Photo: Olympia City in the heart of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia
In a world where information is more accessible than ever, businesses and consumers are always on the lookout for the next big, new thing. Meetings and events are no exception, and planners are beginning to venture beyond traditional locations and venues to emerging destinations like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. But why are they doing this now and what are the drawbacks and rewards of exploring uncharted territory?
“With budgets remaining mostly flat across most meeting categories, companies are looking to offer unique experiences in a cost-effective manner,” said Jaime Roseburgh, market leader, Singapore and ASEAN, at American Express Meetings and Events. “Emerging destinations tend to be lower in cost and many are considered unique, therefore alluring.”
Pacific World’s strategic partnership & product marketing manager, Linda Low, added: “Participants are well travelled these days. Planners are looking at unique locations to entice participation and impress clients. Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam offer value-for-money facilities, authentic cultural activities, and heritage sites. They are like a blank canvas with plenty of potential to create truly unique experiences. The lower-cost advantage in these destinations makes them even more attractive to the planner.”
That said, planners must consider various factors before pushing ahead with a journey into the unknown. “Event destinations that newly emerge are prone to risk,” said Rutger Hoorn, Ovation Global DMC’s director of global sales. “Political stability, social welfare and positive economic development are the key drivers,” he said. “But a location needs to have improved infrastructure, decent lift and access — basic necessities for experienced event destinations, but not always in emerging locations. These destinations are not always a logical choice for larger events or incentives, but more suitable for smaller ones.”
American Express’ Roseburgh also highlighted potential pitfalls, such as sub-standard transport, technology, and audiovisual, travel issues like complicated visa requirements, and limited options in terms of payment. “You need to look at a combination of safety and geopolitical influences, internal infrastructure and event-related services, paired with general accessibility to the destination,” Roseburgh said. “If any one of these is questionable, then we advise our clients to consider their duty of care to their employees or the meeting attendees.”
For Low, other challenges include internet-connection quality, communication with local operators, and ensuring that these operators’ expectations reflect those of the event planner.
Nonetheless, Asia offers exciting prospects. For Roseburgh, China is a strong candidate because many multinational companies are now basing their Asia-Pacific regional headquarters in Shanghai or Beijing. She also points to Vietnam and Cambodia for their favourable price point — and rich sense of history, an element that companies like to incorporate into their events. “Myanmar evokes an emotional connection or we can incorporate a CSR element,” she said. “There is significant investment being put into Myanmar, so the hotels are good. Plus, it’s still reasonably inexpensive.”
For Hoorn, South Korea’s momentum is rising, thanks to the impending 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and a spate of hotels in the coming year. Another one to watch is Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, with immense geographical and cultural variety, and a fascinating history. Hoorn added that The Ritz-Carlton Astana, which opened in the summer of 2017 as the country’s first international luxury property, has helped to draw attention to the city, which is brimming with contemporary urban design projects.
“Planners and companies that choose emerging destinations are pace-setters, innovators, early adapters to the needs of the meeting industry,” Hoorn said. “Not everything will go exactly as planned, like during any event, but experiencing something new will outweigh the few criticisms.”