With a surfeit of five-star international hotels now dotting its coastline, Sanya is ready to transition from being a purely leisure destination.
This premier tropical holiday spot on the southern tip of Hainan Island has fashioned itself as the “Hawaii of the East” over the last few years on the back of robust growth in tourism.
“Sanya as a destination only started seven years ago with the first Miss World held here in 2003,” says Jacky Meng, managing director of Best Business Travel Services (BBTS), a destination management company based on Hainan Island.
Indeed, the destination acted as host once again to last year’s Miss World, the fifth such beauty pageant held in this beachside paradise.
With the number of other beauty contests held in Sanya in recent years, it is easy for people outside China to assume these are the only types of event to have seen the light of day there.
The reality, however, is that the destination has been building its business events profile in the past two years by landing corporate events organised by big-name brands such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi Cola, IBM, UBS and Samsung, to name just a few.
“The year-round tropical weather is really our main attraction, especially around the time of the annual corporate dinners, as most places in the north of China are deep into the winter season then,” says Meng. “Typically, groups stay an average of four days/three nights or five days/four nights.”
Sanya’s ability to accommodate large groups is also a draw and testament to a building boom that is yet to abate. A number of additional hotel openings are expected in the years ahead with properties venturing beyond the more developed Yalong Bay area.
Meng says the existing meeting and banqueting hardware is on a par with international standards. What is lacking is the support infrastructure of experienced meeting professionals, DMCs and suppliers needed to complete the local business event “ecosystem”.
It is not unheard of for companies to tap the services of an event management firm in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong to help organise an event in Sanya and then fly in anything extra it needs.
“Local Chinese companies are still very conservative when planning and executing an event,” Meng says. “Multinational companies, even when we are talking to the ones based in China, encourage us to be creative and apply fresh thinking, which is very useful for us.”
BBTS frequently finds itself working with outside DMCs when putting events together and the company is enthusiastic about learning from this experience.
Aware of some gaps in the market, the company intends to fill specialised niches where it can.
“We are now building our own production house to give us the ability to cater to the staging and audiovisual needs of a group.”
If done well, this would encourage groups hosting events in Sanya to source more of their requirements locally to save on costs.
“If you want to put together a gala dinner with all the works and the ‘wow’ factor, the cost can be high because of the resource problem. Spending on basic lighting, sound sytem and a simple stage alone can run to between RMB20,000 (US$3,014) and RMB50,000 (US$7,534), which is 5 to 10 percent higher than in the main cities.”
Last year, the local government announced a plan to transform Hainan into an “International Tourism Island”. The goal is to bring the island’s tourism facilities, management and service levels up to international standards by 2020. An integral part of this plan is to develop Sanya as an all-round business events destination, spearheading the island’s single-minded efforts to woo the international market.
At the moment, though, it is the five-star hotel chains that are in the forefront of building Sanya’s reputation as a host for premium business events.
In just two and a half years, The Ritz-Carlton Sanya has had more than 700 events, according to Eileen Zhong, the resort’s director of group sales.
“Already, we have quite a number of repeat customers for business events,” she adds.
The Ritz-Carlton Sanya’s general manager Michell Goget points to his staff’s service-oriented attitude and attention to detail as the reason for the return engagements.
“We attract events organised by companies targeting the luxury segment,” he says. “I believe that the event organisers find a natural synergy between their luxury brands and The Ritz-Carlton. Many groups are from multinational companies based outside of China.”
It also helps that the property makes high maintenance standards a priority – making strategic improvements and regular upgrades to its premises. This ensures the resort’s competitiveness against the string of new properties that have opened or are expected to open in developing areas beyond Yalong Bay.
InterContinental Sanya Resort located in Xiao Dong Hai, opened in July last year, and hopes its pristine views will attract groups looking for venue options outside the better-known district.
“We are optimistic about our prospects. Sanya remains a must-visit destination for business groups coming to Hainan Island,” says Diana Zhou, the property’s director of event sales. “With the high-speed train between the capital Haikou and Sanya now finished, it cuts travelling time from three and a half hours to one and a half hours.”
