With limited space, finding a venue has always been a challenge in this city of skyscrapers. In recent years, unique spaces have opened up in less-explored areas, which are proving to be viable options for event organisers looking for out-of-the-box options.
Not your usual choices
If group size is not an issue, including these hidden gems highlighted in this feature in your recommendations should score points with corporate clients for the extra effort you’ve given to deliver a venue list that contains more than the usual choices.
“We are always on the lookout for something that you don’t expect to find in Hong Kong. That’s what makes them special,” says Jenny May, managing director of The DMC (Destination Management Company).
One of the company’s unusual finds is One Thirtyone (www.one-thiryone.com), a very elegant French restaurant located in Three Fathoms Cove near Sai Kung. The three-storey beautifully restored village house has its own jetty by the garden, allowing a group the alternative of reaching the place by private ferry.
“It has excellent food. Plus, you just don’t expect anything like that in the New Territories. It is one of Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets,” May says. “We’ve had two incentive groups there, each one was composed of about 20 to 30 people – which fit the venue best.”
But there is no need to go outside the city to find that jewel of a venue. Quintessentially, the private concierge service which recently launched Quintessentially Events aimed at corporate groups, says Magnolia (www.magnolia.hk) located in Po Yan Street in Sheung Wan is worth a try when organising a corporate dinner for 15 to 20 people.
“It’s a private kitchen and the only authentic one serving home-cooked New Orleans and Creole cuisine in Hong Kong,” says Emma Sherrard, chief executive officer, Quintessentially Group.
The group can watch the chefs prepare their meal in the open kitchen while waiting to be seated in their private dining room. A BYOB (bring your own bottle) policy means that they can ensure that drinks flow throughout the night.
“There is a cosy feeling throughout the evening and with no menu, the food is hand picked and prepared entirely for your meal. Make sure to pace yourself as the food is plentiful,” she says, adding that during the day, Magnolia can be leased for a team-building cooking class.
CatchOn Marketing Communications, on the other hand, discovers one of its favourite corners in Sai Wan Ho in an area known as Soho East. It is an art workshop that provides comprehensive painting and ceramics classes, but by night, it has another life as a fine-dining establishment called Home Cuisine known for its gourmet food, artistic setting and exquisite presentation.
“A private kitchen lends to a more intimate and authentic setting. It is a great way to generate new ideas, providing participants with a unique and fun meeting experience outside of traditional venues,” says company managing director Catherine Feliciano-Chon.
Things to consider
The size of the space is the primary factor that decides its suitability as a venue for corporate events.
“A place can be considered if it can cater to groups of over 20 people and is available for private hire. Privacy and good services are essential at events especially when it comes to impressing clients,” says Sherrard.
Adds May of The DMC: “Sometimes, transportation time is a worry [especially for venues outside the city centre]. Some groups do not like the extra time it takes to get back to Lan Kwai Fong after dinner.”
However, the unique and unknown aspect of the venue is normally enough to tip the scale in its favour.
“Events held in these venues are usually extremely memorable and members will come away happy,” Sherrard says, but she cautions that “with certain venues, you have to be very careful to plan ahead as they are extremely popular and will be fully booked ahead of time”.
Hong Kong Disneyland and Hong Kong Ocean Park add to the city’s ever-growing portfolio of venues and experiences for business events.
The city’s two theme parks are unfazed by the new attractions opening within Asia-Pacific, confident in their ability to keep the allegiance of hard-to-please corporate groups.
Service quality is key
“I don’t think Hong Kong feels the impact. I must say that our business is actually doing better after [other attractions elsewhere in Asia] have opened up. That would give you a bearing of how well we are performing,” says Aliana Ho, vice-president, sales and distribution marketing, Hong Kong Disneyland, adding that “after the dip that followed the economic tsunami of 2008, we have seen a rebound in the business events market in the last quarter of 2010”.
Now marking its 5th year, Hong Kong Disneyland has handled more than 10,000 events both in its two hotels and in the theme park.
Ho says: “Our people make the difference. They are committed in delivering a different experience for each event, which is important especially if the clients are repeat customers.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Ocean Park expects that its flexibility to adapt to multiple corporate requirements will help raise its profile as a good destination for incentives and other business functions.
“We are constantly striving to provide the best services by being good listeners to our clients,” says Paul Pei, executive director of sales and marketing at Hong Kong Ocean Park. “We provide flexible arrangements to create tailor-made solutions to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations.”
Besides the premium given to top-quality service, both properties are giving their facilities a refresh that would also enable them to offer additional venues and experiences for corporate groups on offsite meetings and incentives.
Hong Kong Disneyland unveiled earlier this year its revamped parade called Flights of Fantasy, introducing flying elements to different floats with cast members suspended on harness to perform aerial acrobatics. There are now also more opportunities for interaction between the cast members and the audience during the parade.
At the end of 2011, it is set to open a new attraction called Toy Story Land, which will feature seven metre-high toys. Two other attractions – the Mystic River and the Grizzly Gulch – will be completed by 2014. All three attractions will have flexible areas that business groups can use in their incentive and team-building programmes.
