Hong Kong in Two Days or Less

When our pharmaceutical client asked us to help them spice up their intense product training program that was taking place in Hong Kong for 5 consecutive days, we knew we had to come up with ideas to help the group recover from its “education fatigue.”  To make matters more exciting, we were only given a few days to pull together a “rest and restoration” program.  We rolled up our sleeves and pulled together a very light but fun-filled itinerary.

Morning 1:

We set off to Kowloon, the “Land of the Nine Dragons.”  Kowloon is a melting pot of bright neon, shops and markets. The group got to discover the Bird Market, fortune-tellers and a huge range of bars and restaurants along the way.  Some even wandered away to the nearby Space Museum, the Museum of History and the world-renowned Hong Kong Cultural Centre.  Along the way, the group traveled through or by such well-known places as Tsim Sha Tsui East promenade, the Peninsula Hotel, Langhamplace, Temple Street, jade market, West Kowloon waterfront promenade, Hankow Road and Mody Road.

Afternoon 1:

After a hurried lunch, the group got to get “personal” with the city—one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities where East truly meets West.  The group saw the Man (Literature) and Mo (Martial Arts temple), notable for its many fine, well-polished brass and pewter incense burners, after which we took the Peak Tram, climbing 373 meters and leaning at a 45° angle to see the most spectacular view of the city!  On return, we stopped by the Stanley Market, a shoppers’ paradise where the group was able to do a spontaneous shopping for a wide variety of souvenirs as silk, garments, sportswear, Chinese artwork and accessories.

Night 1:

Before you knew it, it was nightfall.  We headed to the world-famous Temple Street Night market, a great place for bargain hunting and rubbing shoulders with the locals.  Our “Hon,” the open-top bus took us on a spectacular drive through neon-lit streets where the group was able to witness the towering skyscrapers glittering against night sky.

To end the night on a romantic note, we hopped on a chartered boat for a leisurely sunset cruise on Victoria Harbor with a gourmet international buffet on board for the participant to enjoy.

Morning 2:

After a leisurely breakfast on their own, the group was taken to Lantau Island, which is almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island and is one of the best-loved outlying islands. Along the way, the group got to see the experience the development of Ngong Ping Cable Car.  The attendees then got a chance to explore Tai O, a quaint fishing village where the houses are all built on stilts, and visit the world’s tallest, outdoor, seated bronze Buddha statue sits at the Po Lin Monastery nearby.

Afternoon 2:

Time to head to the harbor again and see the world’s pinkest dolphins in action.  We boarded the group onto a luxury cruiser from Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon to Tung Chung New Development Pier on Lantau Island.  Along the way, while sipping their refreshments, the group got educated about the dolphins and their habitat.  

Travel Home:

After this marathon of a program (the shortest we have ever run), we had to rush the group to their hotel to gather up their belongings and head to the airport for their individual journeys home to far-flung corners of the world.

In need of an “express” incentive program at the tail end of your annual meeting?  Call the professionals at the Maxxus Group.  We know how to get value out of every available minute for your participants. 

How to Pick the Perfect Destination for Your Group?

The perennial challenge facing many corporate event planners is how to choose a perfect destination for a group’s event that meets a multitude of conditions—is appealing to the majority of participant, is easy to get to, fits the established guidelines with respect to budget, etc., and makes life easy for the planner in having to deal with a variety of logistics issues.  What follows is a simple checklist of variables that an event planner can use to make a successful selection—though, such decisions are always bound to be more appealing to some than others.  The goal, however, is to make sure the decision meets some important criteria.

1.     Purpose

The most important criterion to consider when selecting a destination is the purpose of the event.  Is this a meeting, a conference, an incentive trip, a convention, etc.?  Naturally, depending on the purpose of the event, different destinations qualify.  A convention requires large-scale infrastructure, whereas an incentive program calls for extensive amenities and destination appeal.  Likewise, participants are more likely to tolerate a long-haul flight to get to a resort destination unlike convention attendees.  Finally, costs are viewed differently when attending a convention vs. a corporate retreat (where the attendee may be expected to bear some of the cost compared to an incentive trip that most often is fully paid for by the company). 

Not all destinations are created equal: The character of the destination must match the nature of the event.  A branding event planned for New York may not fit very well in Omaha.  Tahiti may be perfect for that VIP incentive program, but not for a tactical meeting.      

2.     Demographics

A good event planner must at all times have a clear idea about the makeup of the [majority of the] group.  The destination should always be chosen considering the group.  These questions should help determining how appealing a destination can be for a particular group:   

  • Are the participants roughly in the same age group or a mix of age groups?
  • Are the participants active or laid back?
  • Is the group looking for an extraordinary experience?
  • Are partners also attending or is the group limited to employees?
  • What is important to the group?
  • Does the group prefer an urban or a resort destination?
  • If applicable, where did this same group travel to last?

