by Sanjay Surana | February 15, 2016

Why Go
Indonesia's most popular vacation spot Bali ticks all the boxes for an exotic destination, with endless ribbons of beach, traditional villages, unspoilt jungles and forests, and ornate ancient temples.

Yet it's also an island that embraces MICE and more importantly progress, with a recently upgraded airport that offers fantastic connections to Asia and Australia, scores of first-rate hotels, new express roads that have helped to ease traffic bottlenecks, and fabulous dining, nightlife, and island experiences.

Spiritual Awakening
Bali is one of the world's foremost centres for yoga, and many yoga and wellness retreats are scattered around the town of Ubud. There are sessions all year round, and visitors will be able to enroll in workshops and retreats for yoga, meditation, chakra balancing, ayurveda, detox, healing massage, water ai chi, and tantra. Browse for full details.

Happy Days
Multi-day Galungan is a Balinese holiday that commemorates the fight of good over evil and honours the creator of the universe. Its date is governed by the 210-day Balinese calendar, meaning it occurs twice per solar calendar year - in 2016  February 10-20 and September 7-17. During the period, cremated spirits return to visit their family homes, and festivities include slaughtering pigs for feasts. For tourists, perhaps the most enduring image of the festival will be the penjor, bamboo poles with offerings at the end that flank the roads of all villages.

Free and Easy
Indonesia loosened visa regulations in 2015, with citizens of 75 countries added to the list of those no longer requiring visas to enter Indonesia as tourists. The changes were made in two waves, and include India, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, and the United States.

Bali has no shortage of polished, professional hotels adept at accommodating groups. In the Nusa Dua area, south of the airport, the Mulia has two options-the all-suite 111 room The Mulia and the 526-room Mulia Resort. Both make full use of the beachfront location, while the Grand Ballroom and 15 conference rooms are designed with crystal chandeliers, marble and custom carpets for a lush look.

Also beachfront, and spreading over eight hectares is Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua Beach Resort, which has 415 plush guestrooms and suites. The 12 function rooms include two ballrooms. Of these, the most renowned is the 450 sqm Grand Gamelan Ballroom with a capacity for up to 420 pax. The soaring ceilings add to the sense of space while the seaside location - with stunning Indian Ocean views at every turn - adds visual glamour to any event.

The sprawling Grand Nikko Bali sits partially atop a 40m cliff and offers a number of indoor and outdoor spaces for events. MPF, the resort's newest conference space, is 1,000 sqm, and has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Indian Ocean. Breakout rooms and pre-function spaces come with a strong Balinese design ethos. At the lobby level is the 800 sqm Graha Sawangam, which has a separate entrance and reception area for delegates. Outdoor venues include a clifftop garden.

The Stones Hotel, in Legian, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection of properties, can host from 10-2,200 delegates; spaces include the 1,500-square-metre Grand Ballroom, with ceilings more than eight metres high. In all, the hotel has five ballrooms, and is moving away from predictable meetings to more creative ensembles. Examples include the Painter's Studio, the space kitted out to resemble a Warhol studio with foods presented in paint-tin-shaped containers, banquet staff in white jackets with paint stains, and handprint signatures on canvas instead of a reception book for participants.

Perhaps the most exciting hotel news in Bali comes from Ritz-Carlton. Both Ritz-Carlton Bali (in southern Bali) and Mandapa, one of only three exclusive Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties in the world, opened in the second half of 2015. The latter, located just outside the town of Ubud, has gorgeous suites and villas, working rice paddies, a sublime riverfront spa, and a number of spaces for small, residential-style meetings, board retreats, and leisure-focused incentives.

One of the most talked-about openings in Bali in 2015, Republik 45 is a large restaurant with décor that mixes rustic with contemporary and a menu that celebrates the various influences and tastes of the archipelago. With the capacity to seat up to 120 diners, Republik 45 also can cater to large groups.

The modern tropical Sundara, at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay, has all-day beachfront dining. The Asian-inspired cuisine includes dishes such as crispy pork belly, drunken chicken, and crab and coconut. A new dining concept was introduced in the middle of 2015, with dinner menus divided into three sections (cold, hot and sweet) and with each dish available in three sizes (small, medium and large). The Upstairs Mezzanine can cater for private functions of up to 100 people, with private dining rooms for groups of up to 20 people. Overall, the beach club and dining areas can cater for up to 350 guests in the various dining rooms, lounge, terrace, beach-club and pool area.

