Those working in the business events industry know that there are two things that Asian corporate groups have in common: a love of food and a penchant for shopping. While an adventurous palate may not be a trait that is exclusively Asian, hitting the malls, nearby markets and local grocery stores in a foreign land – whether the trip is for business or for leisure – certainly is.
It has been widely remarked upon that for their pre- or post-event programme, in many cases, Europeans and Americans will opt for cultural- and historical-oriented experiences like a visit to a museum or a local village, while their counterparts from China, Hong Kong and Singapore, among others, will make a beeline for the nearest mall.
With the rise of Asia as an economic power, Asian groups are helping keep afloat the flagging retail industries abroad. Figures released last November by Value Retail for the third quarter of 2011 placed China, Southeast Asia and Hong Kong in the top five international spenders across its nine Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe.
Visitors from China registered a 63 per cent increase in tax-refunded sales during the first nine months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, while visitors from Hong Kong saw an increase of 57 per cent in tax-refunded sales in the same time comparison.
Value Retail operates the Chic Outlet Shopping Villages located less than an hour away from major European cities such as Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Dublin and Munich.
Shopping as an incentive
In the past year, Value Retail has seen a growing number of corporate groups visiting its Chic Outlet Shopping Villages and the company has started customising its services to cater to a corporate group’s specific needs.
“We have developed a range of first-class services and facilities,” says Ian Stazicker, head of tourism, Chic Outlet Shopping. “These include dedicated facilities such as Tourism Information Centres, restaurants and cafés that serve local and international cuisine – many of them with private rooms for groups.”
Other services include a shopping express shuttle from the city centre direct to the villages, and multilingual staff and personal shoppers in boutiques. Stazicker adds: “We work with a local sales representation company in China to develop partnerships with leading tour operators and MICE agents. We support the MICE market partners through bespoke solutions, including special rates on the shopping express shuttle. Gift cards, which can be purchased online and are redeemable at all Villages, are promoted as the ideal incentive gift for companies to their guests. We can also arrange a VIP welcome at the Village, which will include a special gift bag with VIP discount and lunch vouchers. And if requested, we can also offer personal consultation to help partners bundle the visit to the Village with other local attractions by leveraging the excellent local tourism relationships we have.”
According to Stazicker, there are no set time limits for a shopping incentive, which can last for a minimum of four hours to a full day, and may include a regional tour and a simple lunch together with an afternoon of shopping. Last year, one of its largest groups came from Malaysia – an incentive group of 900 people who visited La Vallée Village in Paris for one full day of retail therapy.
For groups, the biggest draw of the Chic Outlet Shopping Villages is their “affordable luxury”, offering international and niche European brands in more than 900 boutiques at prices that are up to 60 per cent cheaper than the regular retail prices.
Building an experience
In Australia, Shop in Style Escape is making a name for itself by taking the shopping element of an incentive itinerary to a whole new level. At the recent Dreamtime event held in Sydney last November, the one-year-old company was tapped to design a shopping itinerary that was more than simply setting your group loose in a designated shopping area in the city.
It started with a stylish breakfast at the Centennial Parklands Dining in Sydney’s Centennial Park, and while the participants who pre-selected the activity enjoyed their scones and tea, an image consultant and stylist from The Image Boutique and a consultant from the Make Up Store, an Australian cosmetics brand, gave tips on the latest fashion and make-up trends – with onsite demonstrations done on some volunteers.
The session was designed to help the group as they shopped and browsed around the stores in the trendy Paddington district. This three-hour experience is the company’s basic package for small groups.
The longest event that it has done to date spanned three days. The participants were divided into smaller groups who rotated through various workshops in the grand ballroom of a hotel and then experienced various shopping destinations throughout Sydney, mixing the activity with destination experiences such as a Sydney Harbour cruise and a visit to Bondi Beach.
“You need to understand who the clientele are, whether they have been to Australia before, and if so, what destinations and experiences they have visited in order to be able to offer the most appropriate location for the incentive. We also need to have a rough understanding of the age, demographic and gender of each group,” says Michelle Farrar-Eagles, director of Shop in Style Escape.
Farrar-Eagles adds that shops are selected based on the response they get from the initial client questionnaire. “It’s great to understand what the client expectations are, so we can exceed them. We find out how much time they have available and whether they have a specific location in mind, or are happy to leave it all to us to arrange.”
Farrar-Eagles says Shop in Style Escape puts a focus on Australian designers and retailers “as it is a great chance to show off our local talent to international visitors and expose them to labels they may never have heard of before”.
“It is nice for our clients to go home with new pieces that they know they are not going to see someone else wearing down the street,” she explains. Shop in Style Escape also takes care that its incentive programmes can comfortably cater to mixed groups by choosing retailers who serve both female and male demographics.
If time is available, the company also builds separate experiences for both sexes into the programme. “The women may be enjoying an hour of manicures and pedicures while the men are having a personalised service at some specific male boutiques. We always tweak our packages to suite the client’s individual needs – rarely are two incentives ever exactly the same,” Farrar-Eagles says.
Asked about things to consider when putting together a shopping programme for Asian groups, Farrar-Eagles notes: “There is not much difference really – unless the level of English is not great, in which case we arrange for interpreters to travel with the group to assist. Sometimes, we have found that some of our Asian clients are very petite, so we make sure we include retailers that cater for petite sizes such as sass & bide and Country Road.”
Their biggest challenge? “Time probably is the biggest challenge, as clients tend to want to squeeze so much into a small period of time. We attempt to convince them to allow
as much time as possible so that clients can enjoy the entire experience and not feel rushed. It’s amazing how carried away people can get when shopping and how quickly time just disappears.”
Programme: Shop in Style Escape fashion and make-up workshops
Company: Stella Group of Companies
Venue: Salt Resort, Kingscliff, New South Wales
Date: December 2011
Last Christmas, Shop in Style Escape was invited to conduct a special programme for the Stella Group of Companies’ top national VIP clients. The objective was to show the female executives some creative ideas that they could offer to corporate and incentive groups staying in any of the Stella properties in Australia. The unique afternoon programme was held at Salt Resort in Kingscliff, northern New South Wales, before the evening cocktails and dinner.
Two luxurious apartments at the resort were used to conduct two workshops: one on fashion styling and the other on contemporary make-up. The women were split into two groups, both enjoying champagne and a cheese and biscuit platter in the dining lounge of their respective apartment while Shop in Style Escape consultants offered the latest fashion and personal beauty tips to the participants.
After the sessions, all the female executives put some of these tips to good use to look their best for the evening functions.
CHIC OUTLET SHOPPING
SHOP IN STYLE ESCAPE
Two-hour Pitt Street Mall Tour
Discover Sydney’s best-kept secrets on this style-savvy walking tour of fashion, supplies for the kitchen, home and soul.
The journey will take you to hidden boutiques and independent stores ranging from up-and-coming designers to internationally renowned names. On the tour, there is plenty of time to browse, buy and marvel at the vast mix of styles that make up Sydney’s retail scene.
Sydney’s street style, wealth and laid-back attitude make it a city rich with trendy finds. Many of the stores visited by locals are closely guarded secrets and virtually impossible to find when only visiting the city for a short time. Located off the beaten track, we give you the inside knowledge normally reserved for friends.
We fast-track you to stores, boutiques and designers across town, from the city’s heart – Pitt St Mall in central Sydney – to the stylish arcades of Westfield plaza, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney Arcade and through hidden laneway precincts. Along the way, you’ll also take in the luxury global brands dotted across the city, including Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Bally and Tiffany & Co, as well as iconic Australian design labels such as sass & bide, Wayne Cooper, Zimmerman and Lisa Ho.