The towering buildings that dominate the skyline on both sides of the Victoria Harbour have come to symbolise Hong Kong’s progress as a global business hub.
Visitors to the city, whether for business or for leisure, often go for upscale, urban pursuits. With no shortage of shopping, dining and entertainment options, it is easy to ignore activities beyond the main areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Often overlooked is the fact that more than 70 percent of the territory is yet to be developed. This includes the New Territories and 262 outlying islands, such as Cheung Chau and Tung Ping Chau. Around 40 percent of Hong Kong’s 1,104sqkm land comprises country parks and nature reserves.
Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK), the business events arm of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, is encouraging corporate groups to get a glimpse of the territory’s low-profile countryside.
“Hong Kong is a city of contrasts – a unique blend of bustling streets and peaceful countryside, of ancient heritage and pristine nature, balanced by modern attractions and theme parks,” says MEHK general manager Gilly Wong.
“Event organisers just need to ensure the participants will have enough leisure time to make the most out of it.”
Event planners and destination managing companies in Hong Kong are already on the ball, exploring ways to include an out-of-the-city element in their itinerary if time and budget permit.
Momentous Asia Travel and Events, which organises 20 to 30 incentive trips into Hong Kong a year, often adds a half-day or a day trip to an outlying island or somewhere to the New Territories.
“We want to promote the other side of Hong Kong. For one Russian group, we took them on a ferry ride to Sai Kung and they played volleyball on a beach. It didn’t matter to them that it was the middle of the winter,” says Doris Ma, company general manager, whose groups are mostly from Eastern European financial and cosmetics companies.
She adds: “One of the most popular of our outdoor programmes involves a three-hour walking trail from Mui Wo to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. We make it a point to pass by some of Hong Kong’s historical sites and old temples along the way. The good thing about many hiking trails in Hong Kong is that they are suited even for non-climbers as they are either paved or have flat surfaces.”
For groups looking to add a corporate social responsibility programme (CSR), Pacific World recommends a trip to Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island.
“The village runs a Community Wheelchair Cleaning project, which your group can volunteer to participate in,” says Peggy Lau, regional general manager, Pacific World Hong Kong. “Tai O is an old and unique community living in stilt houses. A tour of the village gives your group an insight into the lifestyle on the water.”
Meanwhile, island-hopping on a traditional junkboat with options for gourmet catering onboard is a popular post-event activity for most groups, according to Lau.
“Some beaches such as Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung Peninsula are stunning. However, due to their remote location, the logistics of arranging an event onsite can be quite challenging,” notes Lau.
“We have to carefully consider the transport of guests and equipment, set-up and catering in these remote places, not to mention the safety risks. We have to keep an eye on the weather and make sure that there is a contingency plan in place,” she says.
For The Destination Management Company (DMC), an activity outside the city is the opportunity for the group to indulge in watersports. At various times, the company has included the following in its clients’ programmes: dragonboat racing at Deepwater Bay or Discovery Bay, watersports and lunch on a beach on Lantau, or kayaking in the waters off the New Territories.
“Group size could be anywhere from 20 to 300 delegates. We have done these types of events for Royal & Sun Alliance, Peugeot and First National Bank to name a few,” says Jenny May, managing director of The DMC. “They absolutely love it and didn’t realise before they got here that Hong Kong wasn’t just a concrete jungle. These activities are always a programme highlight.”
Tori Pope, Hong Kong-based account director at Luminous Asia, sees planning an event outside the city centre as a double-edged sword.
“The advantage of having an event taking guests away from the city is that you have a captive audience. Overseas delegates have the opportunity of seeing a different side of Hong Kong,” she says. “The main challenge is the perception that anything ‘across the harbour’ is too far. We have managed to convince some clients to look further afield, ensuring specific transfer shuttles and it has paid off.”
Luminous has put together a four-day conference for Pacnet, a telecommunications company, in Disneyland on Lantau.
Called the Pacnet Sales Kick Off event, it involved 350 of the company’s Asia-Pacific sales team, covering a welcome reception, business session, breakouts, teambuilding and gala dinner.