Bali's buzziest dining destination of the moment is Ubud, with stylish new restaurants suitable for smaller groups. Watercress offers contemporary, healthy, global cuisine; Hujon Locale offers updated versions of traditional Indonesian dishes; and Spice by Chris Salans is a unique gastrobar serving modern Western dishes with Indonesian ingredients. 

Unique Venues
It's hard to describe Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park - it's part theme park, part collection of monument and part fantasy experience. Located in Bali's southern peninsula, the park features artistic performances such as kecak, Bali's famous dance. Popular venues for events include the amphitheatre, Lotus Pond and the Indraloka Garden, which has views of lush greenery and the ocean. The park is currently building a 120-metre-tall statue of Garuda that will become one of the island's iconic sights.

The Bali Safari & Marine Park offers a richly varied range of international standard meeting facilities, set in an attraction that is educational and fun. Spaces include the 815 sqm Lobby Barong (standing capacity 300), and the vast, 1,600 sqm Uma restaurant that can accommodate 1,200 standing, 800 at tables. Other options include a cruise shop and the pool area at the water park.

Bali is also populated with royal palaces that are available to rent for incentives dinners, private events and traditional art performances. Among them are Puri Anyar Kerambitan (where celebrities such as Mick Jagger once enjoyed a feast), Puri Bongkasa, and Puri Agung Ubud. In each case, groups will enjoy meals cooked by local villagers.

Ideas for Incentives

Bali Team Building Company, used by such multinationals such as Adidas, Bosch, Canon, Cisco, HP, and Samsung, organises activities in four categories: Amazing Race Bali series, Master Chef programmes, Outbound Bali, and We Create. Examples of offerings include chef workshops, a race on the back roads around Ubud, dragon boating, and a detective-style escape hunt. It also offers numerous CSR programmes such as We Build a Bike, where groups are split into teams and tasked to build their own bikes. These bikes are donated to a local charity. Groups of up to 1,000 pax are possible.

Unknown to most visitors, the north of Bali is home to a thriving wine industry, with an expanse of vineyards along the fertile coastal plain from Pulaki to Singaraja. A full-day wine excursion to vineyards such as Hatten Wines, the first winery in Bali, might start with picking grapes in the morning, crushing them, a wine lunch and then a tasting in the late afternoon at the winery. The winery will also open a new building in 2016 with a wine lifestyle boutique, education classroom, and private dining room.

Of course no visit to an island would be complete without some sort of water activity. A number of beach clubs are available for fully catered private events, and many surf schools-surfing is big business in Bali-offer group lessons, a way to build bonds with colleagues while getting in some healthy exercise.

Meeting Hotels
The greatest problem with choosing a hotel in Bali is the sheer number of them with fine meetings facilities. In addition to those already mentioned, within a 30-minute drive of the airport are the 60-room Anantara Seminyak (for boutique meetings), 636-room Grand Hyatt Bali, 353-room Conrad Bali, 433-room The Westin Resort Nusa Dua Bali, 368-room, 90-hectare Ayana Resort and Spa and sister property Rimba Jimbaran Bali with 282 rooms, 118-room Le Méridien Bali Jimbaran, 123-room The St. Regis Bali, 95-room Bali Nusa Dua Hotel, and 417-room InterContinental Bali.

Airport Transit
There are plentiful taxis at Ngurah Rai International airport, with Ngurah Rai Taxi Service having a monopoly on cabs that operate in the airport. Thankfully that doesn't mean high prices: Taxi rates to most tourist areas within a 30-minute drive start at about 100,000 Rupiah (about S$10). 

Hotels and restaurants levy a 10% charge, while service of 11% is typically added on top. Normally, hotels will quote a net rate.

Bali doesn't have a dedicated governmental-level MICE bureau, so bookings are ordinarily made directly through convention centres or hotels. However, the Bali MICE Guide, published by the destination management company Bali Discovery Tours and available in print or digital editions, gives a comprehensive overview of the island's MICE sector (