The Thai resort town of Hua Hin is all primed for MICE business, but what it lacks is direct international flight access and stronger promotion.
Hua Hin has long been a favoured weekend destination for Thais and expats, but despite its proximity from Bangkok – about a 2.5-hour drive away – the seaside town never quite gained popularity among international event planners due to limited access options.
All this is set to change, as talks of Hua Hin Airport becoming an international one has become more rife in recent months. Thai authorities were reportedly in talks earlier in August to make arrangements to welcome international scheduled flights.
Commercial air services to the resort town has been sporadic in the past, limited to Kan Air’s domestic services and Thai Lion Air’s Hat Yai-Hua Hin services – both of which were already plugged – as well as private business jets.
At press time, AirAsia is looking at launching five-times weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Hua Hin in 2017, a development that is keenly watched with bated breath by Hua Hin’s tourism and hospitality players.
David Barett, CEO of Hype Global and MICE consultant to the Ananda Resort Hua Hin, told TTGmice: “If AirAsia can pull it off, this will be a turning point for Hua Hin hotels’ fortunes. While international meeting planners are desperately seeking something new, the current three hours’ drive time to the resort is a deterrent.
“Direct air access will open up the destination for meetings and incentives. If we can start with Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, as two key geographic source MICE markets, and lobby for a Singapore route to follow, we would hit the MICE jackpot,” he continued.
International accessibility aside, hoteliers also point to the readiness of Hua Hin/Cha-Am as a business events destination, as these two adjacent seaside towns are already home to quality hotels with meeting facilities, an abundance of F&B options, and off-site attractions.
A new crop of upmarket hotels like Radisson Blu Resort Hua Hin, Ananda Resort Hua Hin, and Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa have further upped the destination’s business events prospects.
Goetz Bauer, general manager of Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa, commented: “Hua Hin has great potential to be the perfect MICE destination from Mondays to Fridays as it is significant cheaper than Bangkok even if you include transportation costs, and it can always be combined with an incentive component.”
Bauer shared: “More organisers have realised this and are finding ways to overcome the three-hour drive by adding seafood lunches, shopping stops, sightseeing, or even teambuilding activities.”
Andrew Cornelio, director of sales & marketing at Radisson Blu Resort Hua Hin, said: “There seems to be more infrastructure development, especially in the ‘corridor’ between Hua Hin and Cha-Am. We already see a healthy growth of good-quality bistros and dining establishments in this area. There are already several water parks, two good shopping malls, and numerous golf courses.”
Hua Hin’s “own flavour” owing to its strong mix of culture, mountains and the sea is what keeps groups and events requests for Hua Hin steadily rolling in for Diethelm, but the DMC’s Thailand events department manager Sandy Peamsomboon noted that Hua Hin currently commands stronger interest among domestic event planners as compared to overseas.
It’s a similar observation for Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa, as a majority of its events bookings – as well as the attendees – still hail from offices based in Bangkok. This situation can be improved with more promotion, Bauer stated, echoing the sentiments of industry players.
Said Cornelio: “Both TICA and TCEB have brought in MICE fam trips but the destination needs more promotion. I think more can be done in terms of promoting the MICE market as it is great for the slower weekdays.
“There can be more attractions in the vicinity since (planners’) questions currently revolve around what kinds of activities are available for meeting delegates.”
Barrett added: “More can be done to promote Hua Hin/Cha-Am in the international MICE markets. TCEB has overlooked the destination, as the beach resort is not one of their five MICE Cities (Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen).
“I extended an invitation to TCEB to attend the Hua Hin General Managers’ meeting in August, and presented the good work that TCEB has undertaken with their MICE Cities initiative, and explored how the destination can partner with the bureau to promote and drive more international and domestic MICE to Hua Hin,” he added.
When asked what plans TCEB had to grow Hua Hin as a MICE destination, a spokesperson told TTGmice that the destination is one of the cities the bureau is considering for development.
With its wide-ranging accommodation, extensive facilities and services for MICE, as well as diverse attractions, Hua Hin is “ready to accommodate both leisure and MICE visitors”, the bureau said.
Barrett concluded: “With the right mix of destination partners, destination branding, digital marketing and experiential events, combined with the opening of the airport, Hua Hin will be on track to securing a much larger share of the MICE market.”