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Singapore’s Changi Airport. Image © Mike Aquino

The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions/Events) situation in Southeast Asia is rapidly changing in surprising ways. As the world’s attention turns to less well-worn convention destinations, Southeast Asia’s cities are quickly gaining notice, and some of the region’s cities are quickly stepping up their game to attract conference visitors.

Some are already ahead of the pack. Singapore, for one, is the giant in the region’s MICE market, for good reason. Its well-appointed hotels and top-of-the-line convention spaces – Suntec City and Marina Bay Sands among them – provide an optimum conference and event experience for visitors.

And the rapidly-modernizing Marina Bay skyline creates an amazing backdrop for post-conference activities that include chowing down at one of Singapore’s hundred hawker centres or exploring the shopping opportunities around Orchard Road and Kampong Glam.

But a look beyond Singapore offers a great many surprises for anyone looking to organize a conference in the region.

The Philippines city of Cebu has all the right ingredients for a successful conference – busy international airport, ample international-standard convention facilities within or near some of the world’s best hotels, among others. But not far from Cebu’s meeting facilities and hotel lobbies, you’ll find another ingredient that makes this city such a satisfying venue for meetings and conventions.

Cebu’s beaches are legendary for their beauty and biodiversity. Meeting organizers can make a beach break part of the itinerary, beginning with a getaway at one of Mactan Island’s beaches, or going further and deeper into nature by venturing out to the islands of Olango or Bantayan. 

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Image courtesy of the Malaysia Tourism Board.

In Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur‘s rapidly transforming skyline has put it on the MICE must-sees in the region. This is in no small way due to the presence of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KlCC), widely considered one of the best convention centres in Asia set at the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s business district.

After hours, Kuala Lumpur’s eclectic East-meets-West vibe is worth exploring, from the modern shopping, dining and leisure available not far from KLCC, to more authentic cultural experiences available around Petaling Street or in Brickfields.

In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is increasingly popping up on MICE organisers’ collective radar. International connections through Tan Son Nhat International Airport and Khanh Hoi International Seaport allow quick access from overseas ports, and conference goers may do business at one of the city’s two exhibition and convention centres (Sai Gon Exhibition and Convention Centre, and Tan Binh International Fair and Exhibition Centre).

The city is already a hotbed for international events and festivals, among them the International Travel Expo, International Cuisine Festival, and the Southern Fruit Festival. Visiting conference-goers will also have plenty of rooms to choose from. Experts estimate that as of 2014, Ho Chi Minh City has reached a high of 100 hotels within its city limits, offering over 22,000 rooms.

Outside the conference halls and hotel rooms, the city offers no shortage of shopping centres and amusement sites, among them the Parkson shopping mall, Suoi Tien Park, Diamond Plaza, and Dam Sen Cultural Park, among others.

Bali in Indonesia does brisk business in conferences over at its luxurious Nusa Dua planned resort district. Nusa Dua has not one, but two MICE venues within its borders: the Bali International Convention Centre (BICC) and the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre.

But it isn’t just convention centres nor the luxurious resorts that keep convention-goers coming to Bali. The island’s graceful culture provides a soothing counterpoint to the meetings and events, from the traditionally-costumed dancers performing ancient Balinese dances to the gamelan music playing gently in the background.

Post-conference visits to the island’s many temples are a must-do for any self-respecting MICE organizer.

In Thailand, Pattaya has grabbed a considerable part of the MICE spotlight that used to be reserved for Bangkok. Pattaya’s reputation as a “festive seaside city” has burnished its reputation among conference circles, primarily thanks to the presence of three convention and exhibit centres (Eastern National Sports Training Center, Ambassador City Jomtien Hotel and Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall) alongside over 100 meeting rooms in the city’s hotels.  

Pattaya Bay. Image used with permission of Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Beyond the city’s ample capacity for conferences and events, Pattaya offers plenty of activities for conference-goers, from teeing off at one of the many golf courses nearby, to outdoors activities like hot-air balloon riding and diving, to a busy nightlife that goes on into the wee hours.

All told, the picture for conference organizers is clear: MICE in Southeast Asia can be surprising (and surprisingly fun) depending on the city it happens in.