“Disney was a great venue to ensure all the regional countries had optimum networking and collaboration time, without being distracted by the excitement of the city,” Pope says.
Another event that Luminous Asia organised was the 2,000-strong CLSA party with Sheryl Crow at the Shaw Studio in Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories.
“Sound Stage 1 at the studio is a great event space as it is effectively a blank canvas to work on and has good acoustics to boot.”
Pope adds: “Despite the venue being perceived to be a long distance from the centre of Hong Kong, the journey is approximately 25 minutes.”
Hotels in the outskirts
For companies eyeing to have their business events and conferences outside the urban hubs, finding suitable venues and accommodation still presents a challenge. But room inventory and meeting facilities have significantly improved in recent years, with the opening of the Hong Kong Skycity Marriott Hotel on Lantau and the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Sha Tin.
Both hotels, as well as their out-of-the-city counterparts such as the Regal Airport Hotel, the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong and the Hollywood Hotel and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort within Hong Kong Disneyland, offer corporate groups the novel experience of having their whole programme on Lantau Island or in Sha Tin.
These properties are working with different attractions and tour operators in their vicinity in putting together a package for a pre- or post-event activity – mostly as a teambuilding exercise – for their business groups.
“Since these outdoor activities could be tailor-made according to the group’s requirements, we typically refer a teambuilding company or organisation to deal with the event organiser directly,” says Rod Munro, general manager, Novotel Citygate Hong Kong.
One of the new activities that the hotel is pushing for is the Organic Farming Experimental Programme by the local YMCA, where groups visit its Tung Chung Green Organic Farm to experience the joys of organic farming.
The two-hour activity can take in groups of between 15 and 30 people and can cover a green and healthy lifestyle education talk, a workshop involving the local handicrafts, and the harvesting and purchase of fresh organic vegetables.
Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Sha Tin is recommending a number of must-dos within its area. There’s a visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and a local bee farm nearby, as well as cycling or hiking around the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Also on the must-do list is a visit to the Tsang Tai Uk Hakka Village, which was built in 1848, the best preserved walled village in the territory.
“Events are a big part of our business and we’ve been attracting a lot of big companies both from Hong Kong and overseas. Because of the CUHK, we have a lot of educational meetings. But we also have fashion companies looking for a local retreat, multinational companies with headquarters in Hong Kong and cosmetics companies taking advantage of our spa services which can be incorporated into their meeting package,” says Edith Cheng, marketing communications manager at the hotel.
She adds: “SPEEDO was one of our first MICE guests and has been back a couple of times since their initial visit in May last year. It has been very happy with our facilities and services and is recommending us to their business contacts.”
Logistics is a challenge that is more an issue of perception than reality. With the territory’s well-connected network of roads, railways and ferries, anything that takes more than half an hour to reach is considered far.
“Transport arrangements have always been brought up when organising an event on Lantau. That is, however, only one of the challenges. We need to build awareness that there are many activities and dining options available within the precinct,” says Maxine Howe, director of sales and marketing of Hong Kong Skycity Marriott Hotel, who also candidly admits that they have to change the “perception of organisers and participants that events in an airport hotel can be exciting and fulfilling”.
Karine Koh, senior producer at Publicis Events Hong Kong – Emotion, wonders if corporate groups are ready to embrace the grit of the Hong Kong countryside.
Koh, who has been organising events for several years now, is enamored by the quaint charm of Tai O fishing village, which she describes as having the overall ambience of what Hong Kong was like in 1960s and 1970s.
“As many of my delegates are executives who are usually caught up in the rat race, hosting teambuilding here makes the entire event more memorable. Depending on the weather, delegates can be sent on various mundane fishing-related tasks, such as repairing a fishing net, learning how to prepare salted fish or prepping for a day out at sea. The activities that can be created on the islands are limited. All that is needed is a little bit of creative thinking and good social skills in dealing with the locals.”
To date, Koh has been unsuccessful in bringing groups to the place. “Time of travel is one factor and some clients have not been bold enough to subject their delegates to this level of simplicity. Instead, we have used Mui Wo, a more commercialised rural town, due to its accessibility.”
