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Southeast Asia: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

No longer seen merely as an exotic counterpart to the Occident, South-East Asia has developed an identity all its own over the past few years. You will find very little homogeneity in ASEAN, with every country priding itself on a distant identity concerning culture, religion, cuisine, and traditions.

This vast region is an overwhelming mix of landscapes, from verdant, rolling hills, and isolated islands with white-sand beaches to thick forests and intriguing caves. You can enjoy a range of diverse experiences, and no matter what type of traveler you are, you will find that one special place that will have you returning repeatedly. There are beaches to bum about on, temples, and architectural marvels to visit, hills aplenty to hike, tea estates to unwind at and a whole lot of truly incredible foods to experiment with.

Because we know that you could spend your entire life trying to uncover all of South-East Asia’s treats and not make much headway, we have brought together a collection of the best, unique experiences on offer in the ASEAN countries.

Get off the highway and wander down little, hidden by-lanes where you will discover everything from forgotten tribes, to a mosque built of pure gold, and a swimming pool on top of the world.

Best Travel Ideas for Southeast Asia

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Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions: Vibrant New Destinations

As the economic scenario improves and business sentiment picks up, there’s a buzz in India’s outbound MICE (Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions) market. While the travel industry gears up to keep pace with the growth in demand, we track the vibrant destinations that are soaring high.

With changing dynamics in the global economic scenario, emerging economies in Asia and the Middle East are fast becoming important business destinations; rapid development and huge investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, IT services, healthcare, hospitality and many other sectors. As a consequence, increase in business activities have led to a boom in the travel sector’s MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conferences and Exhibitions) segment, which is all set to record good growth. “Despite the economic slowdown over the last few years, cost sensitivities and tightening of budgets by most corporates, our MICE business has seen a superlative performance of over 25-30 per cent growth year-on-year. The bragging rights and strong appeal of “foreign” travel works like magic as a reward and performance incentive. Hence, the growth trajectory of MICE is a real and a strongly viable one,” says Rajeev Kale, President and COO, MICE, Domestic, Sports Holidays, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

Karan Anand, Head, Relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd, concurs with him. “The MICE market is dominated by the Incentive business. We see this business growing at approximately 25-30 per cent year-on year. The Meetings and Exhibition business will grow at a steady pace of 20 per cent. Overall, it looks very positive,” he states.

Gardens by the Bay Park in Singapore

Good infrastructure, excellent connectivity, hotels, convention and conference centers to accommodate large crowds are the hallmarks of a good MICE destination, opines travel consultant Munish Talreja. Preferential air fares, special accommodation, transportation rates, custom, immigration facilitation and adequate facilities for all sizes of conventions, meetings, etc. make countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Dubai a viable MICE option. These destinations are apt for Indian companies as they offer distinct advantages like short travelling time, world-class infrastructure, good connectivity and numerous tourist attractions at competitive rates.

Per the Union of International Associations’ (UIA) 2012 Global Rankings, Singapore has been ranked as the world’s foremost city and country for international meetings, titles the city-state is holding for the third and seventh consecutive year, respectively. Its popularity as a MICE destination lies in its pro-business environment and strategic location within Asia, which creates a valuable platform for collaboration and exchange, while creating a springboard from which to expand further into the region. Singapore’s strong knowledge economy also sets the stage for many thought leadership events. Added to this is the city’s world-class MICE facilities, easy accessibility to a wide variety of leisure offerings as well as attractive incentive schemes.

“From a business perspective, companies take their employees on MICE events for knowledge-sharing, networking, brainstorming—all of which require a clutter-free, rejuvenating environment. In that sense, Singapore and London fit the bill; Singapore mainly because of the ease and convenience in reaching the destination, the comfort and hygiene it offers,” Ashutosh Labroo, Director (Human Capital), ISS India, points out.

According to sources from Singapore Tourism, in 2013, approximately one quarter of Indian visitors to Singapore went there for business or MICE purposes, with the segment contributing about 54 per cent of the India’s total tourism receipts. With positive sentiments within the Indian market and the increase in opportunities to collaborate between both countries, this number is expected to increase in the long run.