For a new kid on the block, the resort is no slouch when it comes to achieving business event targets. Indeed, the first event there – an exclusive wine dinner for 120 people – was held three days before the official opening of the resort.
“By November 2010, we had already hit our events target for the year. In the coming year, we hope to keep our forward momentum,” Zhou says.
She adds that the hotel is developing its InterContinental Insider Collection, a programme of authentic local experiences that can be customised depending on the needs of different business groups.
Another relatively new player in Sanya’s resort scene, the Mandarin Oriental in Dadonghai Beach, is among the new tourism developments that have ventured eastward, beyond the Yalong Bay area.
Like many of its counterparts in Sanya, the resort features spacious meeting areas both indoors and outdoors. Its dedicated MICE pavilion is totally separate from the other facilities within the resort, making it possible to offer something special. This helps to minimise outside distractions and enhances the privacy of groups in a brainstorming session.
“But working with meeting specialists, who accompanied our corporate event clients, has opened our eyes to explore other possibilities,” says Tungsten Zhang, director of communications. “We have learned from them that an event doesn’t always have to be in a typical venue; it can be held in the recreation room, gym or within a villa.”
He says that one of the resort’s most memorable events was organised by Porsche at its spa facility.
Meanwhile, the old-timers in Yalong Bay are not resting on their laurels.
Derrick Xu, director of convention services at Sheraton Sanya Resort, says his team continues to hone their skills with every event.
“We have the advantage of having the space to host big events and we have an experienced team with a single point of contact to help cater to the needs of event organisers.”
Sheraton is a major business event venue in Sanya with 30 percent to 40 percent of its revenues generated from corporate groups. It has come a long way since hosting the finals of two consecutive Miss World pageants held in Sanya in 2004 and 2005.
The resort is able to accommodate large groups, such as the Sweden-based cosmetics brand Oriflame, which brought a group of 1,000 people from its Asia- Pacific and Russia offices for a five-day incentive trip.
“One of the highlights of the programme was the outside catering for a theme party at Yalong Bay Centre Square,” Xu recalls.
A matter of face
As China’s premier tropical getaway, both local and foreign companies operating on the mainland pick Sanya as their preferred destination for offsite events.
In fact, in recent years the destination has seen a round of spectacular car launches by renowned brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen.
“It’s a closely knit industry. I guess the dealers who have been invited to these events compare notes and the car manufacturers holding their events here are very aware of this fact,” says Tony Tuo, assistant director of events at Hilton Sanya Resorts and Spa.
Because of this, he adds, a big car company is compelled to put on a programme that is at least a match for anything organised recently by an industry rival.
“It’s a face thing,” says Tuo. “While the client may say that they don’t have any specific budget, they would ask whether their rival paid RMB2,000 (US$301) to RMB3,000 (US$452) a night in accommodation, whether it was double or single occupancy, and what the budget and menu was for the dinners and receptions done in the hotel.”
The Hilton is no stranger to meticulously planned events. For top-tier companies, the resort’s events team is adept at working with different suppliers, production houses and even the PR and advertising agencies hired by its clients to conceptualise the look and feel of the programme.
“There was one client where we used a specially branded keycard and keycard holder for their guests. The client specified what magazines must be found in the guestroom. No detail was left to chance,” Tuo says. He adds: “For a dinner outside the resort where Hilton provided the offsite catering, the client got a supplier of the Beijing Games to set up not only a ballroom and the red carpet under a huge tent, but also aircon, kitchen and washroom.”
For Edmund Ko, resident manager of Sanya Marriott Resort and Spa, the lack of good DMCs and other event suppliers at the destination are barriers that need to be addressed.
“For special performances, we have to source outside the island,” he says.
The resort was among the first of the international chains to open in Sanya in June 2004, and has built up a solid reputation for handling corporate groups of varying size. It has added to its venue inventory with the construction of a beachfront wedding chapel that can hold groups up to 50 people.
