Thailand is a highly desired destination where companies chasing the MICE sector create “wow” factor events and functions at a fraction of costs in other neighboring destinations.
By Percy Roxas
In February this year, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) – the kingdom’s central agency responsible for coordinating and driving Thailand’s MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions) sector — announced the revision of its growth targets. TCEB projected a 10% increase in the growth of MICE visitors this year after the country beat industry targets in 2012. This year, more than 940,000 MICE visitors are expected to come to Thailand, boosting revenues by Bt88-million (approx. US$2.93-million).
Thailand’s MICE industry is a major economic driver, contributing 8.95 percent of the country’s overall tourism market, and 0.6% of national GDP. Many factors contribute to Thailand’s success as a MICE destination: Value for money, the variety of exciting yet affordable extra-curricular activities, accessibility, fantastic CSR program extensions — the list goes on and on. But, as Kerry Healy, director of sales for leisure, meetings & events for Accor Asia-Pacific states, it is the country’s fundamental strength – people, culture, and genuine service-oriented hospitality – that really entice people to frequently select Thailand as their preferred MICE destination.
As Healy points out, Thailand is enjoying a healthy increase in enquiries and bookings. “We see a trend where planners mix the main meeting event in Bangkok with a beach extension, which is positively impacting destinations such as Krabi, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, and Samui,” she says. “Some of the larger destinations — given their own air flight capacity — are enjoying the uplift in full programs. For Accor, we have seen huge demand into our recently opened Pullman Phuket Arcadia and Novotel Phuket Vintage Park. We recently held a meeting and event showcase with our Singaporean meeting planners and the hotels in Thailand were in high demand!”
Indeed, for many hotel brands, Thailand is a great destination because it allows them to really showcase their best. Accor for example, says Healy, “has the best products on offer to our clients of all budget ranges, plus a strong sales and support team to ensure the success of all meetings and events at our hotels.” These range from luxury Sofitel to upscale Pullman and MGallery, from mid-scale Novotel and Mercure to the economy ibis hotels.
In 2012, the number of business guests staying in Accor hotels in Thailand has increased almost seven percent year-on-year, says Healy. “In the first quarter of 2013, the trend is still strong with a 5% increase of business guests in our hotels compared to the same period last year,” she adds.
This is partly due to the general reputation of the top hotels in the country to exceed requirements for MICE and business visitors.
“At Conrad Bangkok, we are committed to delivering quality and bespoke guest experiences with the aim to set new benchmarks for hospitality experiences in Thailand,” said Harald Feurstein, Conrad Bangkok general manager (GM), echoing the voices of other hoteliers. Conrad Bangkok has recently been named “Best Convention Hotel Thailand” and “Best Convention Hotel Asia-Pacific” by the International Hotel Awards, a recognition that Feurstein says “further cements our positioning on the forefront of hospitality and bears testament to our dedication to offer guests professional and flawless service set in luxurious surroundings.”
Of course, several other Thailand business hotels have also been reaping similar accolades from award-giving bodies around the world. The Royal Cliff Beach Hotel Pattaya, among many others, has been receiving honors year after year as one of the world’s “best business and convention hotels.”
Many hotels big and small catering to MICE offer fullday and halfday meeting packages that include use of the meeting rooms, complimentary use of facilities, morning and afternoon snacks, and banquet and technician services on stand-by throughout the meeting such as those offered at Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park,
“We have perfect meeting solutions to meet all kinds of requirements,” says Myla Caceres, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We have a Dedicated Crowne Meetings Specialist as your single point-of-contact who will assist you in planning and managing your events. Guests and delegates are assured of a two-hour response on inquiries and will provide a full proposal by the next business day.
She adds, “A handy meeting kit is provided in a professional briefcase containing a complete set of meeting amenities. Our Crowne Meetings Director will also provide a daily meeting debrief for an itemized account of the day’s expenditures, gather feedback, and proactively handle any further requests for support and to ensure that every detail is taken care of.”
The Thai hotels are leaving no stone unturned, indeed, to make sure they provide all possible solutions to the potential needs and desires of MICE and business visitors.
Accor itself has just unveiled a Smart meeting offer that sees its key meeting and event hotels not only in Thailand but across Asia offering clients 20 percent off the master bill and double points on Accor’s Le Club Meeting Planner. It has also launched an “Away on Business” iPad app that allows business travelers on the road to manage schedules, book rooms and restaurants in the group’s hotels, check the local weather, manage expense account, offers shortcuts to Linkedin contacts at customers’ destinations, and display scheduled appointments to “geo-organize” travel arrangements. This app is available free of charge.
