Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
10 ideal destinations for groups
International travel is exhilarating and provides groups with new cultural experiences, as well as lasting memories that carry over into their work environment. With a growing number of travelers flying around the globe, event planners are also gathering passport stamps to offer creative meeting tours, venues and activities for their clients.
Cities must compete for attention in this rapidly changing and adventurous world. Although each city showcases its character through its people and culture, all cities need to make their unique personalities stand out to groups and tourists alike. Certain global destinations are already gaining a reputation for vibrant activities, easy mobility, top-of-the-line offerings for meetings and intimate cultural experiences.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
The Resort at Pedregal
Cabo San Lucas whispers on the breeze to weary workers who dream of warm waters and fantastic food. The word “vacation” immediately comes to mind, and with Mexico’s cuisine being awarded UNESCO heritage status, so do shrimp tacos. Food is Cabo’s heart and soul, so with new restaurants, celebrity chef-driven dining hot spots and resorts dedicated to authentic cuisine, no one will go hungry in Baja California.
Each of these mouthwatering new restaurants is available for buyouts, cooking demonstrations and private cocktail tastings. Acre Baja is a farm-based restaurant with a menu that turns country-style comfort food into a celebration of flavor. Treehouses are available for overnight stays, and there’s a tiled open-air venue space in a mango grove—a memorable place for groups to grow closer.
Manta, driven by chef Enrique Olvera, has the perfect view of the rock arches at the tip of Baja, from the cape. Part of The Cape a Thompson Hotel, the property sits above one of Los Cabos’ prime surf spots. Attendees will salivate over oysters with habanero soy sauce or lobster and coconut milk ceviche. Tenangos features authentic regional Mexican cuisine made with indigenous ingredients, which includes fried grasshoppers for the more adventurous gastronomists. If fried insects don’t appeal, take a shot of Oaxacan mezcal for courage, or skip the dish and order a fish or meat of choice with the plentiful salsas, moles and roasted chilies on the menu.
Melia Cabo continues to deliver. Guests are able to work with a personal meeting concierge to create their desired event, from the big picture to the smallest detail. The property’s world-class food and beverage program tailors culinary treats specially catered to the event. With a spectacular beach with capacity for up to 3,000 people and one of the largest convention centers in Cabo (1,100 people), groups of various sizes will find their groove at Melia.
The Resort at Pedregal, Cabo’s premier AAA Five Diamond destination resort, offers cooking classes, tequila tasting, cocktail-making classes, and wine tasting. Each can be organized for groups, and Isaac Novoa, the new director of food and beverage, is available to share his vast culinary knowledge.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai has never shied away from grandeur. This year is no exception, and the city’s theme for the global meetings market is bigger and better. Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) saw passenger traffic soar by 161 percent and is building out to accommodate the growing numbers. Dubai recently hit the 100,000-hotel-room milestone and will soon provide free Wi-Fi across the country. New hotels, three new adventure parks and a commitment to the ease of doing business make Dubai a shiny object on any event planner’s list.
Jumeirah Group is growing too. Most recognized for the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab property, the group unveiled Jumeirah Al Naseem. Arabic for “sea breeze,” the new hotel captures the essence of the sea and joins Madinat Jumeirah’s three other hotels: the grand Al Qasr, the oasis Mina A’Salam and the exquisite summer houses of Dar Al Masyaf.
Jumeirah Al Naseem completes Jumeirah Group’s transformation of part of Dubai’s coastline into a major tourist destination. The 430-room resort within a resort brings a sleek vibe to Madinat Jumeirah and caters to discerning travelers seeking an alternative Dubai experience. The complex now offers more than 40 world-class restaurants, private beaches and Talise Spa.
The British are coming! Dukes Dubai will open this spring, making the brand the first British hotel operator in Dubai. On Palm Jumeirah, the brand plans to bring the best of the British to the region with its luxury brand partnerships with Liberty Fabrics and BritFamily Perfumer. Bespoke Dukes candles are in every room. Combine those with some Arabian treats, and event planners have a thoughtful welcome gift.