With the destination’s robust growth and its current focus on business events, Ko is cautiously optimistic that the arrival of more international groups will trigger a knowledge transfer that ultimately enhances the destination’s ability to handle business events.
“It’s time we get more groups from within Asia-Pacific,” he says.
Sanya Phoenix International Airport is served by major mainland carriers. International guests visiting the island typically fly from Beijing and Shanghai. There are also direct flights from Hong Kong by Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Hong Kong Express.
Visitors holding passports from Germany, North Korea and Russia can stay in Sanya for up to 21 days without a visa. Tour groups from about 20 countries can enjoy a visa-free stay for up to 15 days so long as the trip is organised by a registered travel agency in Hainan province approved by China National Tourism Administration. These countries include Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK, Ukraine and the US. Reportedly, work is in progress to extend this visa-free entry to groups travelling for meetings, incentives and other business events.
Weather is warm all year round with an average temperature of 25°C. The wet season is from May to October and the dry season is from December to March.
Mandarin Chinese is commonly spoken but you can find English-speaking staff in most five-star resorts. Signs in Russian and in English are also found in many F&B and shopping outlets.
Sanya Tourism Development Board
+86 898 8826 8452
A Steering Event
The official presentation of the 2011 Phaeton GP3 by Volkswagen brought hundreds of global media people to Sanya for a test drive
German-based carmaker Volkswagen knows how to create an impact when it puts together an event to unveil its latest masterpiece on four wheels.
In June last year, it flew to Sanya 700 members of the international media for the presentation of its 2011 Phaeton, a flagship luxury sedan.
The two-day press programme held primarily at The Ritz-Carlton Sanya formed only part of Volkswagen’s first high-profile international event in China.
In fact, the full event for the Phaeton ran for nearly a month – from May 20 to June 16 – with about 2,000 dealers and distributors in attendance.
One of the centrepieces of the event production was the specially created 200sqm deluxe pavilion in the resort’s central garden.
“China is the biggest market for the Phaeton so it feels natural for us to hold our dynamic presentation there,” says Michael Theberath from Volkswagen AG. “We chose Sanya for its very nice location and its flexibility in allowing our guests to drive by themselves on its roads.”
Exploring a new destination while test driving the latest Phaeton left a deep impression on the attendees.
“We put together the best programme line-up to show the car. At its core was the driving experience and the opportunity to talk to Volkswagen experts,” Theberath says.
The press programme included two test-driving sessions in as many days.
“Giving our guests the opportunity to sit behind the wheel and experience the Phaeton was the unique element of the programme. For many of them, it was their first time to test drive a vehicle in China,” says Bernd Schroeder from Volkswagen AG.
Of course, the whole programme was top-quality with every detail well thought out. “We picked The Ritz-Carlton Sanya because we always use only the best hotels for our events and The Ritz-Carlton fits the bill very nicely,” says Schroeder.
As is common practice for events of this calibre in Sanya, seasoned event professionals from outside Hainan Island were tapped to oversee the entire production.
The whole Phaeton event, which lasted for 25 days, ran without a hitch.
“Of course, there are differences in culture and behaviour, but since we usually have partners that are experts in their fields, we are ‘simply in another country’, “ Theberath says.
He adds: “There are always certain new tasks we haven’t encountered, but then again, we all travel a lot and are used to dealing with things. The whole Ritz-Carlton, for that matter, has supported us superbly and the rest was also done with a high degree of professionalism.”
BEST BUSINESS TRAVEL SERVICES
PACIFIC WORLD CHINA
CROWNE PLAZA SANYA
The property has 2,377sqm of meeting space, including a 1,300sqm Grand Ballroom and 12 function rooms. The ballroom is directly accessible via the underground car park allowing easy access for conference set-ups. For special board and VIP meetings, its uniquely designed boardroom, with an adjacent lounge is perfect.
