Tourism continues to rebound throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and developments continue to make the area more attractive for meetings and incentives. In general, shipping to the Asia-Pacific — as well as import duties — can be expensive. Check prices ahead of time and consider buying items in the destination country.
While cellphones will often work in Pacific-Asian countries if the user has global roaming and a SIM card, the cost of international calls can be prohibitive. Consider renting instead. Internet access is widely available, but computers might require cards or converters to adapt to different voltage.
All of China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia are in one time zone: GMT plus eight hours (12 or 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time). There is no daylight-saving time observed in any of these countries. There are three time zones in Australia: Eastern Standard, Central Standard, and Western Standard.
The sixth-largest country in the world, Australia is a land of contrasts, with cities that are modern and efficient, yet retain a sense of their pioneering history. Sydney is bold and brash, while Melbourne is multicultural, arts- and fashion-savvy, and boasts Australia's largest exhibition center. The city is nearly doubling the size of its central business district, with the new Melbourne Convention Centre, to seat 5,000 theater-style, a focal point. Plans also call for a new Hilton hotel; an office and residential tower; and a riverfront promenade with restaurants, marinas, and retail space. Brisbane is one hour from Australia's Gold Coast beaches and one hour from Australia's largest rain forest.
Getting There and Around: From Los Angeles, it's approximately a 15-hour flight to the modern Sydney airport, and from New York, it's 20 hours. Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne are all on the East Coast, with flying times of just over an hour between Sydney and Brisbane, and Sydney and Melbourne.
Entry and Exit Requirements: Attendees need an Electronic Travel Authority, a form of a visa that can be acquired through the airline reservations desk or travel agent. Apply directly at www.eta.immi.gov.au.
Weather: Australia's seasons are the opposite of ours, but much of the country enjoys a mild climate. The tropical zones, north of the Tropic of Capricorn, have two seasons: the wet summer and dry winter, while most of the major cities are in the temperate zone.
Money Matters: The Australian currency is also called a “dollar.” Major credit cards are generally accepted. In general, tipping is not required or expected, although in better restaurants, waiters may be tipped up to 10 percent.
Taxes: You can reclaim 100 percent of the goods and services tax on business expenses incurred for meetings and incentives. The Tourist Refund Scheme allows individuals to claim a refund on the GST for items where $300 or more has been spent in one store and the goods are worn or carried in hand luggage at departure.
Doing Business: Australians and Americans have a similar mind-set when it come to doing business, so there should be few surprises. A 24-hour turnaround time is the norm for communications.
For More Information: Contact Tourism Australia in Los Angeles (800/626-6615), or go to www.events.australia.com. All the major cities all have their own CVBs. (See http://events.australia.com/Convention-Visitors-Bureaux-Australia.aspx for a complete list.)
As China, a land of cultural and geographic diversity, slowly opens up to trade with other countries, changes to its cities are happening seemingly overnight. And the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing are likely to put the country onto the short list for far more events in the near future. Traditional highlights, such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall, are now complemented by world-class hotels and restaurants on par with other major cities. The same is true in Shanghai, where key words tend to be biggest, tallest, fastest, and best. While groups tend not to stray too far off the beaten path, a river cruise along the Yangtze River is a good way to explore.
Getting There and Around: Beijing is about 12 hours from New York or Los Angeles. Direct flights are also available from the United States to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Harbin. Flight time is approximately two hours from Beijing to Shanghai.
Entry and Exit Requirements: All U.S. attendees are required to have a visa, usually a single-entry tourist visa ($50). A visa can be acquired in person from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., or a Chinese consulate, or through a visa agency. Departure tax is 90 yuan (around US$11).
Language: Most people in the tourism industry speak English, but it is not safe to assume the average Chinese person will know English.
Weather: China's geographic area is slightly larger than the United States, so weather varies considerably among cities. Beijing's climate is similar to Chicago's, while Shanghai and Guangzhou are more moderate, similar to the U.S. southeastern coastal states.
Money Matters: China's currency is the renminbi (RMB), usually called the “yuan,” and at present one yuan is worth about U.S. $0.12. Major credit cards are usually accepted at hotels and larger stores; smaller facilities require cash. ATMs are rare.