According to Kale, access, budget, duration, climate, MICE infrastructure/facilities and comparative value-driven air and land pricing are factors that influence the selection process of a destination. While short haul destinations are both convenient and hit the value sweet spot, the focus today is more on vibrant new destinations and experiences. “Hence, we’ve seen Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, USA & Canada, Philippines emerging strongly. Of course, the evergreen favorites continue to be Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand,” he cites.

Corporate houses are now seeking new destinations in their budget bands or new locations and experiences in popular destinations. “As India is emerging as the biggest outbound market in the world, many tourism boards and product owners are making a beeline to India. This gives the corporate houses a wider choice and competitive prices,” states Adil Bajirao, Vice President – Tours, Gilpin Tours & Travel Management (India).

Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand

The top destinations in terms of numbers continue to be Thailand, Malaysia, and Dubai, according to Anand.

Other destinations that have found favor with corporates are Abu Dhabi, Macau and Hong Kong. In terms of upmarket incentive destinations, Canada, USA and New Zealand are preferred, he says. Thailand has been surging ahead as a favorite tourist spot for some time now. Sources from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau say they expect to see at least 10 per cent growth in the outbound MICE market from India to Thailand and more importantly, are expecting a rise in high-end groups from India.

  • Thailand has world-class infrastructure and excellent connectivity by air from across India including all the major cities. It offers high-end options to corporates at great value for money. Plans are underway to develop several cities as MICE cities. Currently, Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen have been classified as MICE cities.
  • Malaysia, another key destination, is increasingly becoming the first choice for business events being staged in Asia because it is a microcosm of Asian cultures and business practices. Moreover, it offers competitively-priced facilities, accommodation, transportation and affordable food. “A rich fusion of Asian cultures and culinary delights, spectacular natural attractions and idyllic island resorts continue to inspire and motivate business event visitors in Malaysia. Understanding the importance of the MICE industry to the economy, the Malaysian government through the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau offers various assistance and incentives to organizers of MICE,” Mazlan Harun, Trade Commissioner at MATRADE, the Malaysian government’s National Trade Promotion Agency.
  • The MICE industry has been growing in leaps and bounds in the Middle East too and it has not been affected by recent political disturbances in this area of the world. “Dubai is a well-established market for MICE events, with top-notch infrastructure facilities, superb connectivity and short distance from India. It is facing strong competition from other destinations but has excelled because of its ability to sustain itself with new attractions to woo even repeat travelers to the destination. Abu Dhabi has also been faring very well with full support from the state. Qatar is another promising destination, where good connectivity offered by Qatar Airways and the short distance from India make it a viable option for MICE events,” notes Shaikh Rahmatullah, Director, NAFA Tourism Consultancy.

With changing demographics and stiff competition, motivation requirements are at an all-time high. New unexplored destinations and unique and engaging experiences today are the predominant factors for corporates undertaking MICE travel. “While MICE offers the opportunity to discover new destinations, the added advantage of interest-based activity, team bonding outdoors/soft adventure add up to the unique quotient offering a truly “wow experience”. In order to cater to this demand, many destinations are promoting activities that travelers can engage in. Travelers are lured by destinations such as New Zealand for adventure sports and outdoor fun like white/black water rafting; South Africa for canopy walks and shark dives, Red Sea port city of Eilat in the South of Israel for snorkeling and desert safaris, Morocco for Berber treks and Australia for surfing sand dunes and so on,” explains Kale.

“A few emerging new outbound destinations in the budget category are Vietnam, Cambodia, Abu Dhabi, Philippines, Oman and new locations in existing destinations like Hua Hin or Krabi or Koh Samui or Chiang Mei in Thailand and Penang or Kota Kinabalu or Langkawi in Malaysia to name a few. In the above $875 per person category, Poland, Czech Republic, South Korea, Jordan, Israel are few emerging new destinations. Then, there are new locations in popular destinations like Zermatt or Geneva in Switzerland, Garden route in South Africa, Zanzibar in Tanzania to name a few,” states Bajirao.

