraction is also safe and secure, comes with ample parking space, and audiovisual and lighting equipment are available upon request.
Drawbacks None
Capacity Over 1,000 pax
Contact / (632) 527-1215

Crown Wine Cellar

Location Shouson Hill, Hong Kong
Why it’s great Located in Shouson Hill, an exclusive suburb on Hong Kong Island, Crown Wine Cellars is nestled in a park-like setting which is also of immense historical significance having been declared a UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Site in 2007. It specialises in wine-handling and storage, while providing three interconnecting rooms for off-site meetings.
Drawbacks This is a private member’s clubhouse and event bookers are required to sign up for a Silver membership. The membership, however, does not incur recurring charges.
Capacity 100 pax, seated, clubhouse; 70 pax, theatre-style, The Conservatory; 30 pax, theatre-style, Main Underground Bunker
Contact Noelle Shek, (852) 2580-6287 /

Heritage Transport Museum

Location Tauru-Gurgaon, India
Why it’s great Pegged as India’s first comprehensive transport museum, the Heritage Transport Museum showcases the evolution of transportation in India. The museum exhibits motorised vehicles of different makes, like a 1924 Ford and a 1932 Chevrolet. The museum sprawls across four levels and occupies an area of 8,361m2. Meeting planners can utilise various spaces including the exhibition galleries, library and reference centre, conference rooms, mini auditorium, and even the museum shop.
Drawbacks None
Capacity More than 200 pax, seated
Contact (91-99) 91-477002

Plataran Dharmawangsa

Location Jakarta, Indonesia
Why it’s great The centuries-old traditional Javanese joglo and limasan houses used to host weddings, but they have been renovated and upgraded to be more events-ready. While the traditional Javanese design has been retained, modern comforts such as air-conditioning have been added. Today, Plataran Dharmawangsa is well equipped to host meetings and corporate gatherings.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 30 to 50 pax

Cultural Center of the Philippines

Location Manila, the Philippines
Why it’s great Besides the Silangan Hall which offers splendid sunset views over the Manila Bay and night panorama of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines complex, there are many other venues to choose from. Theatres, galleries, halls and a museum can be hired for corporate events.
The centre’s performing arts groups such as Ballet Philippines, Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and Tanghalang Pilipino (Philippine Theatre) can be hired too.
Tours of the centre can be arranged, and ushers can don Filipiniana attires and motifs to welcome and serve delegates.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 300 pax, cocktails, Silangan Hall; 3,000 pax, seated, all other venues combined
Contact / (632) 832-3659

Vyas Ghat

Location Rishikesh, India
Why it’s great Situated on the banks of river Ganges, Vyas Ghat is a pristine location which can be used for hosting a meeting under tents. The picturesque venue and the majestic river create a spiritual setting and bring meeting delegates close to Mother Nature.
Drawbacks One has to raft across river Ganges to reach Vyas Ghat and modern comforts are lacking. Organisers will also need to transport meeting supplies and catering equipment over, which adds to the cost.
Capacity 200 pax
Contact Shikhar Travels; (91-11) 4717-1000

Flower Field Hall

Location Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Why it’s great Nestled within the Flower Dome, the Flower Field Hall enchants guests with a periodically changing flower field display on one side and a spectacular view of the Marina Bay skyline on the other. This indoor space also boasts a ceiling adorned with special LED lights that create a fairyland atmosphere.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 800 pax, theatre-style
Contact venue

Flow House Bangkok

Location Bangkok, Thailand
Why it’s great With one of the few FlowRider surf machines in the region, two small-size meetings rooms, outside spaces and a bar and separate restaurant, this venue is ideal for more relaxed meetings and groups wanting to incorporate incentive or teambuilding activities. Full catering and event support is available regardless of group size, as well as audiovisual systems and Wi-Fi.
Drawbacks There can be a reasonable amount of noise on a busy day if the client does not book the entire venue.
Capacity 40-50 pax, FlowMotion Room; 25-30 pax, FlowParty Room; 50-80 pax, Flow Bar; 1,000 pax, entire venue
Contact / (66-0-2) 108-5210

Siam Society and Khamthieng House Museum

Location Bangkok, Thailand
Why it’s great Steeped in history the Khamthieng House is a 160-year-old teak northern-style stilt building and home to an ethnographic museum full of artefacts relating to Thailand’s agricultural past and traditions. The larger Siam Society building next door, which is home to the eponymous research body, includes an auditorium among its facilities.
Drawbacks Events and meetings have to be approved by the society’s executive committee.
Capacity 25-30 pax, Khamthieng House; 180-200 people, Auditorium in Siam Society
Contact / (66-0-2) 6616-4707

Melbourne Town Hall

Location Melbourne, Australia
Why it’s great Not only is this century-old building a part in Melbourne’s history, it is also where the Beatles and Abba greeted their fans when their tour took them to the city. The handsome architecture houses eight elegant function rooms that are suitable for board meetings, presentations and conferences.
Drawbacks Should catering be required, planners are only allowed to engage the venue’s official caterer Epicure. That said, Epicure is a popular and well-regarded catering specialist in Australia, and food quality is guaranteed.
Capacity The Main Hall is the largest space and can take 1,500 guests. The art deco-style Swanston Hall is good for 280 pax, theatre-style, while the Council Chambers, with its ornate ceiling, carved wood panelling and stain glass windows, make an impactful venue for presentations to 42 guests.

Tribal Council

Location Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, Malaysia
Why it’s great With an African tribal feel, the Tribal Council venue within Sunway Lagoon Theme Park makes it easy for delegates to forget they are in the city centre. Basic facilities included are projector screen with built-in sound system and wireless microphone, flip chart and stationery. Full- and half-day meeting packages are available. Meeting planners can work with the sales team to design a meeting and theme park combination package.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 36 pax, theatre-style; 14 pax, boardroom setting

Culture Gully

Location Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon, India
Why it’s great Kingdom of Dreams is India’s first and only live entertainment destination, bringing a unique blend of Indian art, culture, heritage, crafts, cuisine and performing arts together with the technological wizardry of today. Culture Gully, one of the core attractions of Kingdom of Dreams is an elaborate boulevard that recreates a busy Indian street, showcasing renowned local handicrafts and live performances by traditional artists. It makes an exciting environment for meetings.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 500 pax
Contact (91-124) 452-8000

Asia Society Hong Kong Center

Location Admiralty, Hong Kong
Why it’s great This heritage site in Admiralty was a military explosives storage compound between the 1860s and the 1940s but was abandoned for more than three decades. It was reborn after months of renovation – funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Trust – as a cultural hub. Today it is run by the non-profit Asia Society Hong Kong. The building offers spaces for meetings. A winning factor is the venue’s lush environment, making it a natural oasis within a concrete jungle.
Drawbacks None
Capacity 350 pax, Hong Kong Jockey Club Hall; 20 to 50 pax, two meeting rooms; 120 to 150 pax, two outdoor venues; 107 pax, theatre
Contact Anna Kwong,

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