Straddling the border between China and Tibet, Yunnan province is often described as the mainland’s most naturalistically captivating area, a paradisiacal place home to snowy mountains in the North, karst scenery in the East and mountain ranges in the South, where the Mekong River runs into Burma. Home to more ethnic minorities than any other place in China – they account for more than one-third of Yunnan’s 46 million population – it also the only place in China where you can find Indian elephants, which roam in Mengla rainforest in Xishuangbanna alongside other animals such as wild ox, peacocks and even golden monkeys.
In northern Yunnan, the charming Unesco-recognised town of Lijiang delivers a postcard-perfect experience of a traditional Chinese city, where cobbled streets lined with traditional houses – some of which have been converted into chic boutique hotels – are set against the backdrop of the Jade Dragon Snow mountain. From here, it’s a two-hour drive to Tiger Leaping Gorge, where dramatic cliffs and waterfalls deliver some of China’s most picturesque hiking opportunities and act as another morale-boosting trip to reward good sales or teamwork.
Why a hotspot in 2014?
Recognising the potential for tourism both on a leisure and business scale, international hotel brands are springing up at a rapid rate in Yunnan, particularly around Xishuangbanna in the southeast, where direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai to this Unesco World Biosphere Reserve have opened up this area of natural beauty. Exploring tropical rainforest, visiting traditional Dai villages such as Ganlanba and river rafting on the Lancang River all offer excellent incentive travel and team-building opportunities.
East of Xishuangbanna and 50km north of the border with Vietnam lie the Yuanyang rice terraces, part of which were declared a World Heritage Site in 2013. Cultivated for more than 1,000 years by the Hani people, they remain untouched by mass tourism, although trips to watch and photograph the sunrise can be easily arranged.
Where to meet?
Situated amid the tropical landscape of southern Yunnan Province and a 10-minute drive from the airport, Crowne Plaza Xishuangbanna offers companies a
Thai-inspired retreat. The hotel has more than 5,000 sqm of meeting space including three ballrooms and 16 multi-purpose rooms. The 1,500 sqm Dragon ballroom can accommodate up to 1,000 people banquet style, while two junior ballrooms, Kylin Hall and Royal Hall, are large enough to host
Further afield – approximately one hour’s drive from Xishuangbanna airport – is the Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort & Spa. Set on the Luosuo river, it draws design inspiration from local Dai, Hani and Jinuo tribes and has 80 deluxe guest rooms and 23 one, two, and three-bedroom villas. There is a large function room for up to 100 people, dividable to cater for two smaller events, an additional two meeting rooms and a boardroom.
It was 20 years ago that Mission Hills Shenzhen first opened. An unprecedented accomplishment, the golf complex was literally sculpted from rough farmland into 12 pristine courses in just a few years. With 11 championship courses and one par three course, Mission Hills was recognised by Guinness as the world’s largest golf facility upon opening, a title it holds to this day. To help golfers navigate this sprawling facility is an army of 3,000 all-female caddies who can also give advice to players. While many a brilliant business deal has been sealed on the green, the Mission Hills Resort isn’t solely about golf. The resort’s offerings also include two clubhouses, four spas and a five-star hotel and country club, which features a 3,000 seat stadium and 51 tennis courts and is one of the largest country clubs in Asia.
Importantly, Mission Hills Shenzhen is within easy reach of Hong Kong, being less than an hour’s drive from the airport. There is also a regular shuttle service from the IFC mall in the city’s Central district.
Why a hotspot in 2014?
Since the success of Mission Hills Shenzhen, the group has been expanding its portfolio of properties with Mission Hills Dongguan and Mission Hills Haikou. In Shenzhen, development has also continued and 2014 will see the opening of Mission Hills Centreville, a city within a city devoted to golf.
This US$800 million project will include shopping malls, nightclubs, apartments and offices. The facility will also feature a convention centre and several five star hotels. Much of the project’s design has been handled by CCDI, the architecture firm behind the Water Cube, one of the showpiece structures of the Beijing Olympics, and is similarly environmentally- conscious.
Where to meet?
The new Mission Hills Convention Centre is the jewel in the crown in terms of Centreville’s meeting capabilities. Able to host up to 3,000 people at any one time, this venue is idea for mid to large sized conferences. Three hotels will also service the Centerville development, providing a total of 700 rooms. Two of the hotels, including the Hard Rock, are scheduled to open in 2015. The third is the existing Mission Hills hotel, which currently has a 400 sqm grand ballroom.
Why Sri Lanka?
Often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, the 65,000 sq km isle of Sri Lanka accurately presents itself as a tropical paradise, where groups can easily find themselves exploring pristine beaches, deep jungle and ancient cities all in the same day. After 30 years of unrest, the country’s political situation stabilised in 2009 and since then it has witnessed rapid development within its tourism infrastructure. Thanks to the impressive natural diversity, the country is an ideal location for incentive experiences. There are also five convention centres and multiple hotel properties with impressive meeting facilities. This combination has attracted a number of convention groups such as the IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, which hosted its 22nd working group summit in May. Four international airports service Sri Lanka: Hambantota in the south, Jaffna in the north and two in the capital of Colombo. According to Vipula Wanigasekera, director general at Sri Lanka Tourism, the country also has one of the world’s fastest visa application processes. He says: “It only takes five minutes to secure approval online.” Wanigasekera also promises that anyone staying in Sri Lanka for more than two days is “guaranteed” to see a Cheetah… if they want to.
Why a hotspot in 2014?
Sri Lanka will host The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this November, a global summit that will see 10,000 delegates from 60 countries and at least 12 global leaders meet in Colombo for the largest international event that’s been held in the country since the civil war. By the end of the year, much of the country’s travel infrastructure will have completed an extensive overhaul. In 2012, a new airport opened in the southern city of Hambantota and upgrades to the road network will mean that by 2014, few places on the island will be more than a few hours away by road.
For planners looking for an original destination, next year will see a multitude of international hotel chains open on the east coast, supplying more than 6,000 hotel rooms to what is known locally as ‘Sri Lanka’s Maldives.’ Wanigasekera says: “In 2014 we will be seeing a host of new products available for business events groups, including hotel brands such as the Sheraton, Movenpick, Shangri-la, Four Seasons and the Hyatt Regency.” Colombo already has a number of high-end hotels with meeting facilities from international brands such Taj Hotels and Hilton, many of which are official hotel partners for the CHOGM.
Where to meet?
Sri Lanka has a number of convention centres with the newest being the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH). Located in the south of the country, it is the first purpose-built facility venue of its kind in Sri Lanka and offers around 1,300 sqm of event space. In Colombo, the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Conference Centre (SLECC) has 400 sqm of column-free exhibition space. Away from the convention centres, many of the hotels include large meeting rooms and event spaces. At more than 800 sqm, the Cinnamon Grand Colombo has the capital’s largest ballroom and is just 35km away from the nearest airport. n