Some Popular Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) Destinations

Putrajaya International Convention Centre, Malaysia

Malaysia: Malaysia is strategically located in the world’s largest and fastest growing economic region, with English-speaking yet multilingual population, one of the best value—for money destinations, economically and politically stable environment, excellent accessibility and first-class infrastructure. Some of its renowned convention and exhibition centers are the award-winning Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK). Next to the iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is at the heart of over 12,000 hotel rooms, extensive shopping and entertainment facilities, and convenient transport connections. Only an hour-and-a-half’s flight away is the Borneo Convention Centre, which is located in the ecofriendly state of Sarawak, East Malaysia. MATRADE organizes various buying missions in-conjunction with major trade exhibitions in Malaysia. Buyers/ Importers/ Distributors for the following products are welcome to pre-register for the buying missions:

  • Electrical & Electronic Products
  • Fashion, Apparel and Accessories
  • Footwear
  • Furniture
  • Food and beverages
  • Gifts, Souvenirs and Jewelry
  • Household products
  • Machinery and Equipment
  • Oil & Gas
  • Palm Oil Based Products
  • Pharmaceuticals, Toiletries and Cosmetics
  • Plastic Products
  • Rubber Based Products
  • Wood Based Products

Thailand: From budget hotels to the stately Grand Palace, Thailand has something on offer for everyone. It has an array of destinations ranging from the bustling city life in Bangkok, sun -and-sand options like Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi along with hill stations like Chiang Mai – all of these cities offer world-class, state-of – the -art convention venues. Visitors can soak in the mesmerizing beauty of the Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok or board a flight to Thailand’s northern capital, Chiang Mai, to experience indigenous Thailand, with luxury award-winning retreats set amongst beautiful lush green paddy fields, jungle experiences and night markets.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is another favorite destination for MICE events. Its excellent business support infrastructure, good airports, perfect accommodation, and other entertainment and recreation options make it a strong contender. Hong Kong’s proximity to mainland China and is an added advantage. As an international business and trading hub, Hong Kong is home to top-notch hotels and infrastructure. Easy accessibility makes it an ideal destination for MICE events.

Songdo Convensia Convention Center in Incheon, South Korea

Seoul: Apart from excellent meeting facilities and a world-class infrastructure, Seoul offers a rich history, scenic locations and an array of unique recreational attractions to the discerning MICE traveler. Sources from Korean Air, which operates three direct flights a week from Mumbai to Seoul, agree that there has been an increase in the MICE movement from India to Korea. COEX, Kintex and Songdo Convensia are three of its main exhibition/conference areas.

Singapore: Singapore offers an excellent range of state-of-the-art convention centers, exhibition halls, and meeting venues for MICE that suit a variety of needs and budgets. The Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre, newly renovated Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre and the Singapore Expo with its MAX Atria wing, are suitable for large-scale international exhibitions and conferences. Some attractions that integrate MICE facilities together with unique leisure offerings include the S.E.A. Aquarium, The Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay, and Singapore Turf Club to name a few.

Dubai: In just two decades, Dubai has risen from the desert sands to become one of the world’s most recognized destinations. It boasts of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, Palm Jumeirah – the iconic marvel and many malls. Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC) has more than 90,000 square meters of exhibition and meeting space, while four other hotel properties can accommodate conferences for up to 2,000 delegates. Dubai was home to 603 hotel establishments in the first half of 2013 and a total of 81,492 hotel rooms. With recent openings including the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, The Oberoi Dubai, and JA Ocean View Hotel.

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Posted in Global Business Travels and Journeys

SINGAPORE: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Singapore Skyline

Great things do come in small packages, and Singapore is the ideal example. From quirky, obscure bookshops, gritty designers and excellent cuisine to exemplary street food and sophisticated bars and watering holes and even extraordinary wildlife encounters, this power-packed country offers you a holiday experience you will definitely never forget.

