By Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor,
In May 2012, Thailand hosted 38,000 Rotary International club members for their annual convention. Said to be the largest turnout in the history of Rotary International, and the largest convention ever held in Thailand, it was also a major triumph for the entire Thai MICE (the acronym for Meetings, Conventions, Incentives and Exhibitions) industry, which has grown significantly over the years on the back of the economic boom in Thailand, the Greater Mekong Sub-region countries and Asia at large.
The two main bodies responsible for promoting and supporting Thailand’s MICE industry are the Thailand Conventions & Exhibitions Bureau (TCEB, www.tceb.or.th) and the Thailand & Convention Association (TICA, www.tica.or.th). As 2013 has been declared the “Year of MICE”, the two organisations offer 10 major reasons why Thailand should be a Lookeast reader’s next destination for holding an event (or attending an existing event).
Yes, everyone knows that Thailand is famous for friendly people, great service standards, superb hospitality, excellent infrastructure and awesome food, but that’s only touching the surface. Here are 10 very practical reasons:
1. Easy access: Thailand now gives visa-free and/or visa-on-arrival facilities to 76 countries and territories. This circumvents the problem faced by citizens of many countries who have to go through arduous visa application processes. Even for the countries whose citizens do need visas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instructed Thai diplomatic missions abroad to clear applications within two working days. Further information: www.mfa.go.th
2. Excellent airline links: According to the Airports of Thailand, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, the country’s main international gateway, is now served by more than 80 scheduled airlines from 116 cities worldwide. Other airports such as Phuket are also getting more direct access from abroad. Along with visa-free access, the superb aviation linkages make it that much easier for MICE events to attract more participation.
3. Great hotels: Not every MICE delegate is on an all-expenses-paid junket. Many are coming on their own account and need more spartan lodging. Thailand’s range of accommodation cuts across all denominations, from two-star lodges to six-star luxury. In Bangkok, most accommodation is close to the stations of the public mass-transit systems and thus easily accessible. Availability of such accommodation can go a long way toward making MICE events more broad-based and enhance attendance.
4. Superb convention and exhibition centers: Thailand boasts no shortage of world-class convention and exhibition space both in Bangkok and in other popular destinations such as Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. By far the biggest is the Impact Muang Thong Thani followed by the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center. There are several more nationwide.
5. Superb pre- and post-conference tours: Nearly all major MICE events are accompanied by a range of tours both within the host city as well as within Thailand. In recent years, this range of tours has expanded to include the neighbouring countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, especially Myanmar, which has now become relatively much easier for tourists to visit. Three of the world’s most fabulous temple complexes, the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Shwedagon in Yangon and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, all within easy reach of each other.
6. Excellent range of local speakers: One rarely highlighted asset of the Thai MICE industry is that events can always draw upon a huge reservoir of powerful speakers to liven up their proceedings. Thailand’s status as a open and free democracy has made it a center for debate and discussion across a diverse range of perspectives and professional expertise. These range from United Nations experts to academics to non-governmental organizations to diplomats and top thinkers and businessmen. Sourcing speakers locally also helps cut costs for events organizers and helps participants broaden their minds.
7. Great for spouses: A MICE event is also usually an opportunity for an accompanying family member to come along. Regardless of whether that person is male or female, there is no shortage of activities to keep him/her occupied – a day at the golf course, a lesson in Thai cooking or Thai massage, a relaxing day at the spa, a quick medical check-up, a walk through Chinatown or a cruise down the Chao Phraya, the River of Kings.
8. Value for money: Although the Thai baht has strengthened against some of the global currencies, Thailand remains an affordable destination. Basic necessities such as eating and transportation remain remarkably good value in any currency. In addition, the VAT refund scheme, events like the Grand Sale in July-August and shopping discounts by department stores offer additional value.
9. Professional services and support: Every MICE event depends on high-impact opening and closing ceremonies, and excellent support systems to deliver infrastructure services such as meet-and-greet, registration, and transport. All are at five-star capability in Thailand. Opening and closing ceremonies especially have become formidable works of art, combining the best of East and West music and dance.
10. Shopping: This is one of the all-time pleasures of holding/attending a MICE event in Thailand. Nobody wants to remain stuck in meetings. There are always things to buy for families and friends, especially for special occasions. The range of products – from branded goods to village-made handicrafts, ensures that there is always something available for someone, without having to look too hard.
This list could go on for another 10 points or more. But it should be good enough to make anyone seriously consider bringing their next event to Thailand, or attending many of the trade fairs and public exhibitions ongoing at any given time. The TCEB and TICA websites listed above are good starting points for this journey.
Organizers of big-ticket events may also find it useful to know that TCEB offers various forms of subsidy support to offset costs. Applicants will just have to make sure they have a really strong case to qualify for it. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.