Destinations on the rise

Regional destinations are satisfying Asian planners’ thirst for unique, fun experiences, while longhaul players are fighting to obtain a share of the pie

Three giraffes roam a protected national park in Kenya, Africa

Asia hots up
The hallmarks of a hot meetings destination have shifted as demand for bleisure and unique events is on the rise, and Asia has taken centrestage. Due to increased sourcing volume to the region, Cvent last year unveiled two standalone Top 25 Meeting Destinations lists for Asia, and Australia & Oceania. The expanded list highlights Asia-Pacific’s strength and growing popularity as a destination for business events.

Singapore skyline

Topping the rankings was Singapore, followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Bali and Mumbai. The list reflects how Asia-Pacific cities have enhanced their infrastructure and positioned their destination as prime event locations, noted Chris McAndrews, vice president of marketing for Cvent Hospitality Cloud.

“For example, Bangkok, which moved up one spot on this year’s list, has elevated its MICE profile with support from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau in hosting industry-facing events such as its first Thailand MICE Forum. The destination has seen incredible investment in luxury hotels in recent years, offers great value, and the country delivers on desirable offerings including unique culture, world-class dining and shopping, vibrant nightlife, and some of the best beaches in the world,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Summer Olympics has cast a spotlight on Tokyo, which has in turn boosted its room hotel inventory and tourist facilities. While infrastructure and accessibility have traditionally been critical in pulling events, these alone are no longer enough as “event organisers are looking for different locales to deliver more memorable events and offer their delegates a truly unique experience”, observed McAndrews.

Instead, next year will see demand strengthen for bleisure and unique events, which may serve to shake up the top 25 list as planners look to unexplored destinations.

McAndrews predicted: “Event organisers will now look beyond accessibility (and consider) if a particular destination can deliver a more exclusive cultural experience. For example, Pasay City in the Philippines, which is new to the list this year, could see even more traction in the years ahead as 9,000 additional rooms across hotels and serviced apartments open by 2021.

“We’re keeping our eye on other cities that are new to the list this year including Osaka, Hanoi and Chiba. It will also be interesting to see if Nadi in Fiji, which came in at number 10 on the Australia/Oceania Top 10 list, will continue to rise in rank within the Australia-heavy list.” Pamela Chow

Allures beyond Asia
Los Angeles Spurred by increased connectivity and expanding attractions, Los Angeles (LA) Tourism & Convention Board has launched the LA Insider Specialist Program in Asia to equip trade agents with destination facts, products and updates.

The programme provides agents with incentives for completing courses, such as vouchers and attraction tickets, as well updates on LA’s upcoming attractions.

The following years will see several new points of interest in the destination, including The Academy Museum in 2020; the LA Stadium, which will open in 2020 and host the 2022 Super Bowl; 30 new hotels in the next four years; as well as new and expanded airport terminals before the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

To this end, Los Angeles Tourism’s regional director for Australia/New Zealand Craig Gibbons’ portfolio has been expanded to also oversee Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam – in addition to Australia and New Zealand – in August 2019.

Panoramic view of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Tourism Board (ATB) debuted at ITB Asia 2019, led by CEO Florian Sengstschmid, to explore collaborative opportunities with Asia’s travel agencies and encourage travellers to explore the country’s rich blend of modernity and antiquity through its Take Another Look campaign.

In Asia, China and India are Azerbaijan’s biggest visitor source markets, while South Korea and Japan have posted a strong increase in overnights. In response, ATB is set to open a marketing office in Seoul.

For South-east Asia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are on the radar for ATB.

More recently, Azerbaijan implemented a simplified e-visa procedure that is available to Thai and Vietnamese travellers. Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians are eligible for visa upon arrival.

However, destination promotions are still nascent, admitted the NTO chief, as the former Soviet state looks towards tourism as a new economic revenue generator following sharp declines in global oil prices in recent years. ATB itself, Sengstschmid said, was only founded in 2018.

Malta Tourism arrivals to Malta have traditionally been dominated by European markets, with the UK, Germany and Italy as forerunners. However, recent economic and political issues in Europe have spurred the island to look towards the Far East to expand visitorship.

As part of its latest efforts to court Asians, Malta struck up a partnership with Manchester United Football Club as an official destination partner. The agreement, inked in September 2019, sees Malta being featured as the “players’ destination of choice” during the club’s overseas events, as the country is a popular holiday spot among the players and home to the oldest active Manchester United supporters’ club. Such a partnership would be effective in Asia, where Manchester United is a household name, and can lend its star power to the destination.

Malta has also been added to Qatar Airways’ roster of flights, which can bring even more travellers from Asia. The destination has also recently signed a MoU with four Chinese tour operators.

Three giraffes roam a protected national park in Kenya, Africa

Kenya Though small in numbers, South-east Asia is a high-yield travel market for Kenya and its tourism board has taken notice.

Kenya Tourism Board’s chairman, Jimi Kariuki shared that his bureau is engaging several airlines in talks for direct flights to the region. The only destination that Kenya Airways flies to in South-east Asia today is Bangkok.

For now, Kenya is targeting the FIT market and small private groups, and showcasing its core tourism draws: its wildlife safari and pristine beaches, and its two large cities, Nairobi and Mombasa. The board is also looking at engaging local destination experts in key markets it has identified – Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The year 2018 saw around 90,000 tourists from South-east Asia, a 25 per cent growth over 2017. – Rachel AJ Lee

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