The answers to these and other related questions should go a long way to help with the choice of a destination that is likely to have the most appeal to the majority of the attendees.

3.     Budget

These days, there are hardly any corporations that give an event planner ‘carte blanche’ when it comes to planning an event—even high-end incentive programs have budgetary constraints.  Once again, an astute planner will have to keep in mind some important financial criteria when choosing a destination:

  • Does your budget meet the destination’s cost index?
  • Is the destination appeal worth the cost index (in the eyes of decision makers, attendees, etc.)?
  • Is this trip paid for entirely by the corporation or are participants responsible for a portion of the cost (which affects their view of the destination’s affordability)?
  • How sensitive are participants to cost variables at a particular destination (i.e., ‘price elasticity’)?
  • How expensive is it to get a group to the particular destination (airfare, etc.)?
  • Are all participants coming from one location or multiple cities (which may add to the air fare and ground transportation costs)?
  • Does the destination infrastructure meet the corporation’s budgetary guidelines (with respect to hotel, transportation and other ground costs)?
  • How does the selected property’s costs compare to alternatives (room, F&B, A/V, meeting rooms, speaker fees, resort fees, etc.)?
  • Are there sufficient amenities at reasonable cost to meet the group’s expectations?
  • Finally, what is the ROI of your event at that particular destination [compared to alternative destinations]?

The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between the destination appeal and what it costs to have a program there.

4.     Access & Egress

As appealing as some destinations may be, getting there might pose challenges for a group.  Far-flung resorts always sound very appealing until you try to get a large group there from multiple points of origin.  The destination’s arrival/departure infrastructure are critical to smooth execution of your program.  Here are some important questions to ask in selecting a secondary or tertiary destination in terms of geographic location:

  • What are airport/seaport facilities like?
  • How many flights does it take to get to the destination (for the majority of your participants)?
  • What is the frequency of flights to/from the destination (should there be a cancelation or delay along the way, what happens to the group’s planned programs)?
  • How good is the destination’s ground transportation system?
  • How available are ground transportation means (coaches, sedans, etc.)?
  • Does your group need any ADA-equipped transportation?
  • How close is everything at this destination (hotel, entertainment, dining options, etc.)?
  • Are there any major constructions underway and/or bottlenecks at the destination’s airport/seaport, hotel, roads, etc. that may affect the group’s arrival/departure or movements?
  • Weather effect: Is the destination potentially adversely affected by weather patterns (for example, tornados or hurricanes)?
  • What contingency plans have you put in place in case of unforeseen weather-related emergencies?

There is a big difference between traveling to a destination privately and taking a group there.  Group dynamics may make a perfectly-attractive sounding destination unappealing once some of these criteria are factored in.  It is important to always keep in mind that even the most relaxed incentive program is not a vacation—neither for you nor for the participants. 

5.     Facilities

A carefully-selected destination should be more than just a nice hotel.  Notwithstanding the fact that in any group there are some participants that rarely wander off the property, more adventurous attendees may wish to explore the destination beyond the property—even at an all-inclusive hotel or resort.  Consequently, as a planner, you have to consider two separate set of issues: The property and how suited it is for your particular group’s needs and what else is available at the destination:

  • Does the hotel have enough capacity to meet your group’s needs (bell staff, concierge, housekeeping, etc.)?
  • What is the ratio of your total room occupancy to the total rooms at the hotel (you don’t want to be lost in a hotel with thousands of rooms with your VIP group of 20 members of the board of directors)?
  • What amenities are available at the property (golf course, tennis, pools, beach access, etc.)?
  • What about dining options onsite (restaurants, bars, etc.)?
  • How about meeting rooms?  Does your group require specific meeting space?  Is this an incentive group with no meeting requirements or does the group assemble for periodic get-together on property during the course of the event?
  • How family-friendly is the destination (in case participants are allowed/invited to bring along partners or family members)?
  • What is available offsite (for dine-arounds, tours, bars, night clubs, etc.)?
  • How easy is it for some participants to go off-property (availability of taxis, ground transportation, etc.)?
  • What makes the destination interesting or unique for your particular group?
  • Is there a language issue (do you need interpreters for your offsite activities)?

In the end, your goal should be taking into account all the variables and finding a destination that meets most—if not all—your critical criteria.

