by Lisa Grimaldi | March 01, 2004

Singapore’s Gabriel Tseng

Following a significant fall-off in incentive business from North America over the past five years due to health and economic crises, terrorist attacks and the post-9/11 downturn in travel, Asia is seeing signs of growth in some destinations. In others, however, recovery appears a way down the road.
    James La Valle, manager of conventions, expositions and corporate events for the Hong Kong Tourism Board in Los Angeles, said that the first three quarters of 2003 were sluggish, but incentive business for 2004 is looking positive, “and 2005 looks even better. We’re getting a lot of the postponements and cancellations from 2003 rescheduled,” he noted.
    At press time, destination management companies in Hong Kong reported some concern from corporate clients about a recent case of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mainland China and cases of bird flu in Thailand, according to La Valle. But he didn’t expect either problem to have a negative effect on Hong Kong’s group market.
    Because many incentive planners have not been back to Hong Kong since its handover from Great Britain to China in 1997, La Valle said, the tourism board will sponsor a series of familiarization trips  throughout 2004.
Singapore, which saw a drop of 17 percent in group business from 2002 to 2003 due mainly to the SARS outbreak last year, has launched a new program to lure back incentive groups, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.
    Begun last November, the “Make It Singapore” campaign offers planners subsidies for using DMCs, restaurants and venues for incentive business booked in 2004 and taking place between now and 2007.
    The effort has already begun to pay off, said Gabriel Tseng, vice president, United States and South America, for the Singapore Tourism Board in New York City. He reported group business up 7.3 percent in December 2003 over the same period the previous year.
    Recovery is expected to take longer in Bali, the  Indonesian island where 202 people were killed by terrorist bombs in October 2002.
    Paul Czuba, director of sales and marketing at the Ritz-Carlton, Bali Resort & Spa, said signs point to incentive business picking up as early as spring 2005.