Similarly, Hong Kong Ocean Park is approaching the end of its HK$5.5 billion (US$706.8 million) redevelopment that will expand the number of attractions from 35 to over 70.
Already opened are the Aqua City, Amazing Asian Animals, Sky Fair and the Ocean Express and are now being used by incentive groups. The Lagoon at Aqua City can take groups between 30 and 3,000 people. In the evening, the Lagoon serves as a stage for Symbio!, a show featuring water jets, lighting and the a 360-degree water screen. Several more attractions, such as Thrill Mountain and The Rainforest, will come online this year.
With all these upgrades in the pipeline, both Hong Kong Disneyland and Hong Kong Ocean Park are helping the city boost its desirability quotient as a destination by feeding Asian groups’ appetite for novelty.
HONG KONG ON THE UPSWING
The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is optimistic that the city’s business events sector can thrive and grow amid the intense regional and international competition.
“A large part of success comes from our position as a strategic hub with close connections to key locations around the world especially Mainland China, world-class infrastructure and professional services,” says Anthony Lau, HKTB executive director.
He notes that the territory’s business events market has recovered from the global economic downturn. In 2010, HKTB recorded an increase in the number of overnight MICE visitors with the number reaching 1.4 million, up by 22.8 percent from the previous year.
In the first half of this year, a total of 300,000 overnight MICE visitors have already arrived, about 40 percent of them from the mainland.
“We expect this figure to reach 1.6 million by year-end for a 12 percent year-on-year increase,” he says.
Lau adds that HKTB is targeting six priority industry sectors for events. These are medical, medical science, social science, computer science, engineering and sports-leisure-culture.
“We are also expanding our list of target strategic markets from Mainland China, India, Japan and South Korea to include the US, the UK, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.”
Meanwhile, event organisers are also sensing an upswing of interest from groups based abroad who are scouting for an Asian detination for their next event.
“Business is looking very positive for 2011 and 2012. The strong Australian dollar makes it very attractive for Australians and we are receiving a lot of requests from there,” says Jenny May, managing director, The DMC.
CASE STUDY AT A GLANCE
EVENT NAME: Opening of Cartier’s Asian Flagship Boutique
WHERE: Pier 4, Central, Hong Kong
WHEN: November 26 and 27, 2010
Cartier set the bar high when it held back-to-back events in November to mark the opening of its new Asian flagship store located in Prince’s Building in Hong Kong’s Central district.
A giant replica of Cartier’s signature red jewellry box – about 33 metres in length – was custom built on top of Pier 4 as the exclusive venue for the gala dinner on the store’s inauguration day and the celebratory party the next night.
Set-up for both nights was slightly different from each other but the programme of the two events essentially shared the same high points.
Inside the giant box, VIP guests were impressed by the elaborate staging, particularly of the mesmerising artistic projection of the Cartier red box and baby panther against the Hong Kong skyline.
Key highlights include a catwalk presentation of the company’s exquisite high jewellery creations that was first unveiled on the world stage last September during the 25th Biennale des Antiquaires in France as well as performances by VV Brown, a renowned singer-songwriter from the UK and deejay BJ Béatrice Ardisson from Paris.
Both events were the talk of the town afterwards and Cartier again exceeded expectations in creativity.
We ask experts to recommend unique events spaces in Hong Kong’s less publicised areas. Here’s a shortlist:
Credited for bringing European-style casual alfresco dining to Hong Kong street culture, Classified is a collection of neighbourhood cafes featuring quality artisan cheeses, boutique wines and handcrafted breads curated by a team of dedicated specialists.
The 65sqm cooking studio features a chic and cosy central kitchen and dining areas. Ideal for dinner or lunch party cooking classes.
This new hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui has a slew of venues: the Silverbox Ballroom, three restaurants and four private dining rooms, plus a 500-seat conference room.
This private members’ bar hidden in the Graham Street market. The owners are excellent hosts and will make sure that everyone enjoys themselves. Being centrally located makes it an ideal venue for after-work entertaining. Some artists’ collection previews have been hosted there.
LES BOULES – Café Petanque
The only indoor Petanque café in the city, this venue is popular for private parties or offsite team building where groups can engage in a friendly game of boules, which has its origin in 19th-century France. There is a bar and food can be brought in which makes it a great venue for those who need to cater to different diet requirements.
PACIFIC CIGAR LOUNGE
A good place to entertain a group who have a shared passion for cigars. This petite and lavishly decorated lounge offers a tasting room equipped with a powerful ventilation system. There’s also a small outdoor patio area if you fancy going alfresco.
THE 8TH ESTATE WINERY
Hong Kong’s only urban winery, located in Ap Lei Chau’s industrial area, has a couple of spaces for ideal for small events. The barrel room can hold a private dinner for up to 50 people while the alfresco terrace is good for sunset cocktails with its views of the harbour and Lamma Island.
This 19th-century Chinese shophouse building is now a restaurant complex that includes a relaxed Living Room and Bar, a Dining Room and a Rooftop garden – all of them are available for events hire.
This 372sqm multi-purpose venue was previously a meatpacking warehouse, which now features an all-white interior, a state-of-the-art audio-visual system and a full-service kitchen.