PENANG The streets of George Town, distinctive for rows of colonial mansions and traditional shophouses that date back to the 17th and 19th centuries, provide a deep sense of history and culture for incentive groups looking for a destination with a lot of "character".
"MICE business in Penang has picked up in the past three years," Kingston Khoo, manager of product development at Discovery Overland Holidays, told Mix.
The spike in the number of corporate groups arriving followed on the tail of Penang's recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008. And with the restoration of many heritage buildings – some of them being converted into unique venues for events and entertainment – groups, particularly those on incentive trips, are making their way back to the island.
"Penang has always appealed to incentive groups," observed Khoo. "We are happy to see more of them including the island in their short list of destinations."
Discovery Overland Holidays shared with Mix a three-day sample itinerary of George Town designed for corporate groups:
- Meet and greet at the airport with traditional musical instruments playing in the background. Small baskets containing local spices like nutmeg and cloves are being presented to members of the arriving group. Board a luxury VIP coach to the hotel for check-in. Lunch and an afternoon meeting at the historic Suffolk House, the former home of Francis Light, who founded the British settlement in Penang in 1786. The main upstairs function room can seat 120 theatre-style and has terraces that can be used during coffee breaks. Smaller groups can hold a relaxing afternoon tea in the downstairs parlour, or set up a canopy in the garden for 50 to 200 people.
- Pre-dinner cocktails at Esplanade Padang (village green) for pre-dinner cocktails, and then walk across to neighbouring Fort Cornwallis for a Peranakan banquet. Up to 1,000 delegates can dine in the grounds of Malaysia’s largest standing fort, a truly dramatic setting that was once used to protect the colony from pirates. A local theatre troupe will perform in the amphitheatre.
Hawker-style gala dinner at Khoo Kongsi
- Morning meeting in the former Penang Town Hall, a colonial landmark that has been a popular setting for period films.
- Next, proceed to Straits Quay for a dine-around lunch at Penang’s newest shopping, dining and arts precinct. There are more than 20 outlets, including Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian and international café chains.
- Go back in time with a trishaw tour of the capital George Town, taking in local landmarks such as the Peranakan Mansion as well as local galleries, markets and antique stores.
- Stop for afternoon tea at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, built in the 1880s and also known as the "Blue Mansion" because of its distinctive hue. The house makes a stunning backdrop for standing functions or group photos. The entire venue (including 16 guestrooms) can also be booked for a private function.
- Return to the hotel and change into Chinese outfits for the gala dinner at Khoo Kongsi, arguably Penang’s grandest Chinese ancestral home and a spectacular sight in the evenings. The forecourt will be set up for a memorable banquet and delegates can tour the house at leisure. Depart the next morning with a fuller understanding of Penang’s culture, a characteristic that saw George Town listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008.
- Give back to the local community “gotong-royong” (collective aid) style at one of the many NGO homes or offices in Penang. Activities the participants can engage in include cleaning, building, teaching, playing and singing.
- Head home with fond memories of Penang and its friendly people.
For more information about Penang, read the feature article here in the latest print issue of Mix Magazine.