Rebuilding Thailand inside and out

Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), sheds light on how the organisation has been strengthening the foundations of the Thai MICE industry in preparation for recovery

What is the state of Thailand’s business events industry today?
Despite the severe impacts on business, the Covid-19 pandemic has given Thailand a chance to focus on the upgrade and development of our products, services, opportunities and attractions which we believe will deliver extraordinary experiences for business travellers once international borders reopen.

We helped to develop five new MICE cities in key regions of the country: Nakhon Ratchasima and Udon Thani in the north-east; Phitsanulok in the north, and Surat Thani and Songkhla in the south. They are brimming with unique products, and are eagerly waiting for travellers to discover them.

Some highlights include Nakhon Ratchasima’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex), Songkhla’s multicultural experiences, Surat Thani’s agro-industry, Phitsanulok’s traditional Thai wellness specialisation and connection to the Mekong sub-region in Udon Thani.

Thailand’s destination appeal never really ends, especially since the existing MICE cities – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket and Khon Kaen – have been sharpening their focus on many fronts, from transforming their cultural identity into memorable events, to identifying specific business sectors whose growth can be driven by MICE.

Khon Kaen, for example, is offering growth potential in logistics and medical sectors as well as memorable experience in traditional silk production, while Phuket is playing up her cultural heritage.

In line with MICE city developments, we are working working with them and related bodies to bring in global events that match their growth potential. The International Air Show, for example, is targeted at (spurring growth in) the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) near Pattaya.

Thailand’s MICE professionals have also been polishing their skills all these time, and relying on innovative ideas to deliver safe and engaging events. They have been using digital event strategies and normalising health measures as their everyday standard. Their efforts are in support of our MICE Winnovation project and MICE Venue Hygiene Guideline.

TCEB continues to support them through schemes, such as SMILE for meeting and incentive; Convene Plus for conventions; Re-energizing Exhibitions for trade fairs; and Festival Economy for festivals and mega events. All are designed to serve shifting demands as a result of new-normal situation.

It is also worth mentioning is that despite restrictions on travel and gathering activities during Covid-19, Thailand has undertaken several massive infrastructure projects in Bangkok and across key regions, such as the construction of dual rail, high speed train, motorway, sky train and underground train. Accessibility to attractions and destinations across Thailand is far improved.

Let’s talk more about TCEB’s intentions to boost domestic events. Can you flesh out what will be done?
We will continue with our support schemes for domestic meetings and incentives. Since April 2021, we have agreed to support around 645 meetings under this scheme. It is a volume that speaks for itself, how active the domestic MICE market is.

For domestic exhibitions, we have developed schemes to support local trade fairs to help them become more B2B-focused and to become a signature tradeshow in their region. This will boost the economy and distribute income to regional areas – all in line with the government’s policy.

The concept of Festival Economy, which is being rolled out to regional cities, aims to design and create a signature international festival based on each city’s unique resources and cultural identities. The ultimate aim is to have 1 City: 1 License Event.

We have so far undertaken this initiative with Phetchaburi, Prachuab Kirikhan and Ratchaprasong shopping areas in Bangkok. We believe the festival economy will play a part in boosting the local economy and enhancing Thailand’s potential as a preferred MICE destination. We are also promoting the destination through such festivals. TCEB will organise trips for potential clients to experience such destinations. We recently took members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) to visit local communities in Pattaya, and are supporting Khon Kaen Business Forum, an online event, to connect overseas businessmen from JFCCT with local businessmen in Khon Kaen.

How will post-show tours around Thailand change in a post-pandemic world?
Local and authentic experiences have been multiplying at a scale never seen before. It is a result of our intensive development of new MICE cities, new products under the 7 MICE Magnificent Themes, new routes and new city festivals. We are aware of the pent-up demand people have for local and authentic destination experiences.

Phuket, for example, is ready to showcase her cultural heritage in the old town and gastronomy prowess, especially Michelin-starred restaurants in addition.

Chiang Mai offers an ethnic culinary journey, where one can experience mocktails made from local ingredients, as well as the Floral Bloom Festival.

Pattaya presents opportunities to interact with the local coconut plantation community and to produce fusion coffee.

Khon Kaen is well-versed in transmitting Mud Mee silk production knowledge.

TCEB’s recent Creative Routing Contest, where Thai DMCs competed to craft routes that would appeal to future MICE groups and drive business opportunities to local communities, has resulted in some exciting products. We are pleased to present some newly-developed signature products, such as Phuket Old Town, Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima, Phang-ngan island in Surat Thani, Mudmee Silk in Khon Kaen, green journeys in the suburb of Bangkok, and culture and CSR immersion in Chiang Mai. These will deliver extraordinary experiences in Thailand.

What are TCEB’s plans for 2022?
We announced on August 26, during our MICE Day virtual event, a three-pronged strategy to drive the growth of our MICE industry in 2022. The first one is to reinforce national events by developing MICE cities, creating new events, helping organisers to meet higher standards, and continuing our support for domestic events.

Next, we are partnering international MICE associations to train the workforce and upgrade venues in preparation for the return of international events. We recently signed an MoU with eight alliances on a Carbon Balance Scheme to achieve carbon neutral events.

The third thing we are doing is to intensify the pursuit of international events. An example of this effort is our work with the EEC stakeholders to host the International Air Show.

Which markets will return the fastest?
It is still difficult to identify which markets will recover the fastest. This all depends on the situation of each country, such as local infection rates, vaccination roll-out, as well as departure and entry requirements.

If the situation of the source market and Thailand is a match, which means neither will pose a safety threat to the other, a travel arrangement could materialise.

Economic factor must also be taken into account, since severely affected business would have an impact on travel budget.

In this respect, if the situation between the two sides is conducive for inter-travel and budget is not too much constrained, then I would think that short-haul source markets with small groups look more positive.

TCEB is part of the newly-formed Asian Convention Alliance (ACA). How will this help with bringing back regional events?
Each member of the alliance (currently TCEB, Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, Seoul Tourism Organization, Taiwan External Trade Development Council, and the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau) will identify and secure at least one convention that could rotate (around the region) and be organised in a member destination from 2022. The qualified convention does not have to abide by a regular rotation pattern.

Each party agrees to provide subvention forms – in cash and in kind – to the convention that is organised in the member country, state, city or territory.

All ACA members have agreed on these terms, and will promote the alliance for the greater benefit of all members.

What international events have been confirmed for Thailand in 2022 and beyond?
Phuket, which has been serving as a sandbox model for tourism reopening, will host the Travel Blog Exchange Asia in March 2022 and the Asia Luxury Travel Mart 2022. These two events are a perfect match for the attributes of the island and we are hoping they will elevate the MICE profile of Phuket.

For trade fairs, we are happy that events in 4.0 industries, which are our target to help drive the government’s policy, will be staged not only in Bangkok but also in the EEC. Manufacturing Transformation Thailand 2022, which will feature smart manufacturing technology, has confirmed its location in Pattaya in September while LogiMAT and Intelligent Warehouse 2022, which will present innovative warehouse systems, will be organised in Bangkok in October.

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