Tradition and Innovation

LONDON

The new mantra of Visit London Business and Conventions, formerly the London Convention Bureau, seems to be “Tradition and Innovation.” And nothing in London better exemplifies that phrase than The Conference Suite at St Paul's Cathedral in the heart of the City of London. Located in the crypt of Sir Christopher Wren's historic cathedral, the conference suite, with its vaulted ceiling and warm-toned stone walls, combines neo-classical architecture with 21st-century technology. Rear-screen projection, high-speed Internet access — you name it, they are all here, along with acoustics so excellent that, even though they're available, microphones aren't necessary. The suite can accommodate 80 people for seminars. With the adjoining “Beehive,” a domed antechamber ideal for breakouts, the rooms can hold 350 for a reception.

For more “tradition,” the Tower of London is available to groups — and a private viewing of the Crown Jewels can be arranged. Or how about hosting a reception atop the Wellington Arch? The 18th-century Somerset House, newly opened to groups, offers a riverside venue for head counts between 8 and 2,000, and, in winter, a skating rink in the courtyard can be used for events.

Many of London's museums, including the Victoria & Albert, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum, offer spectacular venues, especially after museum hours when groups can take over the galleries.

But if “innovation” is more your group's cup of tea, take them on a ride aboard British Airways' London Eye. The 443-foot-tall wheel has enclosed capsules that comfortably fit 25 people for a champagne reception. The revolving wheel affords spectacular views, especially after dusk, with the houses of Parliament and Big Ben just across the river.

For a small upscale incentive, a group of up to 12 can dine in The Dorchester hotel's new Krug Room. Below ground level in the hotel's gleaming master kitchen, the room has red leather chairs set at a long glass table, all surrounded by rich taupe leather walls. The Krug Room's menu can be custom-fit to any group's wishes, and participants can watch the preparation of their meal while sipping, say, Krug Champagne.

The Savoy hotel, next door to the Savoy Theatre, has reopened its Grill Room after a redecoration maintaining its art deco look. Along with seven meeting rooms, the Savoy has a new Telesuite providing high-quality, real-time video conferencing on a panoramic screen. The conference suite can connect with any Telesuite anywhere in the world (including ones at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York and The Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix, as well as many private corporate and university installations).

Watch for the Canary Wharf district's new Marriott West India Quay, set to open in June. It will have 301 rooms and a 47-unit Marriott Executive Apartments, along with 14 meeting rooms and a 2,708-square-foot ballroom.

For your connection to London, Virgin Atlantic has upgraded its Upper Class sleep seats in all planes, providing flat-out sleep comfort on the transatlantic flight.
— Barbara L. Brewer

Truly Asia

MALAYSIA

With Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures living side by side, Malaysia bills itself as “truly Asia.” From Kuala Lumpur, the most modern of cities, to remote rain forest villages, to comfortable resorts with water sports, golf, and spas, Malaysia offers choice to incentive planners.

The bustling capital city Kuala Lumpur is well-stocked with four- and five-star hotels run by international brands like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, Westin, Marriott, and Mandarin Oriental. Art and craft collectors and bargain hunters are drawn to the city's Central Market, which features the work of Malaysian artisans, and to nearby Petronas Street, where open-air vendors offer convincing designer knockoffs at rock-bottom prices.

Post-meeting tour possibilities include visits to Penang, which combines British and Eastern influences in a seaside setting; sunny islands such as Langkawi, where water sports rule; Sarawak, where visitors can mingle with the Ibans, Bidayuh, Melanau, and other tribes that maintain their traditional lifestyles; and Sabah, with the highest peak in the region, rain forests, and access to diving in the South China Sea.

The island of Penang is a 45-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and is a popular incentive destination. In its capital city of Georgetown, the elegant, restored Eastern & Oriental Hotel, completed in 1885, takes guests back to the days of colonial rule.

Visitors can start their day with a tai chi session on the beach or, better still, join the locals who meet daily in the beautiful Penang Botanical Gardens.

Georgetown's Wat Chayamangkalaram, a Thai temple, houses the world's fourth-longest reclining Buddha, measuring 109 feet in length. In Chinatown, the Khoo Kongsi Clan House dazzles visitors with its ornate architecture, paintings, and statues. From Chinatown, one can take a trishaw ride to Little India and visit the many shops and restaurants.

Other island attractions include Kek Lok Si Temple. Built atop a hill, it is reputed to be the largest and most beautiful Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Other excursions might take in a visit to the Agro-farm to enjoy a taste of exotic fruits or a stop at the Butterfly Farm to get upclose and personal with more than 3,000 butterflies.

Much of the northwestern part of the island is national parkland. Here you'll find luxurious four- and five-star resorts on lush, tropical beaches.

Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, and Philippine Airlines and their code share partners offer regular service from New York and Los Angeles.
— Megan Rowe and Helena Miel

The Aussies Say G'Day to L.A.

AUSTRALIA

What do Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Anthony La Paglia, and Olivia Newton-John have in common? Their Australian homeland, of course, and they joined dozens of their fellow Australians — chefs, wine experts, and lifestyle and tourism representatives — for the first-ever Australia Week, held January 15 to 25 in Los Angeles. The 10-day celebration featured a number of events, including a golf invitational with Australian golf legend Greg Norman and a star-studded, gala, black-tie dinner, aimed at motivating corporate CEOs, among others, to visit and bring incentives and meetings Down Under.

Australia Week, or “G'day L.A.” was the brainchild of the Honorable John Olsen, Australian Consul General to Los Angeles, who teamed up with the Australia Tourism Commission and the Australia Trade Commission to showcase all things Australian to Southern Californians. “There's still a gap between longing for Australia and understanding it,” says Michael Londregan, Australian Tourism Commission vice president for The Americas. He cites the results of the Harris Poll, in which — for the seventh year in a row — Americans voted Australia their ideal international vacation destination.

