Hong Kong:"Committed to Meetings and Incentives" Having worked together with their Chinese counterparts since 1993, tourism officials from Hong Kong sailed smoothly through the former British colony's handover to China in July. If anything, says Amy Chan, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA), the change has offered two new ways to promote the Fragrant Harbour (the English translation of "Hong Kong") as a destination for corporate meetings and incentives.

The first: Hong Kong is one of the great cities of China, taking its place alongside such well-known cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, and Guilin. "In China, there is natural scenery, history, and culture. Hong Kong has the trendiness, the modernity, the vibrancy," Chan says.

The second: Hong Kong is "the gateway to China," says Chan. "It is the nerve center, the training ground, the springboard. To learn how to do business in China, come to Hong Kong."

Development in Hong Kong continues at a fever pitch. In addition to the new airport, some 16,000 additional hotel rooms are expected by 2000, many of them in three- and four-star properties, to cater to a broader range of corporate meetings. "Hong Kong is very committed to meeting and incentive business," Chan says.

As for the effects of the recent handover, Chan says: "Everything you know from Hong Kong will remain the same. The way we live, the way we do business. English is still one of the official languages; there are still English street signs."

In fact, she says, "Hong Kong has become even busier with the change in sovereignty. Its position is more important."

Hyatt: Growing in Germany, The Middle East Continuing its rapid growth, Hyatt International will open three new hotels in Germany next year, along with a new property in Amman, Jordan.

In Germany, the Hyatt Regency Mainz opens in February, the Park Hyatt Hamburg in April, and the Grand Hyatt Berlin sometime next fall. The Berlin project (the first Grand Hyatt in Europe) is part of the rebuilding and revitalization of Potsdamer Platz, which had been the city's center until the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. The mixed-use Potsdamer Platz development, a fitting symbol of East and West rejoined, is walking distance from historic Brandenburg Gate, the East Side Gallery (a display of remainders of the Berlin Wall at their original site), and the former East Berlin itself, which awaits discovery by visitors. The city's main shopping street, Unter den Linden Boulevard, also is nearby.

"Berlin has always been the capital, but the government was not there," says Petra Schulze-Permentier, director of business development for Park Hyatt Hamburg. "The government will be moving there by 2000. That's bringing more people and companies to Berlin. Berlin is also a strong destination because Berliners are different. They are very outspoken, they have their own dialect, they have more humor."

The ballroom at the 346-room Grand Hyatt Berlin will hold 660 for a banquet; eight other conference rooms seat from 30 to 850 delegates.

The Park Hyatt Hamburg is being created out of a warehouse that dates from 1911. Occupying the top five floors, the hotel will be above an upscale shopping arcade on the lower floors. Hamburg--a "weekend city"--is the second-largest trade port in Europe. Day trips to the traditional town of Luebeck are a popular option; and the Elbe River is plied by ships cruising to England and Scandinavia.

The 255-room Park Hyatt Hamburg also features 34 residential apartments for long-term guests. Six conference rooms seat ten to 250 persons.

The Hyatt Regency Mainz is sited along the Rhine River in a small city only 25 minutes from the Frankfurt airport. "It is convenient to Frankfurt, but not in Frankfurt," says Schulze-Permentier. The hotel will have 268 rooms and suites and a 4,500-square-foot ballroom.

Farther afield is the Grand Hyatt Amman in Jordan, the first Grand Hyatt in the Middle East, scheduled to open in the fall of 1998. "Middle East development is happening at breakneck speed," says Andrew Ashmore, Hyatt's Dubai-based director of marketing, Middle East & Africa. "We're seeing a growing demand from the tourism sector, especially from Europe. Now we're working on attracting visitors from the United States. The Middle East has a lot to offer."

That includes history, archaeological sites, beaches--and modernity and safety, Ashmore insists. "Perception is everything," he says of the security question.

The Grand Hyatt Amman will have 312 rooms including 16 suites, plus a Grand Ballroom seating 800 for a banquet.

The Bahamas: They Listened, You Came Perhaps they should win an award for the destination or supplier who listened best to their customers. The Islands of the Bahamas, including Nassau and Paradise Island, made a conscious decision to clean up their image among meeting and incentive planners several years ago. And they succeeded.

