Outlook 2019: Asian appetites

Geopolitical tensions are not enough to put a damper on inbound business events performance in the region, while Asian bookers are demanding more personalisation and smarter use of their event budget.

Yuyuan garden at night,traditional shopping area in shanghai, China.

Domestic business events demand to and from Shanghai in 2019 is expected to be stronger compared to Beijing and developments in southern China – such as the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the US$3.9 billion mega Shenzhen International Convention and Exhibition Center – are expected to spur business and growth opportunities.

Kin Qin, deputy general manager, Century Holiday International Travel Group, said Shanghai continues to add new international air links, and there are plentiful domestic and overseas access choices to and from the city.

Julien Delerue, founder and CEO of 1000meetings, said domestic MICE demand for Shanghai is very strong and hotels rates are getting higher, which is a positive sign the market is doing well.

The technology sector and companies such as Alibaba, Huawei and Tencent, continue to drive demand, according to Sam Braybon, Shanghai ambassador, The Bespoke Travel Company, and the company is looking to extend its product range to Shenzhen to support business in the sector.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old 1000meetings, an RFP technology platform, recently set up a team to address the overseas outbound market, Delerue commented.

“The company has signed a partnership deal with Shangri-La worldwide, other international brands and independent hotels to raise their visibility in China,” he added, with increasing outbound MICE groups as the target for its second phase. – Caroline Boey

Hong Kong Observation Wheel

Business event players in Hong Kong are bracing for weakened demand in 2019, resulting from a global economic downturn and the US-China trade war.

Karen Cheng, director of BCD Meetings & Events Hong Kong, has estimated a downward trend in business for 2019 over 2018.

Rosanna Leung, head of MICE & business development, Towa Tours, echoed the expectation, saying that the Hong Kong market will likely respond with budget cuts. Further challenges will come in the form of increased presence of global business event players who compete with Hong Kong-based outbound events agencies.

When asked for predictions of top performing market segments, Cheng pointed to insurance companies which will maintain a hearty appetite for Japan, South Korea and Bangkok – destinations close to Hong Kong that also charm with good food as well as high quality and inexpensive shopping.

Leung believes that industry sectors specialising in new technology and finance will contribute the most business events bookings to Japan and Scandinavian countries, while Corporate Travel Management Hong Kong’s CEO Larry Lo expects banks, investment agencies and insurance companies to shine the brightest for his company.

Lo also noted a “growing trend for personalisation” among clients.
He said: “Hong Kong corporates are demanding for more innovative and unique venues, staff wellness and experiential learning opportunities, culinary experiences and a safe environment. And with an eye on cost efficiency, corporates are preferring to conduct a single, big event to consolidate activities and obtain bulk savings on transportation and accommodation.” – Prudence Lui

Panoramic cityscape of Indonesia capital city Jakarta at night

Indonesia corporates are hungry for business events both on home ground and outside of the country, noted industry players.

Multi-level marketing, automotive and heavy equipment companies are picking up in activity levels after a few sluggish years, observed industry players, while insurance companies are expanding their attendee numbers. Financial institutions are also organising more business events in and outside of Indonesia.

Rudiana, sales and marketing manager of WITA Tour said multi-level marketing, automotive, pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies “have put thousands of their members in our listing from year to year”. However, he cautioned that the rupiah’s poor performance and the resulting decline in consumers’ buying power might shift demand for longhaul destinations to shorter ones.

Simon Lomas, general manager of JI EXPO Convention Centre and Theatre Jakarta, credited the country’s “impressive economic growth over the past decade” for the strong corporate appetite for business events.

Jona Convexindo is seeing bigger exhibitions and awards events being planned for 2019 compared to 2018, noted director John Nainggolan.

With the country’s general and presidential election scheduled for April 17, 2019, business events demand and movement will likely slow down in the lead-up.

Destination wise, events specialists opined that Japan and South Korea will remain hot favourites for Indonesian incentive groups, due to easy visa processes and strong reach of digital destination marketing efforts.

