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Thailand is already one of the world’s most in-demand destinations for leisure travelers, with “38 million foreign arrivals spending $65 billion in 2018,” Skift recently reported, and the “[Tourism Authority of Thailand] eyeing 40 million foreign arrivals this year.” That’s enough to make it one of the 10 most-visited countries in the world, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, thanks in large part to buzzy, booming Bangkok.
The Thai capital “was the world’s most-visited city in 2018 for the fourth consecutive year, ahead of Paris and London,” Bloomberg reported in September. The city “hosted more than 22 million international overnight travelers, Mastercard’s latest Global Destination Cities Index shows. Paris and London followed in second and third with just over 19 million each.” And Bangkok’s airports are enjoying some of the hottest growth in APAC: Over the past five years, Don Mueang International saw a 75 percent increase in available seats and Suvarnabhumi Airport had a 25 percent bump, according to data from Cirium. Combined, the airports offered more than 64 million seats in 2018.
Of course not all of those arrivals are coming for meetings and events — but many are. In fact, more than 31 million domestic and 1.2 million international attendees are forecast for 2019, according to data from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). Those numbers are up significantly compared to years past, according to TCEB, as companies around the world embrace flexible working arrangements, “bleisure” trips, and more inventive and creative incentive travel. In their quest to find destinations that provide rich cultural experiences, cost-effective facilities, and meaningful attendee interactions, planners are looking beyond the usual places for their events — and they’re finding success in Thailand.
How Thailand Is Strengthening its MICE Sector
TCEB is helping to foster that growth by hosting its own industry-facing event, the Thailand MICE Forum 2019. The day-long conference gathered an influential audience of hospitality executives from brands like Dusit Thani and Thai Airways and government officials for panel discussions, seminars, and networking. “The convention will accelerate business opportunities from 550 delegates from 50 countries worldwide, which can generate more than 44 million baht ($1.4 million) of revenue for Thai economy,” said a TCEB spokesperson in a release. “Even better, the world will learn about the readiness of Bangkok, in terms of the capabilities to host global events.”
Attendees were bullish on the future of the country’s meetings and events sector. “Thailand’s global profile as a hub for international exhibitions has grown significantly in recent years, and our latest UFI research data shows that the market is well-positioned for additional growth in the years to come,” said Kai Hattendorf, the managing director and CEO of UFI The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.
Thailand is also a terrific value, said Sam Lay, senior director, Asia Pacific, at CWT Meetings & Events. “Availability of quality tourism and hospitality infrastructure provides a strong catalyst for more global and regional meetings and events,” Lay said in a recent report. (The study also highlights the forthcoming Bangkok convention center, due in 2022, that will triple the amount of space presently available at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.)
The push to win more meetings business is just one part of a major economic revitalization underway in the country. The government of Thailand’s major policy blueprint known as “Thailand 4.0” emphasizes the power of tourism — and in particular meetings and events — to drive growth. (Other pillars of the economic platform include strengthening environmental protection and developing “networks of innovation-driven enterprise.”) As part of the plan, which was first announced in 2018, Thailand has implemented training programs for tourism industry workers and is continuing to build air connections with regional and international hubs.
The country has also seen considerable investment in luxury hotels in recent years, many of which offer meeting space or the potential for buyouts. The Rosewood Bangkok, which opened earlier this year, has “hotel meeting spaces that cater to small and medium size events that are very upscale and exclusive,” said Thomas Harlander, the property’s managing director. “After being open for just four months, we have now an average of 20 events per month.” At the Park Hyatt Bangkok, “we average a healthy number of meetings and high profile event bookings per month,” said Lalidaphun Chavananand, the property’s director of events.
“The country has so much to offer all in one, including a distinct culture, the mountains in the north, a metropolitan city, and some of the best islands and beaches in the world in the south,” Chavananand said. “There’s world-class shopping, a vibrant nightlife, medical treatment, and of course we’re a global food destination, especially now with the support and recognition from the Michelin Guide.”
On the horizon, the ultra-luxury brand Aman will open a new hotel in Bangkok in 2022. “Nestled in the century-old tropical gardens of Nai Lert Park, Aman Nai Lert Bangkok will offer a unique connection to the rich heritage and history of Bangkok enhanced by the gracious traditions of Thailand,” said Vladislav Doronin, chairman and CEO of Aman in a release.
The destination has also benefited from the rise of “food tourism,” a significant force in the travel industry more broadly, according to data from Skift Research. “About one in four recent travelers have taken a trip motivated by a [specific] food and/or drink experience,” wrote Meghan Carty in a recent report. When it comes to Thailand specifically, the food is a major draw for both leisure and business travelers, said Andrea Ross, the Director of Wild Frontiers US and a specialist in Southeast Asia travel. “While some people choose a full culinary tour almost all of our travelers have at least some culinary elements as part of their trip, whether it’s a local street market tour or a cooking class.”
Tapping into Traveler Demand to Boost Meetings and Events
All these developments should keep Thailand top of mind for planners in the future. In fact, the country is already on the top ten list for meetings and events destinations, according to Global DMC Partners, a trade group. “Identifying destinations for this list helps us present secondary markets and those intriguing destinations that our clients will soon discover are also perfect for meetings and incentives. Flight patterns, cost-effective local options, and a wide range of unique activities are just a few of the reasons why these destinations are already showing popularity for 2019,” said Global DMC Partners president Catherine Chaulet in a release.
Meanwhile “more than 80 international association meetings [have] been booked for Thailand,” according to data from the International Congress and Convention Association. Thailand is already the fifth-most popular meeting destination in Asia, according to ICCA, with 193 large events held in 2018, ahead of destinations including India, Hong Kong, and Singapore. While Bangkok is far and away the most popular site for large events, Chiang Mai and Pattaya also hosted a number of mega-meetings in 2018, ICCA said.
The destination’s unique attributes and growing infrastructure make it an ideal choice for the future, said Phumin Meetawornkul, senior executive for MICE intelligence and innovation at TCEB. “There’s so much culture, and there are so many things that our emerging destinations can offer beyond Bangkok,” Meetawornkul said. And Nichapa Yoswee, senior vice president of business at TCEB, said: “While we enjoy great success in our major cities, we’re keen to promote alternative locations that are not as widely known to global business event planners. There’s plenty for planners to discover in these ‘off the beaten track’ destinations – from sea cruises to luxury spas to indigenous textiles, Thailand has something for everyone.”
One group of particular interest, Meetawornkul said, is millennials. “Consider that millennials in particular are always after unique experiences and exclusive experiences, even within the context of meetings,” Meetawornkul added. “As a destination, we can offer that — and we keep seeing more millennial attendees every year.”
They’re a key market, said Nooch Homrossukhon, director of the meeting and incentive department at TCEB. “They’re looking for different experiences,” she said. “They don’t want to just fly into another country and sit in a square room.” In Thailand, they won’t have to.