Theme parks offer group amusement by definition. Dubai is full of them. Dubai Parks and Resorts opened three new parks: Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Motiongate-Dubai. Bollywood Parks Dubai is a first-class theme park that features the best of India’s movie industry; Legoland’s reputation precedes it, but will likely see a surge in popularity thanks to the newest movie; and Motiongate Dubai is a Hollywood-inspired theme park with rides from movies including Ghostbusters, The Hunger Games triology and Kung Fu Panda.
Funky, edgy, architecturally innovative—this is Hamburg’s calling card. To see the new Elbphilharmonie in person is to understand how Hamburg seamlessly weaves traditional classics in with the ultra-modern. This new cultural landmark boasts three concert halls, a Westin hotel, 45 private apartments and the Plaza, a public viewing area with a 360-degree view of the city. Every visitor to Hamburg must see and experience this European architectural masterpiece.
Congress Center Hamburg (CCH) is under the knife, so to speak, and is being reborn and redesigned. When finished in 2019, it will be one of the largest conference centers in Europe, with natural light, up to 50 rooms, a larger common foyer with innovative design and all the latest technology. Beautiful parks and a Japanese garden surround a skating rink in winter, and sparkling water light shows are offered in spring and summer months.
Funky St. Pauli City is hands down the most talked about destination in Hamburg. Once the red-light district of Hamburg, it is now a sultry and exciting area with music, theater, dining and clubs. Nordic Broadway is the best way to take advantage of this district and all it has to offer. It’s a tour company that manages restaurants and theaters in the area and has created a variety of unique conference and event spaces, plus tours.
St. Pauli Theater has been home to spectacles for 170 years and is available for group buyouts. For some added “drama,” hold meetings or parties at Schmidt Theatre. Nordic Broadway can also take your group on a variety of creative and fun expeditions around the Reeperbahn & Hamburg Port, such as i-Pad Scavenger Hunt and Hangover Tour: Poker Training in Hamburg Casino.
London has always been the city of opposites—where edge and grit meet refinement and beauty, both playing key roles in the city’s persona. It’s fitting, then, that the latest trends for meeting planners dip into both sides: health and gin.
London has lured a growing number of medical meetings and conventions over the past few years, and the area is home to scores of life sciences companies, global pharmaceutical firms and several world-class research centers (read expert speakers galore). London has six international airports offering direct links to more than 390 cities, while international rail provides visitors with easy access to continental Europe.
After so much scientific discourse, groups will revel in London’s thriving gin culture. The Distillery is a new immersive hotel experience for groups to “sip” into. The Distillery’s four floors include GinTonica restaurant, a museum, hotel rooms with group distilling classes, and public and private drinking and dining rooms. Each room personifies the area’s eclectic culture with DIY touches. The Ginstitute beckons groups with a famed London gin-making experience led by master distiller Jake Burger. Guests can leave with their own exclusive, personally blended gin.
Flemings Mayfair offers private groups Gin Glamour, a unique gin tasting paired with matching canapes. Originally opened in 1851 and converted from 13 Georgian townhouses, the impossibly chic Flemings Mayfair has recently undergone a complete $20 million renovation of 129 guest rooms and public spaces, culminating with the opening of Michelin-starred chef Shaun Rankin’s Ormer Restaurant.
Personal Gin Bars were added to the Studio Suites, with Flemings’ own signature blend available. With so many classic cocktails made with gin, guests can find many ways to enjoy playing bartender.
QT Melbourne Hotel
March is Melbourne’s month to shine with premier events that give travelers a taste of the best the city has to offer. Melbourne’s Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix races into town, and meeting planners can have creative control by renting out a private suite at the track. This fast and furious competition brings luxury and speed to event planning with an all-star entertainment lineup and excellent dining options.
The internationally acclaimed Melbourne Food and Wine Festival showcases Victoria’s world-class food and wine industries. More than 250,000 passionate food and wine fans are expected to gather for the 25th celebration, which will run from March 31 to April 9. Corporate packages are available, including culinary crawls at some of the city’s hottest food spots.
If large but private foodie experiences are a must, groups will want to try Urban Purveyor Group’s Fratelli Fresh and The Cut Steakhouse in The Alfred, a two-story heritage building located next to Albert Park Lake. The property can host groups up to 800 people.