Doing Business: Business attire in China tends to the conservative. Gain points by having some business cards made up with your information in English on one side and in Chinese on the other. Present your own card with two hands, Chinese side up and look carefully when a card is presented to you. Chinese names appear with the family name first followed by the given name.
For More Information: Contact the China National Tourist Office in New York (888/760-8218) or Los Angeles (800/670-2228). www.cnto.org
Duty-free shopping, pan-Asian cuisine, top hotels, and a cultural kaleidoscope that blends Eastern and Western traditions have made Hong Kong a longtime favorite for groups. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre is the largest in Asia outside of Japan, and first-class hotels offer meeting facilities.
Getting There and Around: The modern Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok handles more than 1,900 flights a week; travel time is 20 hours from New York and 14.5 hours from Los Angeles. Compact and easy to get around in, Hong Kong is divided into three main areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories.
Entry and Exit Requirements: A visa is not required for U.S. citizens, but a passport valid for six more months post-trip is required. On arrival, visitors have their temperature taken, a nonintrusive process implemented around the time of the SARS outbreak. All departing visitors must pay a HK$120 Air Passenger Departure Tax, normally included in the price of the airline ticket, and a security charge of HK$33.
Language: Cantonese and English are the official languages, and English is common at hotels, restaurants, and special venues. Among the general population, it's somewhat more limited, but all major signage is in the two languages.
Weather: Temperature is moderate year-round, averaging 62 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit fall through spring and becoming warmer, more humid, and rainier in summer.
Money Matters: The Hong Kong dollar (HK$) is pegged to the U.S. dollar and is approximately HK$7.8 to US$1. There is no sales tax or value-added tax in Hong Kong. Most restaurants add a 10 percent surcharge as a tip, but it's common to leave loose change for the tip and to give loose change for porters and taxis, too.
Doing Business: Hong Kong residents have a sophisticated knowledge of how to do business. In general, they have excellent follow-through.
For More Information: Contact the Hong Kong Tourism Board in New York (212/421-3382) or Los Angeles (310/208-4582). www.hktb.com
A melting pot of many cultures, Malaysia's increasing trade development is bringing a corresponding increase in meetings and incentives. Providing a good value, the area is most frequently used as an incentive for well-seasoned travelers. Kuala Lumpur is the main city, and the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center features more than 100,000 square feet of exhibition space. Penang Island, Langkawi Island, and Kota Kinabalu are also popular for meeting/incentive combinations.
Getting There: The main gateway is the modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport, about 30 miles from Kuala Lumpur. Flying time from New York is approximately 20 hours; from Los Angeles, about 18 hours.
Entry and Exit Requirements: A passport valid for six months after the visiting period is required for U.S. citizens, but not a visa. There's a departure tax of RM40, sometimes included in the cost of the ticket.
Language: The official language is Bahasa Malaysia, but English is widely spoken.
Weather: Malaysia enjoys a tropical climate with warm and balmy weather all year round. The dry season runs from May to September, while the rainy monsoon season is November to March.
Money Matters: The Malaysian ringgit is currently pegged to the U.S. dollar at approximately RM3.8 to US$1. Most hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to the bill. The Malaysia government is planning to introduce a GST in 2007.
Doing Business: Malaysians are relatively conservative, friendly, and schedule-conscious. Formal business attire is the norm. It is customary to exchange business cards with both hands or with the left hand holding up the right, and to politely study the card.
Keep in Mind: Not all public sites allow alcoholic consumption, so check special events sites ahead of time. Be aware of Muslim holidays and fasting times, as work will proceed at a slower pace than usual.
For More Information: Contact the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board in New York (212/745-1114) or Los Angeles (213/689-9702). www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my
Assistance for this article was provided by the following:
Australia: Narelle Falting, director of incentives, Pan Pacific Incentive Travel, firstname.lastname@example.org; Deb Saunders, director of incentives, Encore BT, email@example.com. China: David A Spain, president, Travel Trade Marketing (USA) Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org; He Shengkang, North America & Oceania Department, CITS (China International Travel Service), email@example.com. Hong Kong and Malaysia: Jane Schuldt, president, North American sales and marketing, Pacific World Inc., Jane_schuldt@wmgpw.com; Monique Arnoux, director, Pacific World Hong Kong, firstname.lastname@example.org; G. M. Ngiam, deputy managing, Pacific World Malaysia, email@example.com