“Australia is the No. 1 dream destination,” says Londregan. “And as an incentive, companies can easily make that dream a reality. Companies can offer a fun, motivating, and unique experience, and producers work hard to qualify for that dream trip Down Under.”

Londregan adds that Australia is far more affordable than people think. For example, an incentive program priced at $2,999 per person (including air), combines a stay at the totally renovated InterContinental Sydney, which overlooks the Sydney Opera House, with a visit to the breathtaking Hayman Islands, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

More news from the ATC: Hawaiian Airlines will introduce service between Honolulu and Sydney in May. Says Londregan, “It opens up several new gateways for U.S. incentive and meeting groups, including Seattle, San Diego, and Portland.” He adds that a combo incentive program of Hawaii/Sydney also offers more options.

The star of the AsiaPacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME), held every February, is its host city, Melbourne, and the surrounding state of Victoria. Melbourne, voted the world's most livable city by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, the business information arm of the Economist Group, is also one of the most welcoming cities to meeting and incentive programs. Australia's second-largest city has the highest concentration of convention facilities located within the city center and the largest exhibition center in Australia.

On the banks of the Yarra River, Melbourne is visitor-friendly with water taxis that glide up and down the river and a free tram that goes around the city all day long. Doing business in Melbourne is relaxing, with restaurants featuring Australian cuisine and local wines; the Yarra Valley wine region is right outside the city.

Federation Square, the city's newest attraction, takes up one square city block on the edge of the river. A fusion of architecture, art, events, and hospitality, Fed Square is home to cafes, bars, and restaurants; the National Gallery of Victoria, with all Australian art; Zinc, a dedicated function venue; and the all-glass BMW Edge Theatre.

A new purpose-built hotel and conference center, the 465-room Crown Promenade, has been added to the Crown Entertainment Complex, making the Crown Complex the largest hotel venue of its kind in Australia, with over 900 guest rooms. The complex includes the Palladium, Australia's largest ballroom, which is located in the five-star Crown Towers Hotel; and the Crown Casino, the largest gaming venue in the southern hemisphere. The conference center features flexible conference and space with 11 multifunction rooms accommodating up to 760.

Qantas offers nonstop or one-stop service from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Honolulu.
— Betsy Bair and Helena Miel

Beijing Bounty

CHINA

The capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing is not only the nation's center of politics, economy, culture, and international activities, but also a highly popular incentive destination. Beijing celebrates its 850th anniversary as capital this year. It boasts a host of luxurious 4- and 5-star hotels, exclusive venues for private functions, and some of the most breathtaking sites you will find anywhere. With the current exchange rate, Beijing offers great value. Add the shopping opportunities for pearls, jade, silk, and antiquities, and you've got the perfect combination for an unforgettable incentive program.

Some of the most well-known sites for incentive groups include the beautiful Temple of Heaven. It is the largest temple complex in China, where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed for good harvests.

The Palace Museum, formerly known as the Forbidden City, which served as the Imperial Palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties, has 9,000 halls and rooms full of precious relics and is the largest palace in the world.

One of the most well-known sites in Beijing is Tiananmen Square, the largest square in the world at more than 4 million square feet. Tiananmen was the front gateway to the imperial palace in the Ming and Qing dynasties and is where Chairman Mao declared China as the People's Republic of China in 1949. It is flanked on the west side by the Great Hall of the People, comprising 300 meeting halls, lounges, and offices and has a seating capacity of just over 10,000.

A trip to China without visiting the Great Wall would be like going to Disneyland and not seeing Mickey Mouse. The Great Wall was built as a defensive structure and stretches nearly 4,000 miles from the northernmost part of China to the ocean.

Unique group activities might include a teambuilding event incorporating a Chinese tea ceremony in the Imperial Tea House; “power shopping” at Hongqiao Pearl Market, Silk Alley, and Friendship Stores; a treasure hunt at the Great Wall; or lunch at the home of a local resident.
— Cheryl Williams

Land of Fire and Ice

ICELAND

First of all, let's discard the myth that Iceland is freezing. At the top of the Gulf Stream, Iceland is about 10 degrees warmer than Boston or New York in December. It's not a warm weather place, but the name is deceiving. It is not a giant iceberg with sleds and sled dogs everywhere.

Iceland is as prepared to host the incentive market as any European site. It is a top spa destination, but it also offers a fantastic array of sightseeing options for attendees, from hot springs, waterfalls, and natural geysers, to snow-capped mountain terrain, to miles and miles of lava desert, to whale-watching.

One of the country's most famous treats is an afternoon or evening swim at the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa. On certain evenings a glimpse of the northern lights may be a spectacular bonus. Food and wine lovers will be pleased to find wonderful fresh ocean cuisine along with traditional local fare of lamb and grilled puffin found at a variety of stylish restaurants in downtown Reykjavik, the charming capital city.

Reykjavik's new Nordica Hotel, run by Icelandair Hotels, is a European 5-star property with state-of-the-art conference facilities, 284 guest rooms, and a luxury spa and fitness center.

On the downside, everyday things are expensive in Iceland. The cost of living is among the highest in Europe due to a very aggressive tax structure to care for its socialized population of fewer than 200,000 citizens.

Getting to Iceland is a breeze. Less than 5 hours from Baltimore, Boston, Orlando, or New York, Iceland is easy to get to on Icelandair, a world class airline with a very modern and comfortable fleet.
— Paula Hill