Bali remains the top domestic destination option, as poor access and pricey airfares to other parts of Indonesia continue to make other local options less appealing. – Ade Siregar

Aerial photo of Langkawi

While Malaysian companies are still incentivising their staff, travel spend on incentives have not improved much, mainly due to a weakened ringgit which isn’t showing signs of strong recovery in the near future.

Rosli Seth, managing director of Feel Japan with K, said: “Companies are requesting for more half-board packages, where one or two times during the entire stay dinner is not provided for. They say it is to give delegates a chance to explore on their own, rather than to reduce expenditure. But that is also how companies are managing their costs.

“Also, to catch the Sakura season, companies are opting to travel to Kawazu in the Izu Peninsula, where blooms happen from early February. This way, they save about 30 to 35 per cent on hotel rates as compared with a stay in Tokyo during the Cherry Blossom Festival (in peak March or April).”

Also pained by the weak ringgit, Abdul Rahman Mohamed, general manager at Mayflower Holidays, expects clients to turn away from longhaul destinations in favour of the more affordable regional ones.

Regional favourites among small and medium enterprises are Bali, Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh City, according to Nanda Kumar, managing director, Hidden Asia Travel & Tours. Malaysian clients are also favouring their own backyard for corporate incentives and teambuilding programmes, such as Langkawi, Penang and Pangkor Island. – S Puvaneswary

Parade of colorful smiling mask at Masskara Festival, Bacolod City, Philippines

The higher cost of travelling abroad due to the Philippine peso’s steep depreciation has not marred the appetite for foreign incentive trips, which remain the fastest-growing outbound business events segment.

Industry sources agreed that Europe remains high on the list for top-level corporate champions and it helps that Turkish Airlines and Middle Eastern carriers offer affordable airfares to the continent.

Bella Calleja, JTB’s manager for Corporate Team 2, MICE, said big corporations continue to reward their top sellers and dealers with their preferred European destinations although they will reduce the duration from say, 10 to eight days, and cut the number of countries featured in the itinerary.

For those on the lower rung of the ladder, Calleja said they are rewarded with Asian countries such as Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore.

Feliz Axalan, general manager, Tradewings Tours and Travel Corp. is “worried” about the impact on business events of the peso’s depreciation combined with the fuel surcharge that two Philippine airlines have imposed in 2018 due to rising fuel prices. She hoped to continue getting good rates with their airline partners to Europe.

Marlene Jante, president, Philippine Travel Agencies Association, noted that corporations will still send their top achievers to foreign trips all the more to reward and incentivise them, while meetings and conventions abroad still have to be attended for networking. – Rosa Ocampo

Singapore Merlion

The volatile global political climate is expected to dent appetite for corporate travel to traditional longhaul business hubs from Singapore.

Geopolitical tension arising from the US-China trade war and Brexit has had a “dampening effect” on planners’ confidence in travel to the US and the UK, observed Crystal Sim, president & CEO, Albatross World.

Instead, longhaul incentives are heading elsewhere, to more exotic European destinations like Croatia, Portugal and Spain. Sim explained: “There will always be clients who will travel high-end. As long as there is no major economic malaise, people will travel, and we will continue to focus on luxury tours.”

Regional business cities are also gaining favour. According to a September study by YouGov, business travellers in Singapore rated Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong as their top destinations. Tokyo was the top choice for respondents aged between 35 and 44, and those over 45 preferred Bangkok.

“Japan will be a hot destination in the next two years as it hosts the Rugby World Cup tournament next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” said Kerry Healy, vice president of sales Asia Pacific, AccorHotels. Singapore’s interest in Japan will be amplified by the partnership between the Singapore Rugby Union and JTB to promote rugby tourism to Japan and Singapore. To capture this crowd, AccorHotels last year opened the Pullman Tokyo Tamachi, featuring three banquet and meeting rooms. – Pamela Chow

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