"Our government changed about five years ago, and the new government realized that we had been in the business of tourism for a very long time, but that we hadn't done much in the way of improving our product," says Vernice Walkine, general manager of marketing for The Americas, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Surveys showed that tourists who were coming were not returning.

So, $1 billion later, the islands' infrastructure, including airport and cruise docks, roads, and utilities, has been improved; and massive private monies have been invested in hotels, several of which the government owned and divested. With the retraining of its hospitality employees, The Bahamas has turned around its image.

Part of those efforts were to form an advisory board of 25 meeting and incentive planners who meet twice a year. They give valued input and advice on how to attract that market. One of its recommendations was to create a toll-free number--(888) GROUPS-1--a group desk dedicated to answering questions and to facilitate all meeting requests.

Also, Group Preview magazine is published twice a year and gives planners details on customs, weather, and festivals, as well as a destination guide to hotels and facilities.

The entrance of Sun International (see Atlantis, at right) was the catalyst to the flurry of hotel development, according to Walkine, and Marriott, Sandals, and SuperClubs quickly followed. "Our surveys now show a much higher visitor satisfaction level, and renewed pride on the part of Bahamians," she says.

By the end of 1998, a number of guest rooms will be added, including 1,300 at Atlantis, 204 at Sandals, 195 at Super Clubs, and 300 at the British Colonial, according to Bill Volk, executive vice president, Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board.

The Islands of the Bahamas also have fam destination programs set up for the incentive, corporate, and insurance segments of the marketplace, offering complimentary site inspections any time of the year, says George Brice, director of national sales, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Sydney Convention Centre Expansion: Ready for 2000 It's been ten years since the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, one of the world's first great "integrated" convention centers, came online, and it is embarking on another expansion, which will add a new auditorium for 1,000 persons, a banquet room for 1,000, and 23,680 square feet of additional exhibition space. The addition will be complete well in time for the Olympics in the year 2000, according to Diane Norvick, director of marketing and sales.

Norvick, who says corporate groups make up a large portion of the center's business, sees a blurring of lines and distinctions between conventions and expositions, meaning that nowadays, you usually don't have one without the other.

"Twenty-five percent of our business is international, and that's growingas well," she adds.

The reason incentive groups look to the center for facilities and space is because the striking center, located on Darling Harbour, "is more like a convention hotel, rather than a convention center." Primary to that market's needs is the center's catering staff, which is second to none. A full brochure on its menu offerings is available to meeting planners.

Of particular interest is a conference center within the convention center, called the Skyline Level. It seats up to 250 persons and offers panoramic views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and skyline. The stunning outdoor Skyline Terrace can be used alone for functions, or with the auditorium or suite of meeting rooms also on that level.

Because the Centre will be an Olympic venue for the games, much interest has been aroused from corporate sponsors and other U.S. companies for pre- and post-Olympic incentive programs, Norvick adds.

Sol Melia: In an Expansive Mood Sol Melia is a major hotel chain, with 205 hotels in 25 countries located all over the world, but where it's really poised for growth is in the burgeoning Latin American countries. With more than 6,600 guest rooms in hotels in seven countries in Latin America, the chain seems to be adding a hotel a month. It has six properties in Costa Rica, good news for an incentive industry that is eager and willing to travel to one of this hemisphere's hot new destinations.

"We added two as of September 1," says Emanual Schreibmaier, vice president of sales and marketing, The Americas, for Sol Melia. Top on that list is Melia Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort, in the resort area of Guanacaste. "In fact, many incentive groups can easily combine a five-day visit to three of our resorts, two on the beach and one on a volcano," says Schreibmaier.

Another new Melia property will open in Caracas, Venezuela in May 1998, the Gran Melia Caracas, right next to the convention center, says Schreibmaier. "It's a full-service hotel, with one whole floor dedicated as an executive level, with two phone lines in each room. Melia is targeting petroleum and merchandise markets in Houston, Dallas, New York, and Chicago to attract trade shows.

Another property of interest to meetings and incentives is the Melia Sao Paulo Hotel and World Trade Center Convention Center, "the only hotel/meeting facility in Brazil with all suites, a heliport, and fiber optics for teleconferencing," he adds.

"The governments in South America have taken measures to contain costs within their economies," says Schreibmaier. "Therefore risk has been minimized, and we see lots of opportunities for the hotel and travel markets."