6.     Safety

With heightened security risks around the world, selecting a ‘safe’ destination becomes an ever-more challenging task for event planners.  While you do not want to come across as alarmist, you must remain vigilant when it comes to security risks at a particular destination—which can be a rapidly-changing picture.  The risk factors are not always in terms of terrorism or national security dangers.  Sometimes, they relate to personal safety of the group (for example, the risk of mugging, etc.).  Here are some important questions: 

  • What are the risk factors at the selected destination?
  • How safe is your group wandering off-property—especially at night?
  • If abroad, have you made a note of/contacted your country’s embassy/nearest consulate location in case of an emergency? 
  • Does your company have an ‘Emergency Plan’ and are you comfortably familiar with it?
  • Specifically, do you have an evacuation plan in case of a natural disaster?

It is important to keep in mind that the group’s safety rests with you while on a program—especially if at a far-away destination.  The planner’s role in such cases is elevated far above managing event logistics.  You become the go-to person onsite for a multitude of questions/issues.  Be prepared.   

7.     CSR

Some corporations have stated goals to contribute to the well-being of local communities in which they hold an event.  This can range from insisting on green and healthy meetings to making a contribution to a local cause.  The company policy may dictate selecting properties that are LEED certified.  If the program calls for a social activity, the planner has to get acquainted with worthy causes in the local community that meet the corporate criteria for such CSR activities.  Needless to say, to avoid any possible conflicts, a great deal of due diligence may be required to ensure that the cause is indeed worthy and meets all corporate guidelines.

8.     The Planner’s Views

As event planners, we have a great deal of influence on the selection process of an event destination.  In this process, some planners have more latitude than others.  Some work directly with senior management (for example, the CEO) in choosing a destination for an important event while others have to satisfy a large group of stakeholders (for example, a committee, HR or marketing departments).  As with many other aspects of our jobs as event planners, freedom in selecting a destination could be a double-edged sword [“live by sword, die by sword”].  And unfortunately, it is only at the conclusion of the event that the verdict is handed out.  In the case of a perfectly-run event, the event planner stands to shine.  However, should there be any incident along the way—event if it is totally out of the control of the planner (for example, in the case of a natural disaster)—he/she may be the target of some criticism for selecting the destination in question.  The above guidelines are intended to help you minimize your exposure to criticism—direct or indirect.  While an exotic destination always sounds very appealing, a word of caution: Make every effort to be prudent—and thorough—in your selection process.

Finally, planners work in an interconnected world: If in doubt, reach out to your colleagues in the industry for a second opinion on a particular destination; or, direct the above questions to your qualified event planning company.     

Let the Maxxus Group help you select that perfect destination that satisfies all of the above criteria. 

Successful Social Media Strategies

Social media is everywhere these days and it is influencing everything we do—personal or professional.  Event planning is no exception.  Social media is changing the way we promote events, the way we conduct events and the way we assess the success of our events—or reminisce about a memorable event.  Event planning companies are now competing not only on the basis of their traditional value-adds, but also their ability to take advantage of the latest social media trends to advance the cause of their respective clients.  To successfully integrate social media in everything we do as event planners, there are some useful tips that can enhance the effectiveness of social media as new tools in our industry.  Here is a quick list:

1.     If you currently don’t have one, start with a social media strategy.  Not all social media platforms are created equal.  Evaluate the value of each against your company’s broader marketing and promotion goals as well as its corporate culture and use them accordingly.  With the proliferation of various social media platforms, well beyond the better-know platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, choose your preferred platform(s) very carefully.  To the extent possible, try to strike a balance between your company’s culture and the social media platforms you choose to be active in.  This also applied to content—i.e., what you choose to share on social media.  Keep in mind this can be time-consuming and taxing at times. 

2.     Social media is now the perfect tool to promote attendance at public events/conferences.  Promoting events on social media is a great way to drive attendance.  Social media have given a new meaning to the old concept of “word-of-mouth” marketing.  Using social media correctly, event planners can reach out to much broader potential audience than they were ever able to do before (using traditional means of promoting events such as brochures, advertising, cold calling, etc.).

3.     Social media also has a “multiplier” effect on prospective attendees.  Those with interest in attending an event often engage with their respective networks and the word can spread much faster than any of the traditional methods.  Reach out to your prospects and they can in turn indirectly promote your event!  Don’t underestimate the importance of your followers’ engagement, using hashtags (that spreads the word and promotes the company).

4.     Social media is now increasingly also influencing event content.  Using social media properly, event organizers can solicit interest in various topics (for example, for concurrent sessions) before the details of the event are completely decided.  In the old days, attendees voted with their feet (by selecting among various concurrent sessions).  Now, using social media, planners can gauge potential attendees’ interest in various subjects and fine-tune their events’ theme and take-away content.  This also allows for greater interaction among potential attendees and enhance communication about the conference topic(s) well in advance of the event. 

