BUSINESS in paradise
Competition is intensifying in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector, which is drawing greater numbers of business travellers.
Major hotels in cities across Asia have dominated the market, as they are conveniently located and well-equipped. Nevertheless, a new breed of hospitality provider has emerged.
Upscale boutique resorts are taking on the big guns with their army of staff, including top chefs, 24-hour butlers, drivers, concierges, and conference and business facilities.
High-end business travellers are increasingly turning away from central city locations and taking their associates to places that are relaxing and picturesque.
These private holiday venues tend be in locations that are hard to get to, but well worth the travel time.
Some are located in places such as Molori Great Barrier Reef, in Port Douglas, Australia; Dolphin Island in Fiji; and Luna2 Private Hotel and Villa Sungai in Bali. Once there, resorts are able to offer a high degree of privacy and exclusiveness for events, together with attentive and personal services.
It's a progressive step away from service-swish five-star hotels, whose global familiarity to the amenities and brand affiliation has kept frequent business and MICE travellers checking in for years. Yet, for seasoned business travellers, the routine has no doubt become stale.
Simon Westcott, managing director of Mr & Mrs Smith Asia-Pacific, says: 'Today's sophisticated business travellers are looking for something more when it comes to special-occasion stays, and the swathe of super-luxe villas popping up throughout Southeast Asia are offering a more intimate experience, without skimping on service.'
Boutique resorts are special, have a sense of adventure about them, and the service is personal from the moment clients or business associates arrive. That may mean arriving by private charter jet, taking part in a cooking class with the resident chef, hot-air ballooning or kayaking around private islands.
YL Residence No 17 in Koh Samui, Thailand, is one such resort. Ten individual and opulent beachside villas are catered to by 25 full-time staff.
As only one group can stay at YL Residence at any time, attention is focused on that group with the daily schedule of the entire resort custom-planned to their needs. Audio visual equipment can be arranged, and anything else required, ensuring the meeting, team building or event is a success.
This attention to detail, combined with the exclusivity and service, has already made YL Residence a hit with celebrities, jet-setters and industry leaders. Clients who have used YL Residence as a location for events include the Red Bull Formula 1 team, Coca-Cola, Volvo and Fuji Xerox.
Desmond Skene-Catling, marketing and communications manager at YL Residence No 17, says: 'Many corporates are looking to broaden their horizons and think outside of the box to make their employees enjoy meetings. A meeting or conference in a city hotel is quite predictable and a bit boring whereas a meeting held at YL is a bit more of a magical experience.'
At Eagles Nest in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, you'll find five luxurious villas nestled into an extravagantly beautiful peninsula. Function spaces and the dedicated conference concierge can cater for anything from an intimate dinner space for eight to a banquet for 80.
The resort also partners with an in-house audio visual and staging partner, Sounds Cave, making the event area, with unsurpassed views of the Bay of Islands, the perfect base for product launches, corporate functions, media releases or team-building getaways. Recreational activities include scenic helicopter flights over the northern coasts of New Zealand, stopping at vineyards to taste the local wines, or for something more extreme, such as skydiving or parasailing.
Compare it to the constraints of a mundane boardroom or hotel buffet, and it's easy to see why exclusive boutique hotels are the MICE event locations and office meeting spaces of the future.