Thailand is becoming one of Asia's premier business events destinations as efforts to improve its cities meetings and events infrastructure begin to pay off.
The meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry in Thailand is stronger now than ever before, and is expected to continue growing. Thailand is forecasted to attract more than 1.3 million MICE travelers and generate nearly $4 billion USD in revenue by 2022, according to a September 2019 report by Kenneth Research.
What’s the secret behind the success? SkiftX took a closer look at the factors driving Thailand’s fast-growing MICE sector. Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) has been working closely with both the public and private sectors to build and improve infrastructure and transportation to boost the country’s reputation as a premier events destination.
The Five Top Priority MICE Cities in Thailand
TCEB plans to capitalize on its recent success of developing Thailand as a top events destination by doubling down on the five designated MICE cities — Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Pattaya, and Phuket. These cities will continue to receive major infrastructure investments as part of the government’s Thailand 4.0 policy. TCEB is executing on the government’s policy to grow the country’s economy by diversifying and distributing income to various regions, said the bureau in a release. These five cities, which have been identified based on their MICE potential, are eligible for the bureau’s support and inclusion in the bureau’s promotional initiatives.
Mega projects include a new submarine communication cable that connects Thailand to Hong Kong and China, an electric rail system in Bangkok, and expansion of major airports such as Suvarnabhumi Airport, Don Mueang International Airport, and Chiang Mai International Airport.
The bureau has identified “Thailand Seven MICE Magnificent Themes” to help support the itineraries for 25 “routes.” These routes (five built in each of the five MICE cities) have been designed to highlight experiences of interest to MICE visitors.
The seven magnificent themes are: fascinating history and culture, exhilarating adventures, treasured team building, corporate social responsibility and green meetings, beach bill, lavish luxury, and culinary journeys. Drawing from the attributes and offerings of each of these themes, each route is devised to deliver a unique experience that is relevant to the host city and attractive to meeting attendees.
Highlight experiences include participating in the restoration of marine life in Pattaya and learning about the production of organic coffee from a local community in Chiang Mai. MICE travelers can also enjoy varied gastronomic offerings — ranging from Michelin-star restaurants to innovative street vendors. The country now has 27 restaurants with Michelin stars and 72 restaurants with Bib Gourmand rating. New attractions are being developed for small groups as well. For example, Bangkok has a new ultra-luxury shopping complex along the river and King Power Mahanakhon Observation Deck, which is the highest point of Bangkok.
Developments are also underway in Pattaya, which is the third largest city after Bangkok and Phuket for MICE traffic. Ongoing projects include the expansion of U-Tapao airport and infrastructure developments to link ground, sea, and air transport systems throughout the provinces of Rayong, Chachoengsao, and Chon Buri. “These movements are the main supporting factors for leveraging the development of MICE businesses in Pattaya,” Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, TCEB’s president, said in a release. A plan to build a new convention center in one of the three provinces is under review and is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2020.
In the northern region, TCEB is developing Chiang Mai by collaborating with local communities and stakeholders to introduce activities for corporate travelers showcasing the region’s culture. The bureau also worked with the province to showcase “MICE Events in the Rain,” promoting its array of creative attractions, unique cultural assets, and modern facilities during Thailand’s annual rainy season.
Thailand’s growth as a popular meetings destination is the result of a deliberate and proactive strategy deployed by TCEB. For example, every effort is being employed to make Phuket a preferred meetings destination by increasing Phuket International Airport’s passenger capacity from 12.5 million to 18 million. There is also a plan to construct a light-rail system from the airport to the city center.
Khon Kaen, in northeast Thailand, is expected to grow as a MICE destination, as this region is the primary focus of the government’s East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) scheme. The scheme intends to link Thailand with the neighboring countries of China, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam through improved transportation. China remains the top source market for MICE travelers to Thailand, according to May 2019 data from TCEB. This direct connection will further fuel growth in inbound travelers from China. Khon Kaen is now home to the third-largest convention center in the country, with around 15,000 square meters (161,459 square feet) of space.
How Thailand is Duplicating the Success of Its Top Five MICE Cities
Thailand’s rapid MICE growth doesn’t end with its top five MICE cities. In fact, nine other MICE cities are being developed throughout Thailand — Cha-am, Chiang Rai, Hua Hin, Nakhon Ratchasima, Phitsanulok, Rayong, Songkhla, Surat Thani, and Udon Thani. According to Nooch Homrossukhon, TCEB’s director of meetings and incentives department, the goal is to grow interest in areas outside Bangkok. “Repeat visitors especially will want to try an alternative city other than Bangkok and we are trying to drive business into these other cities,” she said.
As the meetings industry in Asia Pacific grows even more, “Meeting planners are looking for different places that cannot be found in their own countries today and we have many offsite venues to offer,” Homrossukhon said. “They don’t want to fly into another country and sit in another square room.” Research surveying meeting planners in Australia and Asia Pacific from International Association of Conference Centers supports Homrossukhon’s understanding of what meeting planners are looking for. In fact, 66 percent of planners surveyed agreed with the statement: “My current role in planning meetings involves more experience creation for delegates compared to my role planning meetings five years ago.”
According to a 2018 ranking by the International Congress and Convention Association, Bangkok was listed as one of the world’s top ten cities for international association meetings for the first time. Chiang Mai hosted 25 international association meetings and witnessed a whopping 250 percent growth between 2013 and 2018.
TCEB statistics show approximately 970,000 international business travelers in the first three quarters of the 2019 financial year. This reflects a 6.3 percent growth rate compared to the same period last year. The growth is expected to continue with TCEB’s recent bid wins of 13 international conferences, 17 new trade shows, and 12 mega-sized meeting and incentive programs, which will be collectively welcoming more than 100,000 delegates.
Such growth is a result of the bureau’s continued hard work to improve and establish new city infrastructure and attractions. These efforts have clearly boosted awareness and appeal of the destination. Since 2004, TCEB has been working towards establishing Thailand as Asia’s premier business events destination. And it looks like it is well on its way to achieving this goal.
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