Island Stories

As China loosens its laws on the use of hundreds of uninhabited islands, the prospects for MICE resorts looks promising

China’s MICE planners may soon be able to include small island getaways in their portfolio of choice for destinations for their MICE travel – and it won’t mean having to leave the country. In April last year, the government published a list of 176 uninhabited islands offshore from China’s main costal provinces – including Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang – that it intends to slowly privatize. Private individuals and firms can apply to the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) for a certificate to explore use of an island for storage, agriculture, and most importantly, tourism. While the list of islands that can currently be
leased is currently small, the long-term potential of this development is huge – China has over 9,000 uninhabited islands.
By mid-December, two of the islands on the list had been officially certified to two different developers. The first, Dayangyu – a 0.258 sq km island off the coast of Ningbo in Zheijiang province – was auctioned for RMB20 million (US$3.2 million) to Ningbo Gaobao Investment Co. Ltd, which now has all land rights on the island for 50 years. The investment firm plans to
turn the island into a high-end tourism and recreational destination.
While it will take some time to develop such islands into full-scale resorts – most of the islands on the list have yet to receive government approval over the use of the licenses – there is an obvious potential here for new MICE destinations.

The concept of island resorts as a destination for MICE events has seen significant success in the Southeast Asian region. Locations such as islands near Cebu in the Philippines, or Langkawi in Malaysia have now established themselves as international hubs for island-based MICE events. Cebu in particular has soared in popularity as a MICE destination in the past decade. The island enjoys increasing popularity as the wedding destinations for Japanese nationals. In particular, the establishment of the US$10 million Cebu International Conference Center, built specifically for both the 12th Asean Summit and 2nd East Asia Summit in 2007, was a major leap forward for this island’s MICE market potential.
Some experts are now citing Cebu as a real contender to the big MICE players of the US and certain European destinations.
And other new hubs are springing up frequently. Sentosa – a man-made island just off the coast of Singapore and Jeju – a tropical spot belonging to a South Korean province – are just two examples of locations being dubbed the “New MICE hub”. The draw for MICE travel to Southeast Asian islands is fairly obvious. The remoteness of an event at a seemingly untouched or exclusive location can give such an event a premium feel. Beaches, wonderful views and cuisine are all major plus points that cannot always be found of a big city event. For Mactan and Cebu, the natural warmth and Filipino hospitality are among the
top charming elements.

Moreover, the awareness and demand from Chinese travelers to these kinds of exclusive and remote resorts has been increasing. As Chinese consumers become more affluent, the dynamic of outbound travelers is moving increasingly away from package tour group travel, and into individual resort-based trips.
The incentive travel side of MICE has particular scope to benefit from the growth in island resort travel in China. Beach resorts have long formed the basis for incentive travel in the global market, and while the concept of incentive travel rewards is quite in its infancy for Chinese firms, it is in itself seeing potential for growth. For instance, Jeju eyes on attracting more MICE tours groups from China, Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Natural draws aside, the island boasts world-class hotels and resorts,
such as The Shilla Jeju, Lotte Hotel Jeju and Hyatt Regency Jeju, coupled with leisure activities such as golf and fishing. Besides, business delegates find the resort-style conferences more relaxed, which promotes greater business opportunities and networking opportunities.
Inevitably, given the very early stages of China’s island developments, it will be some time before a MICE island hub can emerge. There is also the issue of developing sufficient transport and infrastructure links to such islands, which will require substantial long-term investment and planning. But it is a start.