5.     Mobile apps make any reaction to an event instant.  Various feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) allow for live feedback and/or participation of audience.  For an event well organized, this could be a welcome enhancement.  However, live interactions can be double-edged swords adding to the pressure on event organizers.  Like positive feedback, negative ones also stay online forever.  For incentive programs, social media (all those posts on Instagram) are great tools to create “envy” among those that didn’t get to go, thus leading to improved performance to qualify for future programs.     

6.     To increase your success rate, event planners need not only to embrace various social media platforms for their event publicity, they must do so judiciously.  The event page, if any, should be personal to appeal to a social media savvy audience, yet no too personal.  Make a distinction between your personal accounts and the event’s page(s).  Consider your event page an extension of your company’s marketing and promotion efforts.  Make them appealing but professional.  Yet, personalize it—make your followers feel they are part of your company’s life.    

7.     Social media, especially Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, provide enviable platforms to showcase your successes with an event.  Use them effectively and with the same degree of care as you would your broader marketing efforts.  Carefully-selected pictures of your big event on Instagram is a perfect testimonial to your creativity and event execution. 

8.     Social media can also provide perfect platforms for seeking and receiving feedback about your event/your company.  Treat any and all feedback and suggestions with a high degree of respect and appreciation.  Respond to those who take time to post feedback and/or suggestions.  This is an invaluable means to keep your audience engaged—not to mention a unique opportunity for branding.  

9.     Finally, keep in mind that developments in social media are accelerating with time.  Keep up.  Standing still could be costly.  If you don’t have a dedicated individual attending to your social media needs, consider a training program to educate a broader audience within your company to become familiar with attributes of various social media platforms and act as your “ambassadors” online.

 

Team Building and Incentive Programs

One of the common questions by organizers of incentive programs is whether or not to incorporate any “business” activity during the course of a pure incentive program.  Team building is often the “business” activity that comes to mind.  While there are no right or wrong answers to this question, fun team-building activities can in fact enhance the value of an incentive program—to both the participant as well as the company.  The most successful, memorable team-building events need not feel like a day at the office.  On the contrary: They should blend with and augment the value of the incentive trip.    

Team building and incentive programs have one thing in common: They are both the most important investments a company can make.  They are both intended to build trust among employees, mitigate conflict, encourage communication, and increase collaboration. Effective team building as part of an incentive program mean more engaged employees, which is not only good for company culture but also to improve profitability. 

To get the most value from incorporating team-building activities in an incentive program, there are a few ground rules that should be kept in mind: 

1.     Don’t force the corporate stuff

Team-building activities during the course of an incentive program should least resemble the corporate stuff.  No overt reference to company goals or lessons in leadership.  Don’t lose the sight of the fact that the participants have already paid their dues by working hard to meet specific goals and are now being rewarded with the incentive trip.  Team-building activities should primarily encourage spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal to allow bonding to happen more organically.  One idea is for participants to share their life/personal goals with each other. It’s a powerful way to learn about people and their dreams, as well as to generate ideas for future team-building activities.

2.     Don’t forget the partners

If the incentive program includes partners, make sure any team-building activity you plan for involves partners too.  It turns out that happiness and performance are closely tied together. The objective is twofold:  To improve employee happiness as a result of an incentive trip and also foster bonding among employees.  Partners play a pivotal role in boosting those two goals if they are included in all activities.  To make it purposeful, choose something unique and slightly outside of people’s comfort zones to encourage all participants to come together in new ways.

3.     Take the positive energy back to the office   

Trying new concepts with your staff as part of an incentive program can generate good vibes among employees—both those who got to go to the incentive trip and those who didn’t.  Any team-building activity planned as part of an incentive program should have somewhat of a lasting effect.  The ultimate goal is to take that positive energy back to the office.  Most team-building exercises falls flat because they are often a one-time activity—done and then forgotten. Incorporating team building in your incentive programs is a way to keep the excitement going long after participants return from the trip. The challenge is creating opportunities for the returning participants to spread the positive energy among all employees by connecting and interacting with one another in more meaningful ways, outside of regular meetings or corporate interactions.

How do you know you’ve got team building correctly blended into your incentive program? If there was laughter, a sense of excitement, accomplishment and togetherness, and maybe a few Instagram moments, you’re definitely on the right track!

The Maxxus Group is a leading international event planning company with unique set of expertise in planning incentive programs or state-of-the-art team-building activities or both.