The premium boutique hotel brand QT has opened QT Melbourne, its latest property in the city. The hotel offers 188 guest rooms; Pascale Bar & Grill, which seats 120 people; and private dining rooms and event spaces for up to 80 people. The Rooftop is Melbourne’s latest rooftop bar and has views of the iconic city skyline. It can host a party of up to 185 guests.
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Center has announced expansion plans. As part of MCEC’s development plans, a new hotel is being constructed in Melbourne’s South Wharf district. The new 27-story hotel will feature 331 guest rooms and nestle alongside Melbourne’s Yarra River, with its lively shopping and nightlife district.
Tourism Australia has a great guide for planning business events in cities such as Melbourne, Sidney and Perth at australia.com/businessevents.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Seoul is making a strong case to be Asia’s new capital of culture and creativity. The trend for event planners here is exploration and discovery: creating tours that showcase the local side of Seoul, including traditional hanok architecture, Korean barbecue, brewery tours and the personal craft of wood stamping.
Seoul makes planners’ jobs easy with the new Discover Seoul Pass, which provides access to the city’s 16 top attractions, and One More Trip, an online platform allowing locals to sell unique experiences, such as modern art and authentic craft tours.
Seoul also oversees Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA), a private-public partnership dedicated to supporting corporate group events. It offers customizable guided city tours and rechargeable MICE cards. The newest hotels inducted into the SMA affiliated group are The Conrad Seoul, Four Seasons Seoul, and JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul.
MICE has designated 50 locales as Seoul’s Unique Venues. These are divided into six categories, including traditional, modern and riverside. Some of the popular attractions are the wild and fluid Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Floating Islands of Some Sevit.
Meeting planners qualify for subsidies when hosting a group event at a Unique Venue. Seoul offers a range of support, including financial and promotional, plus site inspections and welcome kits. To qualify, groups must have at least 50 participants staying at least two nights in the city.
The main convention center, Coex, has 54 meeting rooms, and more than 387,500 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Coex is connected or adjacent to three five-star hotels and also sits atop Asia’s largest underground shopping mall, which contains an aquarium, a movie theater, department stores and a casino.
W Singapore Sentosa Cove
For a global capital that has been at the forefront of nearly every avantgarde food trend in the past decade, Singapore has been slow to embrace the craft beer renaissance. Sure, there is the typical can of Tiger beer, which does quench the thirst in this region’s hot and humid climate, but beer enthusiasts would argue Tiger falls short of the gastronomic adventure that is Singapore. Until now.
Craft beers are running wild like only Asian super trends can. There’s the annual BeerFest Asia, which will kick off August 17 to 20, at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore. The event will be pouring 500 different beer varietals for attendees to taste test, as well as 30 live music acts, stand up comedy and more. For those with events throughout the year, there’s still plenty of brick-and-mortar microbreweries. Pump Room has been serving party-goers a healthy does of hops and barley for over ten years. Hospoda offers Czech-style brews and Little Island Brewing Company has a warehouse feel that is great for events. All of these breweries offer group tours and tastings.
No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the hawker centers, and many of the best are found in Chinatown. Smith Street Taps offers imported kegs and bottles from around the world in the beloved kopitiam setting. Also, for groups seeking all the comforts of home, Draft & Craft offers 50 types of beer from the United States, including Stone, Rogue and Deschutes. It also offers southern California comfort food, but be sure to have some black pepper crab and Hainanese chicken rice.
On the hotel front, W Singapore Sentosa Cove is the latest five-star resort to appear on planners’ radar. With 240 guest rooms and more than 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, groups can meet in trendy W style, and lounge, play, and bond on picturesque Sentosa Island.
International Convention Centre Sydney
Transformation is the word for Sydney, starting with the recent opening of International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) in the city’s Darling Harbour area. The complex includes a five-star convention center, 86,111 sq. ft. of meeting space, 376,737 sq. ft. of exhibition space and an open-air event deck, along with Australia’s largest grand ballroom and ICC Sydney Theatre, with a capacity for 8,000.
