The senior vice president, business of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), is leading a team armed with greater autonomy to realise Thailand‚Äôs economic dreams.
There was a recent change in TCEB‚Äôs status as an official government body. Tell me about this.
In the beginning, TCEB was set up by the government to bring positive economic impact to the country using business events as a marketing tool. We acted as the facilitator and promoter, which meant we needed a local host to bring any event into the country.
A new government decree has fast-tracked TCEB‚Äôs work. On top of working together with local hosts, we can now act as the host ourselves and bid for events directly. It gives us a lot of freedom, especially in acting as the official bidder for events relating to the 12 key industries identified by the government‚Äôs Thailand 4.0 economy policy.
Because of global competition for good business events, TCEB needs speed to market. If we miss this turn on a convention, we may have to wait five or 10 years for it to rotate back to the region. So, the autonomy is good for TCEB.
I do not think there are other Asian CVBs with the same level of autonomy as ours, being legally authorised to bid independently.
How does the ‚ÄėThailand Redefine Your Business Events‚Äô brand fit into this new environment?
I launched this new brand, replacing Thailand Connect, to convey three layers of messages: to the customers, to local operators and to TCEB itself.
To customers, it is a promise to them that whatever business event they bring to Thailand, they will get a refreshing experience and engagement, and that their event will be very successful.
To local operators, the message is that they must be able to better themselves and be very creative in order to accommodate international events and leave a lasting impression.
And to TCEB, we need to step up. We are a very good facilitator but it is a safe role to play. I came from Reed, the private sector, so I don‚Äôt like playing safe. We must be a co-creator, a thought leader, a good promoter and collaborator.
We need to raise the local capability to bring Thailand to the next level. We have been working hard with local MICE associations, which also have to step up. TICA (Thailand Incentive and Convention Association) has been a great voice for the MIC segments, just as TEA (Thai Exhibition Association) is for exhibitions. TICA, TEA and TCEB together can allow Thailand to be a solid destination when we go out and pitch.
How are you faring at capability development?
We have been doing a very fine job. Thailand has the highest number of certified professionals in the exhibitions, meetings and incentives sectors. They are certified through international programmes. We also have the highest number of ISO certified venues.
Using these standards to raise the profile of Thailand and Thai MICE players is critical.
As well, TCEB has a close relationship with local universities. TCEB initiated the MICE Academy, and worked with MICE associations to develop curriculum built on international content with local applications. There are more than 200 local universities and vocational schools that teach these programmes. Graduates have basic MICE knowledge and understand the value chain of the industry, allowing them to fast-track into proper operations the moment they step into their job.
I believe that Thailand is the only country (in Asia) with the most number of schools that teach MICE.
Do you think enough foreign organisers know about these strengths of Thailand?
We are not so good at promoting ourselves. That is one of Thailand‚Äôs weak points. Customers want a peace of mind and standards can help achieve that, but they ultimately want to work with an operator that not only boasts of global standards but also knows their needs.
Thailand now ranks fifth on ICCA‚Äôs charts (2018 country rankings for Asia-Pacific, released June 2019), which is great (in demonstrating our capability).
This year, we managed to attract 17 new exhibitions. Usually, we get only five or six new ones. The leap in new wins is due to Thailand 4.0, which has given us a very clear focus on the type of shows we need to go for. With that focus, we are able to design a precise campaign and incentives to help organisers bring their shows to Thailand.
Speaking of incentives ‚Äď or subventions as they are also known, how relevant are they for foreign organisers?
They are very important for certain industries, and especially for SMEs. We have different sets of incentives ‚Äď financial and non-financial ‚Äď to offer events of various sizes and purposes.
For instance, L and XL (in reference to size of events) operators do not need financial support. They need ease of doing business, access to relevant government agencies, and delegate boosting.
As well, different events have different needs. For exhibitions, TCEB‚Äôs 360 Degree Exhibition Success provides support right from the start. That means subsidy for site inspection, setting up meetings with government bodies and local operators, and more to help them discover Thailand as a possible event destination. Once they decide on Thailand, we bring on the next stage of incentives.
Do you think TCEB‚Äôs generosity with subventions has helped to make Thailand this successful?
Yes, I think so! We want local operators to step up and be ready for global competition. Their prime concern is always, if they invest this much (in attracting overseas events), what will be their returns.
As a government body looking after local operators, we need to help them invest. We invest by providing programmes that convince overseas shows to come here. Once they bite, local operators can focus on developing quality programmes that will engage the audience and show them the best of Thailand.
This isn‚Äôt unconditional support. Their activities in Thailand must result in legacy for the local community. For example, conventions getting TCEB‚Äôs support must announce certain collaborations or set up certain operations in Thailand, at the end of the event. Global exhibitions getting our support must work with local businesses, run at least three editions here, and partner Thai organisers.
When SITE Global Conference came (to Bangkok, from January 11-13, 2019), their promise was to set up SITE Thailand Chapter at the end of the event.
This ensures that money invested in attracting business events to Thailand will create a meaningful return for our local players. They cannot simply come here, make a profit and leave.
Regional competition for MICE is so hot now. Is it keeping you awake?
I see it as healthy competition which forces us to look carefully at what we can do better. But at the same time, we need to work as a team. TCEB has been talking with some ASEAN members about the possibility of bringing meeting groups in Thailand to other South-east Asian destinations for pre- or post-tours. We could rotate the programme, of course.
This idea was once discussed at the first ASEAN MICE Forum at IT&CMA, but it has been slow to take off.
I‚Äôd imagine that this would be very hard to execute across Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand because we compete like crazy. (Laughs)
TCEB is working with CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam). Travelling to and from these countries are easier for delegates attending events in Thailand, and these destinations offer something very different from what Thailand has.
We are testing this concept. We have started a visitorship programme ‚Äď the ASEAN+6 Privilege where all regional visitors attending an event in Thailand can be partially subsidised. If this is successful, we can organise trade mission extensions to nearby countries for groups bound first for Thailand.
So far, TCEB has organised roadshows for certain PCOs and PEOs to go onwards to CLMV cities.
Down the road, if Singapore or Malaysia likes this model and wants to work with Thailand the same way, great. Customers today want new ideas and variety, and there‚Äôs nothing to stop us (South-east Asian countries) from working together to offer different experiences.