Stays to Remember
Do guests want extravagance or an extraordinary experience? It's a question hotels have been looking at closely, and they are shifting towards giving their guests a memorable time with personalised services, tailor-made entertainment performance and greater dining options.
Kenneth Law, vice-president, global sales, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, says that for event planners, luxury MICE events do not only encompass stunning hotels, resorts or state-of-the-art convention facilities, but also a special element that the hotel can offer to enhance their meeting experience.
"MICE planners look for creative use of a hotel's services and facilities, catering and logistics support at star attractions and venues, community engagement, and opportunities to interact through team-building activities," Law says. "Our group devotes great attention to detail and service to win over clients." The group focuses on bringing people closer to where they are and who they are with, which can meet event organisers' expectations. "Engagement with the local community and its cultures has become [a topic] of conversation between meeting planners and the group's sales teams, including meeting planners for luxury events. Our group engages delegates by connecting them with the environment, community, and more importantly, each other," Law adds.
"Luxury MICE events are all about providing participants with extraordinary experiences," says Kerry Healy, vice-president of sales, AccorHotels Asia-Pacific. "Personalisation is now key to true luxury. Clients today are looking for the chance to become culturally immersed in their destinations, to meet the locals and to give something back."
Healy says companies today need to show a return on their investment, so they often look for a socially responsible hotel group or a destination where their delegates can give back to the community. She says event planners also look for the wow factor and are open to seeking new and exotic destinations, especially in Asia.
When selecting a venue for luxury events, MICE planners should look for a hotel or resort that can be flexible and agile, Healy says. "We recently hosted a conference for a global tourism group and before their delegates arrived they filled out a survey which provided an insight into their preferences, interests and lifestyles. We suggested different localised welcome gifts and turn-down amenities based on these preferences. It is the little touches like this which define luxury today."
Ruth Boston, vice-president of destination marketing and sales, Sands China, says luxury MICE planners look for more personalised service throughout. "From the moment the guest arrives at the destination, it is all about creating a memorable experience and this includes transportation arrangements, check-in at the hotel, meeting itinerary, venue, and the food and beverage arrangements."
She says the experiences to be enjoyed and the destination's special offerings have become important factors in the decision making process.
"Just like the leisure industry has evolved into one focused on creating unique experiences for travellers, the luxury MICE industry is focused on creating memorable experiences for their meeting delegates."
She says Sands China has more options for its luxury MICE guests. "We can tailor-make entertainment performances according to guests' requests. In the past we have hosted luxury car launches with the car sitting atop a specially designed clear cover over the swimming pool."
Carol Chung, vice-president, Starwood sales organisation, greater China, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, says the group has noticed that while business travellers are looking for ease and convenience during trips, they are increasingly concerned with their travel experience. "Business travellers, meeting organisers and meeting attendees expect more tailor-made experiences, unique brand experiences, including specially designed services, improved work flow to ensure comfort and ease, customised dining experiences, coffee breaks with local elements and customised themes in line with meeting subject."
Chung says the destination is a very important factor for event planners. For this reason, the hotel group aims to have different brands in each destination to meet the varied needs of customers. It has hotels that can accommodate small intimate meetings, luxury incentive meetings, team building and large-scale meetings.
Chung says the trend towards experience-led travel is because wealthy people are looking for exceptional ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. "Ultraniche, high-end offers are more in-demand. Undiscovered and unfamiliar locales are experiencing incredible growth with luxury brands looking to tap into the desire of travellers to interact with different cultures. Today's business travellers and meeting organisers are looking for more exotic MICE destinations."
Technology and the ease in staying connected is a growing part of the travel experience, Chung adds. "Luxury is re-engaging with science, technology, innovation, intelligence and exploration. The internet has changed the form of venue sourcing, with rapid growth in online booking channels."
Luxury MICE events can mean greater dining choices, says Simon Yip, vice-president sales, The Peninsula Hotels. "After a full day of meetings, the last thing most groups want is another banquet; instead, they look forward to dinners at concept restaurants."
Anticipating this, the group arranges lunch or dinner breaks in its signature restaurants, rather than in standard banquet settings. "Our destinations are also ideal for MICE programmes, because apart from comprehensive luxury service, event participants also look for unique programmes in the city, for example a cruise along the Huangpu River in Shanghai, a visit to the Champagne region from Paris and museum tours in New York - which also appeal to accompanying spouses."
Christophe Sadones, regional vice-president of events Asia-Pacific at Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, agrees that food and beverages are key to the quality of the experience. "Culinary excellence has always been an important part of Hyatt's legacy and brand experience, and luxury MICE planners are delighted when we tell them special menus from our award-winning restaurants can be served in event spaces."
Sadones says because business travellers often do not have much time to explore the city's food scene and savour local culinary delights, many Grand Hyatt hotels include restaurants and bars that specialise in local cuisine. Guests at Grand Hyatt Beijing are often eager to experience the city's famous Beijing Duck.
He says the economic downturn has affected the luxury MICE industry. "Luxury event planners often have limited budgets and opportunities for events, so they have shifted their focus to bringing meaningful experiences to delegates. We have moved MICE at its Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt hotels from function to experience, and have trained associates to ask a completely different set of questions to ensure the luxury MICE experience is designed with the client's business goals in mind."