Crossing into the MICE realm from the national telco, the new president of Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, tells Karen Yue that he is having fun learning the ropes and applying his IT know-how to boost the destinationâ€™s marketing reach
You started your career with TOT Public Company and was with it for 20 years. Why the crossover to the MICE industry?
The business events industry is not entirely new to me. When I was with TOT I had the chance to participate in a number of trade exhibitions and meetings. I believe the telecommunications industry contributes 10 per cent of business to the MICE industry.
Just as the telecommunications industry is important to Thailandâ€™s economy, so is the MICE industry. One per cent of Thailandâ€™s GDP comes from the MICE industry, and MICE revenue ranks third highest for the country, after export and tourism.
I believe that with my leadership, stronger promotions and better planning, MICE revenue can grow even more.
But MICE industry is still quite different from what you have been so used to. Have you been put through a rigorous crash course on the workings of the MICE realm since joining the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) on May 16, 2013?
I am very fortunate to have joined TCEB with a very strong and motivated team in place. This team has taught me a lot about the MICE business and I am loving every moment. With them working with me, coming to work feels like partaking in a fun hobby!
Since coming onboard, Iâ€™ve joined the team in attending several trade shows such as IMEX America in Las Vegas, IT&CMA in Bangkok and AIME in Melbourne.
With so much attention on the political demonstrations in Bangkok, has it been difficult trying to sell Thailand at these trade events?
Attitudes of buyers and media are different everywhere. At AIME, I was delighted to find that Australian delegates still regard Thailand as a peaceful destination. They recognise that Thailand offers good service and quality, and a mix of adventure and entertainment. Australia is an important market for Thailand, so this is great news.
Before coming to Melbourne (for AIME), we had braced ourselves for tough media questions about the demonstrations. We had also expected buyers to stay away from the Thailand booth. Fortunately, journalists and buyers at the show were very supportive and most only wanted to know what new things TCEB is doing to push Thailand. We heard that Thai Airways had 26 appointments each day at AIME!
The demonstrations occupy only a small area in Bangkok.Business is on as usual in the rest of the city and other destinations in Thailand. There are six international airports in the country to take you to other parts of Thailand. AIME provided an excellent platform for us to reinforce those messages.
So what new initiatives do you have up your sleeves?
TCEB established a Digital MICE team on Feb 25 and it is behind the bureauâ€™s new online marketing and communication strategy. This is an example of what Iâ€™m bringing to the table for TCEB â€“ I have good IT knowledge from my previous job and am applying that to new digital initiatives, with inputs from the team of course.
Part of the new online marketing and communication strategy is the creation of an information management system, a comprehensive database of past events held in Thailand that we can use to project and plan for the future. We intend to share such market intelligence with Team Thailand, that is, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Transport.
We will also make some information accessible for industry players. For instance, we have hired a company to conduct an annual survey on the MICE industry, and findings will be distributed. Hopefully, they can use that data in their business planning.
We have also launched www.businesseventsthailand.com to provide MICE specialists with all the information and materials they will need to sell and promote Thailand as a destination. You can get MICE statistics, destination features and suitable attractions, supplier contacts, and testimonials from people who have taken business to Thailand or attended trade events in Thailand.
Sounds like you and your team will have a busy year!
(Laughs) Thatâ€™s not all. We are powering up our social media reach. In January we reached out to event bloggers and PCOs through the MICE Destination Review Competition, in partnership with Thai Airways. By inviting these individuals to share their experiences (in five of Thailandâ€™s MICE cities) via social media, we hope to improve future MICE travellersâ€™ impression and experience of Thailand. (Five finalists were shortlisted and put on a tour that showcased the MICE capabilities of Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Khon Kaen from January 19-25.)
Then there is also the Spice Up Your Business agenda campaign which will start in April to offer perks such as flight tickets to MICE visitors. (Days after the interview, TCEB issued a press release announcing details of its online marketing strategy which will be implemented under three key frameworks, including the development of the above-mentioned database, production of digital sales and marketing tools, and innovative online marketing and public relations activities. Spice Up Your Business campaign is part of three new initiatives; the other two being Dream Meeting Contest and Itinerary Contest.)
Do you think these online activities will soften the impact of the political protests on Thailandâ€™s MICE business?
Tourist arrivals to Thailand are actually holding up despite the demonstrations and news coverage, although MICE clients are taking longer to consider and confirm their bookings.
In January this year, Thailand saw 2,319,821 visitors. The same month last year it was 2,318,447. Visitor arrivals are still averaging at two million the past few months. Between October and December 2013, Thailand welcomed 186,864 MICE travellers, up 5.2 per cent over the same period in 2012.
I take that to mean that TCEB will not be adjusting its MICE targets for 2014.
We are sticking to our targets. You could say we are a little fortunate that the demonstrations are happening in months that are usually low season for business event. If this problem continues into March, we may have to play catch up in the later part of the year but we will still work towards our existing target. (On February 28, protestors issued a statement to say they will end blockages in key parts of Bangkok and consolidate their movement at Lumpini Park instead.)
We have several initiatives in place to motivate meeting planners to keep choosing Thailand, such as the Thai CONNECT campaign which comes with subvention. On top of current programmes, we have announced new ones such as Be My Guest (a hosted buyer programme that provides complimentary room nights to entice business event travellers to extend their stay in Bangkok), additional meeting and convention support through Meetings Bonus and Conventions Bonus rewards packages, and Business Up 2 U (a fixed subsidy programme for exhibitions).
How useful are these subvention programmes in rebuilding MICE buyer confidence in Bangkok?
We hosted a party for 100 Australian MICE buyers during AIME 2014 and took the chance to give our guests an update on the political demonstrations in Bangkok, showcased the various destinations in Thailand, and presented all the new campaigns and subvention programmes we have.
By the end of the evening, we got a confirmation from Tupperware Brand for a 500-pax event in May.
The next morning we got news that a 300-pax group is also planning to head to Bangkok.
We are not trying to use money to solve our problems, but these subvention programmes can help to compensate clients for the extra costs they may have to fork out for (contingency plans).