How to Hire the Best Event Planning Companies

There is no unanimity about whether or not to hire an event planner for your company’s important upcoming event.  Some corporations work with an event planning company for all their events while others hire an event planner on an ad hoc basis.  Some even try to do it on their own.  If you choose to work with an event planner, selecting one need not be a daunting task.  Follow these important steps to secure the services of a competent event planner—and to ensure the success of your event(s).   

Event Objectives

One cannot help but think of the famous expression from Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you.”  Without clearly-enunciated objectives for your event, any event planner should do.  Event objectives are not just intended to keep the event planner on track, they are the roadmap for your entire corporate team to stay focused.  Many corporations often fall in the trap of thinking that hiring an event planner starts with a budget.  A good event planner will quickly remind you that unless you go through the discipline of formulating specific objectives for your event, it is unlikely that you will end up with a satisfactory result.  In this important phase, a good event planner will guide you to answer relevant questions about who, what, where, when, why and how.      

Once the thread of a common objective for the event appears, it’s time to zero in on an umbrella theme for the event.  Here, your event planner can help you with your messaging strategy and activities that can be tied together with that common thread and determine the internal and external resources needed to accomplish the identified goals.  It is only then that your event planner can come up with a realistic budget for your event—from lodging, to venue rental, catering, speakers and entertainment, décor and transportation, etc. 

Reputation & Experience  

Unfortunately, the barriers to entry in the event planning profession are non-existent or minor.  Consequently, there appears to be a proliferation of many with little or no experience calling themselves event planners, making the job of selecting a reputable one very difficult.  Good event planners will have a roster of clients and milestone events they have put together.  Ask for references and check out the candidates’ previous work.  In particular, pay attention to the planner’s creativity in his/her other work.    

Proposal

Once you have narrowed your list to just a few event planning companies, ask for a proposal containing all the elements that you require for your event.  This is an opportunity for the event planner to shine and to demonstrate their ability to embrace your event objective(s) and put forward not only creative solutions but also realistic ones bearing in mind your budget. 

Interviews

As a final step in selecting your event planner, schedule an interview (face to face or remotely) to have a better “feel” for your possible candidates.  Ultimately, there has to be a chemistry between you—and your corporation—and the event planner.  Consider the fact that for the duration of planning and rolling out the event you and the planner will be working closely and for extended hours.  It is important that you can establish a mutually-enjoyable working relationship with your chosen planner.

These are only a few of the criteria that can help you determine whether or not you need an event planner for your next company event, and if you do, how to select the best candidate for the job. 

As an event planning company, GMS has been in business for over 20 years.  We welcome the opportunity to share the wisdom we have gathered over the years with our existing and prospective clients.

The Cure for Employee Burnout? Incentive Travel

Have you ever wished you had more vacation days? Most of us probably have, which is why it’s surprising to find that there are many people who not only have trouble using up all their vacation days, but actually refuse to take any days off at all.

Find it hard to believe? Well, many offices have at least one person like this. Research has found that in the U.S., about 15% of employees have not taken vacation in the past year. 

There can be several reasons why employees feel the need to skip their vacations: hope of advancing their careers; fear of returning to a backlog of emails and work; the increase in self-esteem that comes from feeling needed at the office; or the perception of “taking one for the team” by letting others go on vacation instead.

But in the long run, many of these people eventually see the negative effects that come from nonstop work. The lack of time away from the office becomes damaging not only to their own health and personal lives, but also to their relationships with others.

Employers are realizing too that nonstop work for their employees is damaging in the long-term to their productivity at work.

It is apparent that some employees are in desperate need to get away for a while. In fact, according to this Wall Street Journal article, some employers are even offering cash for employees to take their vacations. They realize that when their employees return from their vacation, they come back refreshed and even more productive than before.

Wall Street Journal’s Work & Family Columnist Sue Shellenbarger had the chance to talk to some employees who had not taken time off in years and were finally allowing themselves to take a vacation. Even though it took them a few days relearn how to enjoy their time off, every single one of them saw the benefits. By the end of their vacation, they felt better and got a fresh perspective on things.

Incentive Travel: A Win-Win

In light of these findings, what might be an even better option than cash is to offer incentive travel. Incentive trips can take the stress off the employees who are fearful of taking vacation, because a company-sanctioned trip allows employees to freely relax with their spouses, families, and colleagues. It also helps them forge and build on relationships with their colleagues and leaders, outside of the pressures of the office.

This helps increase the health and wellbeing of employees and improves their personal lives and relationships. And with employees feelings well-rested and renewed after the trip, it’ll sure help them be even more productive, which in turn is a valuable benefit for everyone.