And the diversity of offers is definitely attractive. They range from Club Accommodation rates at the Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok (starting at Bt3,560 per night for a Club Deluxe Room along with 15 percent discount on regular a la carte treatments at Spa Cenvaree and 25 percent off on all spa packages), to the value-added wedding packages at the various venues of Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Center at CentralWorld, where bespoke solutions are offered suited to events at a variety of venues, ranging from the intimate and chic M23 to the convention center (which handles mega events, to complimentary spa treatments for those availing of the “Business Plus” package at the newly opened Centara Watergate Pavillion Hotel. Almost all brands and properties within the Centara Hotels & Resort’s group — 41 deluxe and first-class properties covering all the major tourist destinations in the kingdom — ensure that specific categories will all find a hotel or resort appropriate to their needs.
As in most hotels, the meeting packages and offers include additional benefits. At Dusit Thani Bangkok, for example, the “Meeting Package” (Bt1,100 per person per day for half day meetings until August 2013) includes sustenance for the attendees in the form of not only refreshment breaks but also the option of International, Western or Asian cuisine buffet for lunch. As the perfect way to round off a day of meetings, each party also benefits from a 50% discount on light snacks and standard drinks at MyBar, the hotel’s popular, stylish after-work drinks establishment. Also like many big hotels, they provide “Outside Catering.” Prices for the exclusive catering options, including equipment hire, standard flower decorations and transportation at Dusit Thani Bangkok start from just Bt800 per person and are calculated based on group size (minimum group size 40 persons).
Similarly, especially designed business packages — such as the current “5 in 1 Meeting” Package offer at Grand Millennium Sukhumvit — are available at other hotels. This is true not only for hotels in Bangkok, but also in other destinations.
One resort in the far South, Ramada Khao Lak Resort, recently unveiled its “Boardroom Talks and Jungle Walks” package, offering business tourism planners a perfect getaway with unrivalled experiences trekking through Khao Sok National Park and diving in the waters around the Similan Islands. The package is available until Sept. 30 and is priced at Bt4,400 net per person per package. Pullman Phuket Arcadia offers a special business group rate starting from Bt2,999 net per room per night and meeting packages from Bt1,199 net until the end of 2013 .
Over in Samui, InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort has special offers for similar travelers until December. Besides versatile venue options, indoors as well as outdoors, the resort offers an opportunity for guests to discover the vibrant marine life of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand, or enjoy an exclusive beach barbeque on a postcard perfect beach ashore a deserted island within the National Marine Park. Of course, other Samui resorts have their own business packages combining similar attractive deals.
The Amari group has not just launched new MICE packages, but unveiled an exciting twist and theme to them. Amari is the leading hotel brand of ONYX Hospitality, relaunched in 2009 to reflect modern Asian hospitality concepts. The Amari brand currently has an inventory exceeding 3,000 rooms within a network of 11 properties around Thailand.
Amari is home of “Dancing with the Stars Thailand” and following a successful first season of the TV show, its properties in Bangkok and Pattaya are embracing the glitz and glamour by creating special meeting packages. As exclusive sponsor of the TV show, Amari has the connections and resources to stage a truly impressive, dance-tastic themed conference for meeting planners or incentive travel organizers.
“It is really exciting for us to associate and theme a meeting package around a globally renowned brand and we can’t wait to stage our first Dancing with the Stars meeting,” says David Barrett, executive director of events for Amari Watergate Bangkok and Amari Orchid Pattaya. “The launch of our Dancing with the Stars themed dinner is timely, meets a clear demand in the market and is guaranteed to engage delegates while injecting plenty of glitz, glam and rhythm into a conference.”
In this performance at DTHH, “Khon” was performed on the water for the first time, with the celestial chariots replaced with elaborately decorated celestial boats floating across the lagoon on clouds of dry ice as the white monkey god led his warriors to do battle on the shimmering waters of the Lake of Secrets. The classical choreography was maintained and the setting provided a celestial ambience that complemented the performance tastefully but with a spectacular twist befitting the occasion. Because of the positive feedback that adaptation of “Khon” received, the theme has been made available for booking at the resort throughout 2013.
This is just one theme option available to corporate and business planners these days.