It may take an extra bit of effort, but taking the road less traveled might add a little bit of magic into your group’s experience. For companies that have been to this glitzy, flashy metropolitan destination many times before, perhaps it’s time to discover the hidden sides of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Skycity Marriott Hotel
Located on the shores of the South China Sea on Lantau Island, the hotel is the territory’s third and latest airport hotel. While it has direct access to the AsiaWorld Expo, the hotel has a stand-alone events facility within the property grounds. It has five meeting rooms the largest of which, the Skycity Marriott ballroom, can take up to 650 people. The venues within the facility can be divided into a total of 13 breakout rooms.
Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Sha Tin
Opened last year, this is the first international branded hotel in the New Territories. The University Station of Hong Kong’s MTR train network conveniently links the hotel to the city centre. Adjacent to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it has 434 spacious rooms and suites and 11 meeting rooms. With nature trails just next door, the hotel exudes a resort feel and has venues for outdoor events.
Novotel Citygate Hong Kong
Located on Lantau Island, this 440-room property has direct access to Tung Chung MTR station. It has nine meeting rooms of varying sizes that can hold groups between 10 and 250. It has just launched a Meet n’ Green Package at HK$400 (US$52) per person, which includes an organic set lunch at Olea and a green-meeting checklist for the event organiser. For groups that must include bargain shopping on their
itinerary, the Citygate Outlets are just on the hotel’s doorstep.
Regal Airport Hotel
The only hotel in the territory that has direct access to Hong Kong International Airport, the Regal has the capacity to accommodate and host large groups with its 1,171 guestrooms and suites. It has 30 diversified meetings spaces. This includes a pillarless grand ballroom, with a built-in stage, which can hold up to 1,500 people.
Hong Kong International Airport is a vital transport hub in Asia, served by more than 80 airlines. As a gateway to mainland China, the city also provides other transport links such as ferries and trains.
Sub-tropical climate, with temperatures dropping below 10ºC in winter (January to March) and exceeding 31ºC in summer (July to September). It is warm, sunny and dry in autumn, cool and dry in winter, while hot, humid and rainy from spring to summer.
Many visitors can stay in the city for seven days up to 180 days, depending on nationality. For visa requirements, check the government website at http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hkvisas_4.htm
Cantonese is the native tongue of more than 88 percent of the population, although Mandarin Chinese is gaining popularity among locals. English is the lingua franca for business and trade.
Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong
Claire Saunders, managing director, MCI Hong Kong
“We ran an inbound incentive programme for two years for an FMCG group with participants arriving from all over Asia-Pacific. The focus was very much on teambuilding in an outside environment, which was very distinct from their usual working environment.
“For the first year, we took the group to Cheung Chau and Lantau islands, where the accommodation was relatively basic and meals were served via an outside barbecue. Initially, a ‘gorge challenge’ was recommended, which would have introduced the participants to stunning terrain and fabulous views over the South China Sea and would also have been more of a mental challenge for participants where effective communication was key.
“However, since on this occasion the client preferred a lower-impact activity, instead a raft challenge on the beach was created as well as an Amazing Race-style of activity, where participants were set the task of finding their way from one part of southern Lantau to another through the group solving clues and using different modes of transport.
“The following year, the programme took place in Sai Kung where dragon-boating trials could take place in beautiful surroundings, followed by a different type of Discovery Challenge, which focused more on creativity and strategy development skills.
“For both programmes, the final night accommodation was at a five-star hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui with a sumptuous Chinese banquet so participants could experience the finer side of what Hong Kong has to offer.”
HONG KONG ITINERARY
Lantau Island is the second largest island in Hong Kong. The island not only offers stunning scenery and rich local culture but is also home to the Hong Kong International Airport, world-class business events venues and hotel and entertainment facilities. The Hong Kong Tourism Board is promoting a cluster of activities on the island that are suitable business events.
Morning Board The Bounty: this is the only European tall ship in Hong Kong for events and themed parties. Home-ported in Discovery Bay, the ship offers cruises and teambuilding challenges for corporate groups, such as handling the rigging and sails as well as a mast climb.
