Southeast Asia’s best resorts combine UNESCO World Heritage sited incentives with beautifully designed facilities to accommodate the most demanding of corporate groups, discovers Rebecca Lo

For any corporate outing, the challenges are daunting. Group travel for executives must walk the fine balance between R&R and achieving specific targets, whether that is to brainstorm the next business plan, honour the year’s best performers or hunker down for an intense bout of seminars.

For companies that fare well, group travel also factors in an exotic locale where attendees can take away not just an effective business trip – they are also taking away a destination experience that they perhaps will repeat with family or friends. When the resort setting is beautifully designed and the destination is within close proximity of UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s practically a slam-dunk that any MICE group will be impressed. Resort owners and operators can further capitalise on these travellers’ expectations by giving them the trip of a lifetime, while at the same time cater to the myriad ethnic and cultural differences between individuals.

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hoi An and Hue in Central Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Cambodia are cultural hotspots that enjoy increasingly larger numbers of visitors as both countries fast track towards savvy tourism practices.

Beach babe

Hyatt Regency Danang Resort & Spa opened in 2011 as a 193-key property situated along a stretch of China Beach – or Non Nuoc beach – near the foot of Marble Mountains. The property was developed in conjunction with 27 private pool villas and 95 residences; many of these are part of Hyatt’s leasing programme and are available to guests as larger, self-contained premises for small corporate groups.

Australian Diana Simpson oversaw the project’s interior design, and she specified light coloured timber, neutral upholstery and natural materials that let the sky and white sandy beach front become the focal point for spaces oriented towards the sea. On site, Hyatt Regency Danang offers four F&B outlets, a 10-treatment room spa, a fitness centre, tennis courts, badminton courts and several outdoor swimming pools.

In addition, the resort boasts 900 square metres of meeting and function facilities, including a ballroom that can seat up to 250 people classroom style and seven function rooms that can accommodate between 10 to 50 people. In September, the resort hosted Australia’s Macquarie Group for five days as part of the company’s annual corporate incentive package.

There is plenty to do off site as well. The picturesque town of Hoi An, about a 25-minute drive southeast from Hyatt Regency Danang, offers a postcard perfect Vietnamese town full of gourmet restaurants, handicraft shopping and street performers. Hue, the former capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, is about a two-hour drive north of the resort and offers numerous historical sites including the Imperial City – the former seat of the Nguyen Dynasty for 143 years and a ‘mini me’ version of Beijing’s Forbidden City – and diversions such as river excursions along the Perfume River.

These sites, in combination with resort-based activities, are guaranteed to give corporate groups treasured memories.

“We see up to 70 different nationalities in Central Vietnam,” notes Jon Tomlinson, formerly with Central Coast Vietnam, a 20-member destination marketing organisation that promotes hospitality and tourism in Central Vietnam. “Danang sees 57 international and 250 domestic flights per week. For 2014, we are estimating about one million international arrivals, marking a 175% growth in the past five years. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by Central Vietnam’s undiscovered charm. We can organise Imperial City dinners for corporate groups, and they can also take advantage of our three high-end golf courses designed respectively by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie.”

Relic hunters

In contrast, Le Meridien Angkor has enjoyed 10 years as Siem Reap’s closest resort to Angkor Wat – the 12th century excellently preserved classical Khmer temple. The 220-key property’s design was inspired by the geometric perfection of the temple and is a perfect square in plan.

The Angkor ruins-like outdoor pool can accommodate 180 people for cocktails poolside, the Elephant Courtyard can sit 120 people for a dinner show and the Palm Garden behind the main building can host 400 people for banquets with Apsara dance performances. Prior events have included Cambodian village themed dinners with palm sugar cooking demonstrations and customised lanterns.

“Most people want to be outside under the stars,” says former general manager at Le Meridien Angkor and current general manager at Le Meridien Chiang Mai, Gregory Anderson. “Palm Garden is our ballroom.”

In addition, there is a six treatment room spa and five F&B outlets including a 70-seat Italian restaurant. Indoor conference facilities total 300 square metres and include four meeting rooms seating nine to

15 people classroom style and the 180-seat Tara Room. Approximately 15% of Le Meridien Angkor’s business comes from MICE groups, predominantly from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

Le Meridien Angkor – and Siem Reap on the whole – fares best as a mid-size group destination. Its temples are more intimate and it can host more experimental types of events in comparison to Central Vietnam. Topping the list of incentive outings are dinners sited at one of the ancient complexes such as Bayon Temple.

“It is a very emotional experience,” says Anderson. “I’ve seen delegates cry or at the very least get goose bumps.”

Groups need to apply for permission for such events through the resort, as only approximately 5% of the total complex can be used for corporate functions. Cocktails often are held on one side and guests are led either around or through the temple to the banquet section, where they dine watching traditional Khmer performances.

Additional off site outings include Pub Street for cocktails, with Red Piano being a beloved haunt of Angelina Jolie when she was filming Tomb Raider. A visit to Artisans Angkor to check out some indigenous arts and crafts in the making is popular with groups, while a round of golf at the Nick Faldo-designed Angkor Golf Resort is a good fair weather option. Further afield, incentive diversions include hot air balloon rides and visits to water villages on Tonle Sap Lake.