For MICE visitors with a more contemporary frame of mind, Thailand does not disappoint as well. Just visit Thailand’s two coolest new hotels, Pullman Bangkok Hotel G and Pullman Pattaya Hotel G, These two properties, are in their own right, laying it out for meetings and events like never before with a refreshing new blend of chic contemporary style and creative venues for every kind of out-of-the-box MICE gathering. A fantastic mix of funky restaurants, bars and frequent over-the-top theme parties complement the alternative events experience, from gourmet burgers and Michelin-quality fine dining in Bangkok to Pattaya’s unique beach club on the shores of the Gulf.
“In Bangkok we’ve set new benchmarks for cool and funky style, while our fashionable Pattaya resort is a premier events venue with a relaxing tropical ambience. Design and service at both reflect our distinctive, peerless hospitality,” said Guy Poujoulat, GM of Pullman Bangkok Hotel G and GCP Hospitality director of operations for Thailand. “Our hotels have redefined the best of the cool and edgy style, and our event spaces reflect the same mood. Many businesses are looking for alternative places, somewhere new and inspiring to hold their meetings, and we offer something very different with venues making guests as comfortable and relaxed as possible in an environment that promotes creativity.” The same can be said for other business hotels in various CBDs such as Sukhumvit, Asoke, Sathorn, and elsewhere in Bangkok.
Besides just creating unique, exciting themes, many hotels are also making sure their programs are socially responsbile. For one, an initiative by Hilton Worldwide has seen Millennium Hilton Bangkok, along with the group’s other 3,900 hotels globally, introduce an innovative meeting and seminar program with the objective to offset carbon emissions. The initiative, which started Oct. 30 last year at Millennium Hilton Bangkok, will make Hilton Worldwide the first and only major multi-brand hospitality company to make sustainability a brand standard at each of its hotels worldwide.
“Sustainability is a priority to Hilton Worldwide and a central part of how we do business,” says Dirk De Cuyper, regional general manager for Thailand and general manager of Millennium Hilton Bangkok. “For us, it’s not just about saying we are committed to sustainability, it’s about taking action. This program gives organizations and individuals a sustainable choice for their conferences, meetings or social events. By offsetting carbon emissions at no cost to our customers, together we’re able to give back to the environment and benefit important renewable energy projects in the region.”
Needless to say, other local hotels and resorts are keen on duplicating initiatives to make their meetings more “green.”
In Pattaya, recognizing the growing demand for quality MICE facilities in the popular beach resort, the designers of the Hilton Pattaya created numerous, flexible meeting space options sure to satisfy even the most exacting of conference and event organizers.
Hilton Pattaya is proving to be very popular with those seeking to hold their next conference or meeting in Thailand. The hotel features world-class meeting and conference facilities that have been specifically designed with the demanding MICE market in mind. The hotel boasts a spectacular 635-square-meter ballroom and three additional meeting rooms as well as a purpose-built boardroom.
Said Philippe Kronberg, general manager, Hilton Pattaya: “All the hotel’s meeting rooms have been designed to offer maximum flexibility, together with state-of-the-art technical and lighting facilities. This ensures that while even the largest or most exquisite event can be accommodated, we also offer more intimate settings for smaller occasions. Hilton Pattaya’s skilled conference and events team will be on hand to meet all your needs, combining effortless hospitality with the highest professional standards and meticulous attention to detail. We also have a range of leisure amenities within the hotel, including a fitness center, infinity pool, and numerous world-class restaurants and bars to keep conference attendees entertained, and Pattaya itself has a large number of popular tourist attractions. We are expecting a significant proportion of our business to come from the MICE market.”
In Hua Hin, The Royal Dusit Hall of DTHH — the only one with a panoramic view of the Gulf of Siam — is the biggest convention center. Sprawled on 11.86 acres of the resort’s garden area, its concept is fashioned along the lines of the turn-of-the-century (1930’s) Thai-European style of King Rama VI’s summer palace, “Our convention facility was expected to bring in 25% growth in the MICE market for the Central Region after its first year in operation,” says. Victor Sukseree, DTHH GM. “We modestly predict that with this hall, we will capture 10% of the additional business.”
Phuket is also positioning itself more as a business and trading hub. As a favorite tourist destination in the Andaman Sea, Phuket has very good transport infrastructure, hotels and accommodations, meeting and conference venues as well as activities that best address specific needs of meeting and incentive travelers. This makes The Pullman brand, says Matt Fynch, Phuket Arcadia’s director of sales and marketing, fit perfectly in Phuket with its “Bleisure” concept of mixing “business” and “leisure” in the one location.