For a truly tranquil and spiritual experience, the Journey of Enlightenment around the Giant Buddha has few equals. An ideal half-day trip for groups with normal fitness levels, the trail begins at Tung Chung with the Ngong Ping 360 cable car taking groups across the wildest part of Hong Kong toward the Giant Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping Village. Head down the hill to the Po Lin Monastery and enjoy a vegetarian meal at this working monastery.
Among Hong Kong’s unique attractions is Ngong Ping 360; combining a magnificent 5.7km cable car journey that rides over the mountains on Lantau Island, a themed Chinese village with business facilities and the famed Giant Buddha.
Aside from the brilliant views at the world’s largest outdoor, seated bronze Buddha, Ngong Ping Village has two indoor venues, with capacity for more than 200 guests each, and a landscaped outdoor space for as many as 800 guests.
Business functions can be fully catered for with the Monkey’s Tale Theatre, a flexible space for banquets and receptions, day or night. Around the village, there are options for Western and Asian dining or the opportunity to take part in a cultural class. Book the village and make use of the atmospheric Chinese streetscapes.
The adjoining Ngong Ping Nature Centre boasts two corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes: tree-planting and a clean-up of the parkland around Lantau. Its tailored events and convenient location adjacent to the airport makes Ngong Ping 360 an ideal half-day activity.
The Hong Kong Olympic Trail was opened to mark the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Hong Kong’s co-hosting of the equestrian events. The naming of this landmark corresponded with the theme of Green Olympics and helped promote a green lifestyle. It is about 5.6km with its highest point at 227m and passes from Pak Mong village to Mui Wo.
Afternoon Tai O is a fishing village on the western side of Lantau, known for its striking stilt houses or pang uks. These homes are a unique part of village life that has all but disappeared. This is a place where your group can learn about another side of Hong Kong. The village is also home to two opportunities for some staff development. The Shaolin Culture Centre offers a variety of martial arts courses that have been used in team-building exercises. The centre also conducts insiders’ tours of the area. Nearby, the Tai O Cultural and Ecological Integrated Resource Centre of the Hong Kong Young Women’s Christian Association directs a range of CSR programmes, often with an environmental theme.
Evening A 25-minute ferry ride from Central forms part of the D Deck dining strip experience at Discovery Bay, Lantau. D Deck is an outdoor boardwalk, bordered by the sea and 19 food and beverage outlets. It enjoys a spectacular 180-degree view of Hong Kong and the nightly fireworks display at Hong Kong Disneyland. The 2,300-sqm outdoor area here can accommodate up to 1,500 guests but the real star attraction is the waterfront location, adjacent to sandy Tai Pak Beach, that offers planners a chance to provide a relaxed ambience for their functions. Discovery Bay is a private residential development that houses about 15,000 people and offers two other MICE-ready spaces. Club Siena is a private member’s club with event spaces ranging from committee-sized through to conference rooms for a maximum of 160 people. The 27-hole Discovery Bay Golf Club can arrange corporate golf tournaments and meeting packages, including accommodation.
Other green options
Hong Kong Geopark: There are eight parks that showcase a collection of important geological sites in Hong Kong’s east. One could capture some of the most dramatic seascapes in Asia, such as the Volcanic Columns near Sai Kung or the 20m-high Tiu Chung Arch on Jin Island. Business groups can combine a half-day outing at the parks with a seafood dinner in Sai Kung. Guided tours and catering can be organised, while your group experiences the striking beauty of the coastline and countryside. Corporate teams will be surprised to find lush valleys, sub-tropical forests, rugged peaks and secluded beaches travelling on this little known side of Hong Kong.
LUMINOUS EMC LTD
tel: 852 2214 2688
MCI HONG KONG
tel: 852 2911 7900
MOMENTOUS ASIA TRAVEL AND EVENTS
tel: 852 2369 2062
PACIFIC WORLD HONG KONG
tel: 852 2370 1888
PUBLICIS EVENTS HONG KONG – EMOTION
tel: 852 2884 6529
THE DESTINATION COMPANY
tel: 852 2547 2321