Over coffee with Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya

The new president of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) talks about how business events is not part of tourism and how it can ensure inclusive growth for all in the Kingdom

Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya

You are TCEB’s new president but you aren’t new at all to the organisation. How will this make you a special leader?
I’ve been in this industry for a long time. I started with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and was among the pioneer team at TCEB (he started in 2004 as senior manager, meeting & incentive department, and rose through the ranks).

Most of the past presidents were people from outside of the industry. I don’t mean that they weren’t right for us. I’ve learnt much from them but I also had the chance to see where the problems were for us, the challenges they faced then.

I eventually chose to run for presidency because I’ve fallen too much in love with Thailand’s business events industry, and I have ideas to strengthen it.

Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya

What are your ideas?
Before I answer that, let me show you some numbers.

Over the last decade, Thailand has made approximately 150 billion baht (US$4.5 billion) in revenue from the business events industry, both domestic and international. The business events industry created 164,000 jobs and brought the government around 10.5 billion baht in taxes.

Tourism and business events grow at different pace. Business events growth follows the country’s investments and trade. It boosts tourism performance, but the two are not the same.

The problem for us is that many people still see business events and tourism as one and the same. I’ve been trying to explain their difference to both the government and the private sector. Even the UNWTO defines business events as a component of tourism, which (deepens) the misunderstanding.

The top-level people in the government needs to understand the definition of business events in order to give it the right attention and support for development.

Are you making progress?
Well, we have succeeded in seating TCEB right under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which bodes well for business events related policies. Our deputy prime minister is a strong advocate. He spoke up for us in parliament last month (July), insisting that TCEB must sit under the PMO.

So what’s next for you?
Many, but the top two things on my agenda are the creation of a stronger marketing division and greater support for destination development and domestic trade.
For the first, I’m pushing for budget in FY2018 to create and support a division that brings together under one roof digital and traditional marketing roles that are currently in different departments in TCEB. This will allow a more coordinated approach to TCEB’s marketing efforts.

This division will also be supported by researchers and innovators. For example, I hope to develop an internal application that allows our staff to easily identify suitable event venues in the country. I also hope to invest in technology that allows us to more accurately measure our performance at trade events.

Still on the topic of marketing, TCEB will adopt a very targeted approach. You will see us engaging targeted groups through events, such as what we have done with PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) for the 2017 PCMA Global Professionals Conference (August 28-31, where select chief executives of international trade associations were in attendance). We’ve stopped participation in general trade shows like AIME. We will be more selective in where we go.

For the second, TCEB will appoint area managers in emerging Thai destinations like Khon Kaen and Chiang Mai to develop (small trade shows) that will grow the destination for business events as well as advance local businesses. These managers will not just be an events expert; they must have the mind of an economist, to be able to see how jobs could be created for the locals.

Why the focus on domestic shows?
While TCEB’s main responsibility is to bring in international business events and delegates, we must never forget the importance of inclusive growth. We need to also help develop domestic enterprises, so we can all share in the benefits.

Can you give me an example of how TCEB will do this?
The Lanna Expo (an annual trade show that focuses on products and services originating from the Northern Thai provinces) has been ongoing for seven years and is an excellent example of what TCEB intends to do.

In the first four years of the show, exhibitors displayed home-made sausages next to coffee beans and home-spun cloth. The fifth year TCEB stepped in and we helped them hire an organiser who guided the show towards a better structure, such that there was a component each for food, clothing and spa, among others. The structure then was still B2C.

The sixth year we started to host members of the different Thai chambers of commerce as well as traders from Myanmar and Laos. This led to a start in B2B focus.
This year, we are pouring four million baht into research to boost the show’s B2B focus.

Isn’t that the job of a national or city-level economic development board?
For the Lanna Expo, TCEB works closely with Chiang Mai’s Ministry of Commerce. We have to take the lead because the ministry isn’t able to bring the show’s focus beyond the domestic market, to acquire the foreign buyer presence, and to push domestic trade shows and the local trade they support into the international marketplace.

We are only there to help, not to step on anyone’s toes. We want Lanna Expo to become an independent international trade show.

The private sector must first have the will to head in this direction and the local chamber of commerce must want to go global. TCEB can only play a supporting role.

TCEB has just started a trade show in Chiang Mai that focuses on coffee and bakery, and our wish is for it to thrive and expand, and eventually gain independence. TCEB can then let go and allow it to further grow on its own, or through an international show organiser should one buys it over.

What sort of industries will TCEB be keen on?
TCEB isn’t just interested in supporting OTOP (One Tambon One Product, a local entrepreneurship sustainability programme) type of initiatives. We would like to also grow a local ceramic trade show, a silk trade show, an automation trade show or any trade show for industries aligned with the Thailand 4.0 policy (an economic model launched in 2016 to develop Thailand into a value-based, smart economy).

And that is why we need an area manager who can look at his region and project where the economic growth potential is for the local people and local businesses.

Does Thailand have sufficient professional trade show players of international standards to allow your vision to come true?
No, not beyond Bangkok. But beyond Bangkok, local players are working very hard to scale up their service standards and expertise in event management. They still need a lot of support from TCEB.

Khun Nichapa (Yoswee, director, MICE capabilities, TCEB) has made good progress, but we still need to do more.

Do you mean conducting more training and accreditation workshops?
Not just that, TCEB needs to give local PCOs a chance. We will try our best not to use PCOs from Bangkok when we have an event in, say, Chiang Mai.

It is easier for TCEB to take the lead in this approach than to convince international planners to engage a local PCO they’ve not heard of. TCEB will be the one to help build the expertise of local PCOs.

There are increasingly more city-level PCOs, which is good. Also, we need to trust that they can do a good job and leave them to think on their own.

The president’s four directions:

  • Growing in parallel with the development of the country, which focuses on keeping the current market and finding new markets by placing MICE in parallel with the development of the country’s economy, pulling the MICE industry into other target industries, such as those covered by Thailand 4.0, as well as into special economic areas.
  • Growing in a high potential market, focusing on the regions that have high growth and strong connection with the development of Thailand’s economy, such as ASEAN, Greater Mekong Subregion, East Asia/South Asia and Australia/New Zealand.
  • Growing with equality, by increasing the opportunities for the MICE industry growth in provinces that have potential, such as Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Pattaya/Chonburi and Songkhla.
  • Growing strongly, which involves the development of the internal system to meet the needs of the market, developing the organisation and regulations to better support the industry in the future.”

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