With a nod to New South Wales, ICC Sydney has also launched its inaugural wine collection, featuring 93 varietals. Groups can enjoy wines at events or during private wine swirling and sipping.
Vermouth might not be as popular as wine, but Banksii is trying to change that. This new bar and bistro dedicated to vermouth sits in the Barangaroo precinct. Groups can learn about Sir Joseph Banks, Australia’s first botanist, while savoring more than 40 vermouth types. Private tastings can be arranged upon request.
Australian National Maritime Museum’s Action Stations features a memorable immersive cinematic experience with audiovisual encounters that share sailors’ memories on board the vessels HMAS Advance, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Onslow. Action Stations’ three new venues are available for functions and events. Planners can take advantage of the new conference center, offering a capacity for 140-seated guests with its three executive meeting and breakout rooms, and an outdoor terrace with views over Pyrmont Bay.
The museum offers other unique event spaces including Lighthouse Gallery, with seating for up to 400 guests; the deck of a Navy destroyer, which can host 200 guests cocktail style; and a replica of Captain Cook’s vessel, HMB Endeavour, for smaller events of up to 70 people or a private banquet for 12 people.
Omni King Edward Hotel
Canada turns 150 this year and sits atop most 2017 travel lists. Toronto touts diversity, first-rate attractions and a chic urban lifestyle—it’s no wonder people call it Canada’s Downtown. Right in the heart of Toronto’s downtown financial, lifestyle and restaurant district sits InterContinental Toronto Center, overlooking scenic Lake Ontario. As befits a metropolitan area, it is the most technologically advanced corporate hotel in Canada and offers 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
The Next Generation Boardrooms, aptly named Conquest and Visionary, seat up to 20 and 22 people, respectively. Each boardroom, which is soundproofed with a high-end sound system—is equipped with 60-inch plasma Smart Boards, video web conferencing, touch-screen controls and ergonomic black leather office chairs.
Toronto has a wide range of fun nights out for event organizers to book. Sports-loving groups have a chance to see the NBA’s Toronto Raptors play at the Air Canada Centre, a 10-minute walk away from the Inter- Continental Toronto Center. The newest sports team is rugby’s Toronto Wolfpack, the first transatlantic professional sports team. The Wolfpack will be based in England but will play home games in three-week sets at Toronto’s Lamport Stadium.
There are elegant and dizzying new openings that planners will want to book this year. Crystal Ballroom at Omni King Edward Hotel is open again after a $6.5 million renovation. Combining original charm with modern luxury, the new venue features 5,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Delta Toronto hotel launched The Roof at Soco, an exclusive outdoor space with spectacular views of CN Tower, Rogers Centre and Lake Ontario. The space holds 170 people and guests dine on nibbles by chef Dan Craig.
Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Center
Visit Scotland has announced the construction of a $440 million convention center in Aberdeen. Located on the island nation’s northeast coast, where the North Sea is a global center for subsea technology, Aberdeen is already known for cutting-edge solutions for oil extraction and hopes to promote itself as a meetings destination.
“We are very serious about growing our [meetings] industry and to spread the benefits across the country,” says Lord John Thurso, chair of Visit Scotland. “It’s really an exciting time to visit Scotland.”
Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Center, which is expected to be complete in 2019, will feature a 12,500-seat arena with a moveable stage and 518,950 sq. ft. of flexible exhibition space. The site also will have three hotels, including a 200-room Hilton property, an energy center and two business parks. Aberdeen’s existing convention center, with 80,729 sq. ft. of exhibition space, will be redeveloped to include residential, commercial and business properties, and a park once the new one opens.
The new center will be a five-minute drive from Aberdeen International Airport (ABZ), which is undergoing a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation, including a 50 percent expansion of the existing terminal.
About 90 minutes south of Aberdeen is Dundee, which will unveil V&A Museum of Design Dundee in 2018 as part of a $1 billion waterfront development project.
“We are going through one of our exceptional bouts of being a good value,” Thurso says. “We have bucket loads of opportunities. The challenge is picking the right ones for your group.”
Natalie Compagno is an avid traveler and has written for The Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel and more.