Singapore: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Singapore

  1. River Safari, Singapore Down the River: If you always wondered what lies beneath the waters of the Mississippi, you need look no further than in Asia’s first river-themed wildlife park. At River Safari, you will meet over 5,000 aquatic animals, spread out over 300 species. Documenting life in eight river habitats, here you will learn about the giant river otter, the endangered Mekong giant catfish, and much more. This is one experience you will not want to miss.
  2. Singapore Zoo Animal Magic: Known as one of the most spectacular zoos in the world, spread out over 26 hectares of intimate viewing platforms and sensitively constructed habitats, the Singapore Zoo is your ticket to wildlife wonderland. You could make friends with the free-ranging kangaroos in the Australian Outback, then head to the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia to see the Hamadryas baboons.
  3. Chili Crabs, National Dish of Singapore Something Fishy: Singapore has some of the most superb seafood in the world, none more iconic than its chili crabs. Recognized as an unofficial national dish, this delightful dish involves crab slathered in a sweet-spicy sauce and served with fried mantou (buns) with which to mop up all of that extra sauce. No less well known are the pepper crabs. Served in a black-and-white pepper sauce, these are hugely enjoyable treats.
  4. Singapore Flyer, The world's largest observation wheel Love’s in the Air: What better way to proclaim or re-affirm your love than at 165m above the ground in the world’s largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer is one of the most beautiful ways to take in the magic of Singapore. If you are looking to spend a special evening, book the Moet and Chandon Champagne Flight. Raise a glass of bubbly in this especially themed capsule as you take in the sights of the city and splurge on a romantic four-course meal that comes with a personal butler.
  5. Gardens by the Bay (Singapore) are made up of three spaces---Bay Central, Bay South, and Bay East Green Thumbs: If you are craving some open green space, this 101-hectare horticultural attraction with over 250,000 plants will give you just the breather you have been looking for. A mere five-minute walk from the city, the Gardens by the Bay are made up of three spaces—Bay Central, Bay South, and Bay East. The view from the promenade is resplendently beautiful and the grounds are a great spot for a stroll in the evening followed by a family picnic on the lush lawns amid plain trees.
  6. Battlestar Galactica Roller Coaster (Singapore,) the world's tallest dueling coaster ride Filmi Business: All you movie lovers, who are always dying to be part of the action, get to Universal Studios. Go on rides designed to take you through the worlds of Madagascar, Shrek 4, and The Mummy Returns. Scream your lungs out on the world’s tallest dueling coaster ride at Battlestar Galactica and prepare to be amazed by unbelievable special effects in the Transformers ride.
  7. IFly (Singapore,) the world's first vertical wind tunnel for indoor skydiving Flying High: Experience the heart-thumping rush of skydiving without the risks at IFly, the world’s first vertical wind tunnel for indoor skydiving. With a flying height of 17.22m (the equivalent of five storeys), anyone between seven to 106 years olds can fly. The technology ensures a high degree of safety, and the massive wind tunnel lets you try out free flying and even formation skydiving.
  8. Clarke Quay, Singapore Something for Everyone: There is not much that Clarke Quay does not have. Whether you are looking to eat, drink, party, or shop for antiques, this colorful entertainment center will have it. At night, the entire zone is lit up and the fountain grooves to suit the mood of the moment. With loads of dining, dancing, and partying options, Clarke Quay is a meeting place for people from across the world.
  9. Peranakans - Dscendants of an early Chinese community in Singapore Go Peranakan: Descendants of 17th century Chinese traders who migrated to the Malay Archipelago, the Peranakans, brought a rich convergence of Chinese and Malay cultures, with sparks of Dutch, Indonesian, and Portuguese influences, to Singapore. Along with religion and traditions, their food has distinguishing flavors, with recipes that have been handed down for generations, and is a must-try at restaurants like Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road.
  10. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Dining with the Stars: Marina Bay Sands houses some of the most exquisite restaurants and celebrity-chef outposts in Singapore. Here, you can sample culinary masterpieces cooked up by some of the world’s best-known chefs, including Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, and Daniel Boulud.
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