Also into the all-inclusive market with its Paradisus Resorts brand are several new Melia hotels in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, an "all-new destination to Americans, on an island that has also improved its tourism infrastructure," adds Schreibmaier.

Shangri-La Hotels: Bullish onAsia Hong Kongbased Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which has 35 properties throughout the Asia/Pacific region, is bullish on Asia, in particular on China, despite the recent downturns in the economies of some countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where Shangri-La has properties. The deluxe hotel chain plans to grow to 50 hotels by the year 2000.

"We quote prices and packages in U.S. dollars to our U.S. clients," says Robert Hutchinson, senior vice president, marketing, "which gives us, and our clients, a certain stability." And, the devaluation of currency in certain Asian countries means hotels there "are giving you more value for your money than ever before."

Even in countries where the currency is stable, "you can get a deluxe room in our Beijing or Fiji properties, for example, for $150 a night in 1998," a rate that compares favorably to what most meeting attendees were paying for their rooms in Chicago during IT&ME, which ranged from $200 to $300 a night, Hutchinson.

Although Hong Kong's tourism industry has been affected by a number of factors, including the handover to China, the slowdown in travel by the Japanese, and the flip flops in the Hang Seng index in late October, "it's still not cheap," says Hutchinson, mostly because that currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar. Hutchinson points out that Hong Kong in combination with China has become a hot incentive destination, especially in combination with Beijing/Xi'an.

Shangri-La added two more hotels in China this year, one in Qingdao, on China's eastern seaboard in Shandong province, whose checkered history includes occupation by the German and Japanese, and which produces the internationally known Tsingtao beer. It opened in August. To the north of Qingdao is Dalian, where Shangri-La opens another new hotel this month.

Booked On the Web Incentive and meeting planners can now find any one of their 35 favorite Shangri-La hotels and build an agenda or group program from start to finish at the company's World Wide Web site--www. shangri-la.com.

"For each hotel, you can actually see floor plans, capacities, get theme party ideas, and even get banquet pricing, plan your complete agenda from start to finish," says spokesperson Joanne Watkins.

Users can fill out a conference request form, choosing from many items that are preprogrammed, such as "general session," start and end times, room setups, and food and beverage needs. "Planners will get a response within 24 hours from our regional sales offices," adds Hutchinson. Even though the forms have only been available since September, "response has been very good so far."

In the News: Hungary Much is new on the incentive front in Hungary, according to Julia Trizna, managing director, Hungarian Convention Bureau, in Budapest, and Balazs Szucs, the new director for North America, Hungarian National Tourist Office, in New York City.

"Everybody is surprised when they come to Budapest," says Szucs. "Incentive groups are just amazed at the beauty."

Among the developments: * There is a new three-day card for visitors that gives access to public transportation, museums, and other tourism sites, for only US$19.

* A new air terminal will be in service within two years in Budapest, which will accommodate up to 5.5 million passengers a year.

* A second Marriott hotel will open in downtown Budapest in 1998.

* All guest rooms in the Hotel Atrium Hyatt Budapest are being restored and refurnished, with completion expected by the end of 1998.

* The Budapest Convention Centre has new television studio functions that include interactive media and virtual reality technologies, including digital hardware and software.

Croatia This year will see five million tourists traveling to Croatia, including some European-based incentive groups and the high-profile Young Presidents Organization. Many combine their trips with another nearby destination, be it Hungary, Austria, or Italy.

"Everything you liked about Yugoslavia is here in Croatia," said Michael Babic, general manager of the Croatian National Tourist Office. "It's time to see it with your own eyes."

The tourist organization's marketing plan has been to always remain present in the public eye. Now, they are hosting fam trips, including a recent one for 25 corporate incentive managers from around the world, and site visits. Babic estimates a complete return of incentive business by 1999.

Airlift has improved as well, with Croatia Airlines signing an agreement in March with Virgin Atlantic Airways for connecting return flights to New York City; Washington, DC; Boston; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.

Mexico The number of exhibitors in the Mexico section of the show was up dramatically this year--40 percent from the number of exhibitors last year.

"It's a sign of the emergence of Mexico in this industry," said Leonardo French, consul general of Mexico. In Cancun alone (which represents 20 percent of Mexico's total occupancy), 819 rooms were added just last year. Trends include a growth in ecotourism and soft adven-ture trips, as well as a growing reputation for golf (two of Mexico's resorts--Palmilla in Los Cabos and Grand Bay--have won Golf Magazine's Gold Medal Award).