HILTON SANYA RESORT AND SPA
Groups can enjoy meeting in privacy in the property’s stand-alone pavilion which houses a grand ballroom and 11 multipurpose function rooms. The pavilion spans 3,000sqm over two storeys. The resort’s outdoor venues also cover an area of over 3,000sqm.
INTERCONTINENTAL SANYA RESORT
The 639sqm Serenity Coast Ballroom can hold up to 450 guests for cocktails or 300 diners for a banquet. All seven meeting rooms are equipped with soothing natural light that provides inspiration for breakthrough ideas. Five of the meeting rooms even have their own private gardens. For a non-meeting room venue, there is The Beer Factory, which is equipped with a micro-brewery, as well as private rooms for after-hours entertainment.
MANDARIN ORIENTAL SANYA
The resort has a 900sqm stand-alone meeting and conference pavilion nestled in a lush garden. The Coral Bay Ballroom can hold up to 450 people and has a VIP lounge with a separate entrance. There are also five individual meeting pavilions ideal for breakout sessions. All venues in the meeting and conference pavilion allow natural light.
Opened in January 2011, the seven-storey, 507-room resort joins the gleaming new hotels in Sanya’s Haitang Bay area. It has 2,300sqm of meeting space, including a 1,430sqm ballroom that can hold close to 1,000 guests. A junior ballroom measuring 360sqm is also available. There are three meeting rooms and a boardroom for small group gatherings.
SANYA MARRIOTT RESORT AND SPA
A total of 1,250sqm of meeting space is available, including a 900-person grand ballroom, which can be sectioned into five smaller rooms, and another five function rooms that measure 70sqm each. The resort also has numerous outdoor spaces available for groups taking part in teambuilding and other exercises. Soon to open is a newly constructed wedding chapel for an intimate group of between 30 and 50 people.
PULLMAN SANYA YALONG BAY RESORT AND SPA
The resort has a 380sqm pillar-free ballroom that can hold up to 350 people for cocktails. There are six multipurpose meeting rooms with free wifi access. It also offers videoconference facilities.
SHERATON SANYA RESORT
Most venues for events are located on the first floor. The Seven Seas Ballroom has a 10m high ceiling and measures 1,250sqm, enabling it to hold up to 1,400 people. There are also 11 meeting rooms between 22sqm and 150sqm, all equipped with sophisticated audiovisual equipment and wifi access.
THE RITZ-CARLTON SANYA
The resort has a total of 1,700sqm of meeting space, including a 900sqm grand ballroom and nine meeting rooms. Private lawns in the gardens can also be used as venues for exclusive business events. Check out the range of themed parties – from Hawaiian Luau to Black Tie & Bare Feet – that the resort’s events team can customise to your liking.
MUST SEE ATTRACTIONS
Places of interest outside hotels are sparse compared to other destinations, but these are some attractions worth visiting:
• Binglanggu Aboriginal Cultural Spot and Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone are specially designated areas meant to preserve Hainan’s native culture. Binglanggu in particular is keeping alive the heritage of the Li and Miao people, the island’s aboriginal communities.
• Butterfly Valley where you can commune with these beautiful winged creatures amidst exotic tropical plants.
• Luhuitou Park situated on a hill near Sanya Bay is a good place to get a panoramic vista of the rolling mountains and clear seas.
• Nanshan Temple, completed in 1998, is the biggest Buddhist teaching site created after the formation of the People’s Republic of China. The 40,000sqm temple features several replicas of Tang Dynasty architecture.
• Sanya Cave Scenic Area has three famous limestone caves located around Dongting Lake. Luobi Cave, under the cliff on the east side of the Yingling Range, is surrounded by towering ancient trees. Legend has it that an eminent monk settled in this quiet place and was cremated here after he died.
• The End of the Earth, a place of exile for courtiers who had lost imperial favour in Old China.
Jacky Meng, managing director, Best Business Travel Services
“There is not much Sanya can offer in the way of non-hotel venues at the moment. The best place to hold most business events is still in the resorts. Not only can they save transportation costs, the atmosphere in the resorts is nicer.”