Asian Incentives: Asia for all seasons

Teresa Machan matches incentives to seasons in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and India.

SPRING IN JAPAN

Japan hosts more international meetings than any other country in Asia. Spring's cherry blossom season is a sight to behold, and it's worth planning a visit from early April to May to coincide with it.

Sleep tight: The past couple of years have seen a slew of high-profile hotel openings in Tokyo, including the Peninsula, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad Tokyo and Mandarin Oriental, but for old-world charm, Japan Journeys' Jacob Ellefson recommends the recently revamped Imperial. "The service is impeccable," he says. With Lost in Translation in mind, delegates can dine in the Park Hyatt's semi-private area of the New York Grill. In Kyoto, the opulent Hotel Okura offers VIP Japanese hospitality and private breakfast rooms can be arranged for larger groups. Ellefson suggests a night in a ryokan such as Tarawaya or Hiiragiya, where futon beds on tatami mats, Japanese baths and a traditional kaiseki meal are all part of the experience.

Incentive Ideas: Japan's attractions include hot springs - a fun and healthy way for clients to wind down. The Kyoto-Tokyo Golden Route can include a night in the picturesque resort of Hakone, peppered with springs and offering fabulous views of Mt Fuji.

Tokyo's Ueno Park and Mt Yoshino in the ancient capital Nara are famous for their blossom, and the whole city of Kyoto, home to scores of temples, shrines and gardens, is decorated with it. Smaller groups can experience Zazen meditation in temple grounds and gala dinners can be held in Japanese gardens or at Uzumasa Movieland (where Samurai movies are filmed) with taiko drum and samurai sword performances and geisha wearing their seasonal spring kimonos.

Demonstrations of traditional culture, including tea ceremonies, flower arranging and noh and kabuki theatre, are popular - try one of HIS Experience's Experience Tokyo programmes, which range from training as a samurai to flower arranging. In May, one of six professional sumo tournaments lasting 15 days is held in Tokyo.

Finally, Ellefson recommends a cruise around Tokyo Bay on a Japanese-style houseboat: "Delegates enjoy a tempura dinner and after a few beers everyone throws themselves into karaoke."

SUMMER IN SINGAPORE

Now ranked among the top three cities in the world for meetings (according to the Union of International Associations), hot, steamy Singapore is more geared up to the heat and humidity than most. Most attractions and experiences can be enjoyed in comfort and, in summer, there's no rain to spoil the show. Summer is also a busy festival period. These include, the Dragon Boat Festival in June, the annual, month-long food festival in July, when the city's perennial favourites are cooked and consumed with abandon, while August sees the Hungry Ghost Month, when Taoists believe the spirits of the departed wander freely about the earth.

Sleep tight: Michelle Biggane, events training officer at Rand, found value for money in the contemporary and "fantastically located" Orchard Hotel. Even standard rooms at the recently refurbished hotel come with IT butler service. The Naumi Hotel, Singapore's first boutique business hotel, will suit those looking for small-scale luxury, while over on lush Sentosa Island, the brand-new 121-room Amara Sanctuary resort offers exactly that - in an oasis of gardens and tropical rainforest. Back in the business district, 'wow' factor is guaranteed at the neo-classical Fullerton Singapore. The former post office occupies a prime waterfront location in the heart of the vibrant riverside belt.

Incentive Ideas: Get delegates into the seasonal spirit at the Raffles Culinary Academy, Coriander Leaf or At-Sunrice Academy. A tea-appreciation session can be organised through Tea Chapter, and at Chinatown's Food Street the entire street can be enclosed, with each of the 18 stalls serving as a "buffet-line". A jungle-themed dinner at the world's first night zoo can include cocktails and desserts served on board the Night Safari tram.

Take to the water on an afternoon high-tea harbourfront junk cruise or head down the Singapore River in a traditional bumboat for a view of the Chinese shop houses. For evening entertainment, private arts performances with canapes and champagne can be arranged at Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

Carrying 29 passengers, Singapore's first helium balloon ride is a novel way to take in the Singapore cityscape. Looking ahead, the world's first-ever Formula 1 night race will be held at Singapore in October 2008 and The Flyer, the world's largest observation wheel, opens in March.

