Thailand gains ground with ease of entry and incentives support

TCEB's MICE support schemes and safety protocols give more reasons for planners to say yes.

Thailand's ‘Test and Go’ scheme and high vaccination rates are bringing back confidence and spurring more interest, says TCEB President Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya.
Thailand's ‘Test and Go’ scheme and high vaccination rates are bringing back confidence and spurring more interest, says TCEB President Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya. Photo Credit: TCEB

Thailand reopened its borders and resumed Its ‘Test and Go’ scheme in February, allowing quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated visitors.

The destination has also ramped up its MICE offering with regards to financial incentives, enhanced safety measures and a focus on sustainability, as well as investing in infrastructure, signalling its intention to be front of mind as business and incentive travel recovers.

The reintroduction of the ‘Test and Go’ scheme and high vaccination rates are bringing back confidence and spurring more interest in Thailand among MICE planners and business travellers,” says Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB).
Interest in the destination among overseas clients remains strong, according to TCEB.

The Phuket Sandbox programme, which was introduced last year, and which allows entry from those countries not included under ‘Test and Go’, has proven to be popular. International companies are conducting site inspections in Phuket for potential visits later this year and the ‘Sandbox’ programme has since expanded to other popular MICE destinations such as Krabi and Koh Samui.

“For TCEB-supported events, our MICE Lane service has now expanded from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok and, subject to consideration on a case-by-case basis, to Chiang Mai and Phuket airports,” says Chiruit.

“We’ve also developed support schemes for 2022 covering all MICE categories. For example, ‘SMILE’ (Safe Meeting Incentive Localised Experience), supports the hygiene and safety of events, food and beverage and meeting packages and there are top-up benefits for events demonstrating sustainable practices.”

With the Covid-19 situation still uncertain, and in the wake of the omicron variant, TCEB unsurprisingly expects more business in the coming months from neighbouring countries within Asia Pacific, although it believes other markets will soon follow. “Face-to-face meetings or experiences in long-haul destinations are still seen as valuable and these will be even more sought-after [in the coming months] as people are keen to return to international travel in search of a refreshing experience,” says Chiruit.

Stronger than ever

Roger Parnow, cluster director of sales and marketing at Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park says that recovery signs may not be visible until the second or third quarter of this year, due to the recent ‘stop/start’ nature of restrictions. He believes however that Thailand is well placed to bounce back stronger than ever before, once seamless travel is in place.

“Thailand remains a very attractive destination for MICE as it offers everything organisers are looking for: global flight connectivity, convenient domestic infrastructure, state-of-the-art hotels and venues, a vast food and beverage offering, entertainment and diversity,” he says. “Thailand will be one of Asia’s most popular MICE destinations once confidence in travel is restored.”

The hotel has invested in ‘open space’ MICE areas, tapping into people’s preferences to meet outdoors, such as the 4th floor ‘Pool House’, the ‘Garden at Queen’s Park’ on the ninth floor and the 37th floor rooftop ‘Sky Garden’.

“These areas are fully equipped and suitable for various types of functions, such as receptions, parties and gatherings,” says Parnow. “We’ve implemented Marriott International’s ‘Commitment to Clean’ standards and adopted ‘New Normal’ standards to provide additional safety and assurance for a hassle-free experience.”

Providing a safe environment

Health and safety is also a key priority for TCEB, which rolled out its 2HY (Hygiene and Hybrid) project last year. This aims to share guidance and best practices with venues to ensure safe business operations.

“We will continue to build capacity for 2HY, with around 700 MICE professionals participating in the programme in 2021,” says Chiruit. “However, our major aim in 2022 is to incorporate this scheme into our existing Thailand MICE Venue Standard (TMVS).” The initiative, TMVS PLUS, ensures the availability of venues in delivering services that meet clients’ requirements. TCEB says 2HY will become one of its venue certification criteria.

Tom Thrussell, VP brand, marketing & digital for Centara Resorts says Thailand’s Covid management and safety protocols have been well received by international organisations. “Safety is an important factor when staging events this year. If we can maintain existing levels, we will continue to be considered a safe and appealing destination,” he says.

Centara recently opened the 184-room Centara Reserve Samui, located along Chaweng Beach and is strengthening its presence across Thailand with the opening of the 218-room Centara Korat, which will anchor the Central Plaza Nakhon Ratchasima shopping centre, with a projected 7,000sqm convention hall. In the third quarter of this year, the 8th Centra by Centara property will open in Bangkok, near Khaosan Road.

Centara's Tom Thrussell and Royal Cliff's Vitanart Vathanakul look forward to winning the confidence of delegates with a good safety and wellness record.
Centara's Tom Thrussell and Royal Cliff's Vitanart Vathanakul look forward to winning the confidence of delegates with a good safety and wellness record.

A festival feeling

Last year, TCEB also announced its ‘Festival Economy’ initiative, the creation of a dedicated festival aimed at leveraging a city or region’s advantages, and providing a drawcard for industry-specific business events.

The first of these, called ‘Awakening Bangkok’, was a light-themed, tech-focused festival, which took place at Samyan from 17-26 December. lt lit up the city’s landmarks, drawing attention to its heritage and showing how lighting can be used as an art form. A further one was held in the Charoen Krung area of Bangkok in January, and other ‘Awakening’ events are taking place in Bangkok’s Nana and Yaowarat areas in March, Khon Kaen in May and Chiang Mai in November.

“Festivals will inspire feelings of pride and a sense of preservation, as well as attracting visitors,” says Chiruit. “The festivals we are targeting are art and culture, creative lifestyle, mass-participation sports and entertainment.” Funding is also available under the initiative for business events if they tie-in with the festivals and generate a measurable social, environmental and economic impact.

Certain festival elements could be designed to cater to MICE groups; for example, a light-themed festival could host light art workshops, or some of the lit-up, historic locations could be transformed into MICE routes for groups, inviting them to explore the area. Mass participation at sports festivals could also serve as a platform for a similar-themed conference.

Vitanart Vathanakul, CEO of Royal Cliff Hotels Group and Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall says they are also keen to welcome back guests, having completed refits and upgraded wi-fi systems at Royal Cliff Beach Hotel.

“We are working on becoming a wellness destination, and we have been investing in providing a safe meeting experience,” he says. “We have also partnered with several quality attractions in Pattaya, enabling groups to visit islands via luxury yachts, play a round of golf or go on a cultural excursion.”

Thailand’s MICE business will take some time to reach pre-pandemic levels, but the destination is in a stronger position to welcome groups, having invested in infrastructure last year. It also continues to attract planners looking to organise eco-friendly and immersive experiences for delegates.