“The most popular activities in Phuket have always been associated with water,” explains Fynch. “Being an island everyone wants to spend some time on the beach or near the amazing clear blue water of the Andaman Sea. We are finding more and more clients asking for teambuilding activities on the beach or on a remote island. Again, this signifies the move toward “Bleisure” and our focus on creating the ideal program in a memorable location on the island. Of course, mixing some of the magic Thai culture and amazing spa facilities on offer also help in making each meeting group leave happily.”
The new Pullman Phuket, he says, creates excitement in Phuket’s MICE industry because, “It introduces a new place to meet and socialize where the action is. An in-style resort with both heritage and modern touches, its style is both timeless and timely to the market. Its meeting spaces have been uniquely designed specifically for the industry. The Ballroom has 8m-high ceilings that create a sense of opulence and grandeur. The resort also offers meetings, breaks, and accommodation rooms all centrally positioned in the heart of the resort. We have 5 state-of-the-art meeting rooms and 6 outdoor function spaces with fantastic ocean views. We can accommodate groups from 10 up to 300 delegates.”
Of course, Bangkok doesn’t want to be outdone by its sister destinations; many hotels are either adding or re-inventing their facilities to capture the ever increasing, lucrative segment.
Amari Watergate has recently undergone an exciting refit, which will give the hotel the newest pillarless 948sqm-ballroom in Bangkok when it re-launches in early August 2013. The dramatic new styling of the ballroom using a palette of earth tones and champagne hues provides meeting planners with a canvas to create their perfect conference, gala dinner or social gathering. Amari Watergate has always been a popular venue for weddings and with the new ballroom, more happy couples are expected to celebrate their wedding at the Watergate Ballroom. (Teambuilding is also a MICE service offered by Amari Watergate with many corporate groups wishing to engage their staff during a half-day teambuilding activity. A selection of activities that last from three to five hours, are held either at the hotel or outside around Bangkok.)
Even hotels like Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square and Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, which are relatively not huge in size to cater to big MICE business, handle medium- to mid-large scale MICE groups. Four Seasons Bangkok, says its director of event marketing, “has many distinctive features that make it popular among international and domestic function planners, enhanced by over 600 professional, energetic, and creative local staff with all the warmth and feeling that Thailand has to offer here — to provide the ultimate Four Seasons “Experience” 24/7 for all guests and MICE visitors.”
We should not also forget – over at the riverside — five-star hotels also targeting the MICE market. The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, The Peninsula, Millennium Hilton, Royal Orchid Sheraton, Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa, and The Shangri-La Bangkok, among others, are in fact branding together to regain much of the MICE market, a pie they all share a big chunk of in the past. All have a range of elegantly appointed indoor venues and scenic riverside spaces, and facilities for MICE and other business travelers can balance work with pleasure.
To make the long story short, efforts to make Thailand the MICE hub in the region continue, aggressively and pro-actively. With current efforts in the private sector boosted by dedicated government backing and strategies, the future for MICE in Thailand is not only bright, indeed. The future for MICE in Thailand is here.
Southeast Asia is the fastest growing region in Asia Pacific, this momentum is set to continue with the introduction of AEC in 2015 which offers great potential for Bangkok’s future growth. Dusit Thani Bangkok intends to drive an increase in revenue in the MICE sector to take advantage of this market opportunity,
Dusit Thani Bangkok hosted several high-profile events in 2012, and in 2013 has already received several groups from Europe. “One of our European clients is VIV Asia in Bangkok and we are proud to be their official hotel, providing accommodation for their delegates from all over the world,” says James Wilson, general manager.
“The Bangkok-based company holds international exhibitions about animal breeding and processing. The main exhibitors are farm and slaughterhouse equipment manufacturers. Other exhibitors at the event deal with knowledge transfer, consultancy services and feed and additive producers.”
“Another client is SCANIA Top Team, who are due to arrive on an incentive trip in April 2014. The Swedish group has selected Dusit Thani Bangkok as the venue to host their meeting and will utilise the hotel for all their accommodation needs. These events showcase our ability to not only to meet but also excel in the varied and challenging demands of this segment. We aim to continue in this direction to become the market leader in 2013.
“The key to successfully securing new group business is our high hospitality standards combined with our drive to be creative and differential enabling our guests to enjoy a ‘touch of Thainess’ during their stay in the City of Angels. Dusit Thani Bangkok’s attentive, refined and gracious service perfectly complements our advantageous location.”