AUTUMN IN HONG KONG

With the summer's humidity and the typhoon season over, and warm, clear days likely from mid-October to the end of December, this is the best time to visit Hong Kong. The Mid-Autumn Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. The sight of hundreds of brightly coloured lanterns illuminating the city's parks and beaches is not to be missed.

Sleep tight: Tony Bosel, managing director of Creative Travel and Event Management, has organised five visits to Hong Kong in the past 18 months. "I doubt there's anywhere in the world where there's such a high ratio of hotel staff to guests," he says.

He recommends the Peninsula, Shangri-La and Langham hotels - all bells-and-whistles five stars. For smaller groups try the boutique Jia or the newer Hotel Lan Kwai Fong, where the stylish 29th-floor cocktail bar and supper lounge, Azure, is sure to impress. One of the city's hippest addresses, it's centrally located in one of the most popular nightlife areas.

For a great-value four-star, Jane Fowler, a consultant at Rand, recommends the Eaton hotel. "It's just 25 minutes from the airport, and the service and facilities were excellent," she says.

Incentive Ideas: "My top tip is to get out on the water," said Creative Travel's Bosel. Groups can take in the city's skyline and harbour scenes on board the Aqua Luna junk, a popular new pre-dinner cocktail venue, timed to coincide with the 8pm Symphony of Lights show (maximum capacity 70-80). For real 'wow' factor you can't beat a helicopter ride - the pick-up point is atop the famed Peninsula hotel with its glamorous retro-style waiting lounge. Make the most of the weather with a trip to Lantau Island or the New Territories' Sai Kung where activities such as power-boating, snorkelling and hiking can be organised, or take a treasure hunt around the city's markets.

Fowler says the cooler evenings are ideal for al fresco dining at the Peak, where Cafe Deco's top floor can be hired exclusively. She also recommends a night at the races, as does Bosel. "Sitting in a private box at the finishing line of the Happy Valley racetrack is one of the most atmospheric evenings you could have," he says.

WINTER IN INDIA

India brings together history and culture with diverse backdrops ranging from desert citadels and colonial hill stations to Himalayan mountain retreats, tropical beaches and tranquil backwater river-ways. Winter (from September to April) is the best time to visit.

Sleep tight: Both the Taj and Oberoi groups draw plaudits. The Rambagh Palace, home to Jaipur's royal family until the 1950s, is considered by many to be the jewel in Taj's crown. "It's simply stunning," says senior operations manager at First Event, Caroline Spencer. Between them, Taj and Oberoi feature world-renowned spa retreats, mountain lodges, luxury tents on the edge of a tiger reserve, city boltholes, converted palaces, beachfront cottages and even a motor cruiser that navigates the Kerala backwaters. Oberoi was the first Indian hotel group to introduce its own air charter service, flying guests from Delhi to its Wildflower Hall property near Shimla. "Wildflower is spectacular - there's mountain biking, white-water rafting, a superb spa and waiters to deliver luxury picnics," says Cox and Kings' head of sales UK and Europe, Eleanor Milner.

Incentive Ideas: The Golden Triangle circuit (Jaipur, Agra and Delhi) is the most established and trains like the Maharaja-style Palace on Wheels and Royal Orient Express showcase India's scenery in comfort. "There's lots you can do in India that you can't do anywhere else," says Cox and Kings' Milner, who is involved in Ken Livingstone's trip to the country this month. Treasure hunts on rickshaws through Delhi, a flight to the Taj Mahal for breakfast on a private lawn and dinners hosted by maharajas are all on the agenda.

Milner has organised a 'James Bond' itinerary with helicopter flights and casinos, and another group arrived in Jaipur by vintage car and then transferred to elephants for the final stretch to the hotel gates.

At a cost of £3,500 per head First Event's Spencer organised for a group of 60 to fly by private plane to the Taj Mahal, play elephant polo in Jaipur, travel by private train from Delhi to Agra and arrive at a secret desert location by jeep. "It was a black-tie dinner and no one knew they were camping out in the desert in tents - everyone said it was the best night of the trip."

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