Singapore The city was the first-ever Asian location for the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE) International Conference, December 3 to 7. According to Tony Soh, vice president, Eastern Region, and Thomas Pang, vice president, Central U.S., the meeting is an opportunity to showcase all of Asia as a destination, and various destinations will host events. "It represents a coming of age for the Asian incentive business," said Pang.

Incentive business to Singapore has been stable in 1996-1997, having peaked in 1994-1995. Much of Singapore's business from the U.S. is comprised of meetings that are also used as incentives, and are often done in combination with another destination, such as Bali.

ITT Sheraton The number of hotels in Sheraton's Luxury Collection is growing by leaps and bounds, says J.J. Gubbins, vice president, Sheraton Marketing Corporation, director of worldwide incentive sales & promotions. In addition to the four former Ritz-Carltons Sheraton took over in the U.S. this year, Sheraton's Luxury Collection has purchased the Marco Polo in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Palace in Madrid (in which it has invested $40 million), and the San Cristobal Tower, the 139-room and -suite luxury tower that adjoins the upscale Sheraton Santiago Hotel & Convention Centre in Chile. Sheraton also completed a total renovation of the Hotel Europa & Regina, located on Venice's Grand Canal. It joins three other Sheraton Luxury Collection Venetian properties: Hotel Danieli, Hotel Gritti Palace, and the Hotel Excelsior.

Landry & Kling Longtime corporate cruise specialists Joyce Landry and Jo Kling are expanding their services to help more event planners hold meetings on ships.

Renaming their Coral Gables, FL office the National Sales Center for Corporate Cruises, Landry & Kling, Inc. aims to broaden its market "to include people who have planners as clients in addition to the corporate meeting planners themselves," says Joyce Landry, partner and cofounder--"much like a destination management company makes itself available to everybody."

Landry & Kling offers a range of services--everything from a free "ship-finder" service to full cruise meeting planning, including on-site staff. The company's new Web site at www.corpo ratecruises.com offers answers to the most frequently asked questions about cruising, including queries about tax regulations. There also are cruising case studies and comments from Landry & Kling customers.

Finally, Landry & Kling has introduced a new Catalog of Optional Services, covering such things as nautical-themed mailers, room gifts, and logo items. Call (800) 448-9002.

Temptress Cruises Soft adventure itineraries are for people who really enjoy nature--along with creature comforts such as air-conditioning and gourmet meals, says Sandra Jofre, vice president of sales and marketing, Temptress Cruises, which offers soft adventure cruising on small ships in Central America.

The company's two ships--Explorer and Voyager--each sail three-, four-, and seven-night itineraries in Costa Rica, Belize/Guatemala, and, as of this month, Panama. Voyager holds 63 passengers; Explorer accommodates 99 passengers.

Sailing is done at night so that each day passengers awake in a new location with several "hike" options, all of different adventure levels, all limited to 15 participants, and all led by a naturalist.

Swissair The airline recently received high honors from two of this country's largest incentive houses. Maritz Travel, St. Louis, has bestowed its prestigious Premier Partner Award, for the fourth consecutive year. Similarly, Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis, recently awarded Swissair its Spirit of Excellence Award.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa Though every incentive group visiting the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI is looking for something different, according to Director of Sales Dan Hoppe, there are some emerging trends.

Insurance business is booming, he reports, and more programs are including the family, either at the meeting or as people extend their visits. In response, the resort has extended its daycare program. Also new: an on-staff recreational director who can arrange tee times for golfers.

It's difficult to find adjectives to describe the scale and grandeur of Sun International's $450 million expansion of Atlantis, Paradise Island. The resort literally rises from the water, with water views from all 1,041 rooms and 167 suites. Five lagoons will display marine life, including a shark lagoon with acrylic tunnels passing through. An area called "The Dig" will showcase chambers and ruins, even an Atlantean laboratory. There will be a world-class marina, being billed as the finest in the Caribbean. The facility will include an enormous casino, open 24 hours a day and set apart from the rest of the resort; the largest grand ballroom in the Caribbean (25,000 square feet); and every recreational option groups would desire, including an 18-hole championship golf course. Completion is scheduled for December 1998.