In response to the hit taken by the tourism industry, the Thai
government is examining a number of proposals aimed at reopening both the leisure and business
markets — including meetings and events.
Initially, Phuket had been singled out as a possible testing
ground for these programmes for several reasons: long-haul flights can
land at its international airport; it is easier to monitor the movement
of travellers on an island; and the island's economy has been badly hit
by the lack of tourism revenue.
But the stigma of the so-called Phuket Model was met with opposition from islanders. The plan, renamed 'Special Tourist Visa', will be rolled out around the country.
The hope is to bring in limited numbers of foreign visitors who will
be required to respect some form of quarantine in a restricted area before being allowed to travel to other areas in the Kingdom.
The specifics of the plans are still subject to debate, but the destination-first approach is food for thought for neighbouring countries looking to revive regional travel.
The hope is that the proposals are not too little, too late. Anthony
Lark, president of the Phuket Hotel Association, sees the peril for the
tourism and MICE industry that the local market alone cannot save. “We
strongly advocate a safe, pragmatic and strategic reopening for foreign
visitors,” he stated.
Like many of his colleagues, Ranjeet Viswanathan, commercial director
of Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort and Spa, a sprawling MICE venue, said
there were no plans to reopen the hotel until there is some indication
about the return of international travellers.
While he also pointed to the property's readiness, especially in
terms of health and safety standards, he foresees a rough year ahead.
“We anticipate that it will take another 12 to 18 months for MICE
business to recover,” he said, and held out the hope of travel bubbles
with other safe countries to bring visitors back to Phuket. “The silver
lining is that MICE planners have not given up. We still do see requests
coming from international operators for second half of 2021.”
Krystal Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, owner of the luxury boutique hotel The
Slate, sees their small size as their best selling point right now.
“Personalisation and authentic experiences were the buzzwords within
the business events industry pre-Covid-19 and will become a greater
driver of MICE business as we emerge from the global lockdown,” she
With a 25-acre property and facilities that include a 180-person
ballroom and 48-guest pavilion, the spaces are suited to the scale of
today's meetings. She also sees customers keen to apply TCEB subsidies that can make a difference to the bottom line of a smaller-scale event.
If small is beautiful for The Slate, bigger is better at Angsana.
Michal Zitek is the area general manager, Angsana Laguna Phuket, which
includes the Angsana Convention and Exhibition Space (ACES), a 1,500-sqm
venue that some said was too big for Phuket.
“Right now it's the right size,” Zitek noted. Social distancing isn't
an issue: the venue can accommodate current bookings that don't top a
few hundred participants.
Year-on-year, September 2020 looks better than 2019. Of course
Angsana has had to adapt prices for the local market, and Zitek admits
that there won't be a high season surge in rates at the end of the year.
“It was looking like a quite a positive year in terms of the business
we had on the books,” he said. Ultimately 40 per cent of those early
bookings were lost, but the other 60 per cent still hope to reschedule
“A lot more of the companies are much more vigilant on the force majeure
clause,” he said. They need the flexibility of cancellation or
deferment, which he is happy to discuss. Being hard-nosed about refunds
or cancellations when the whole world is suffering is short-sighted, he
Daryn Hudson is general manager of the Four Points by Sheraton Patong
Beach Resort, the newest hotel in Patong Beach and the island's newest
MICE venue. Opening on 1 October 2020, the hotel is selling its
responsiveness to customers' requests. From Logitech cameras that make
hybrid events more interactive to flexible space design and mobile
catering, Four Points sees itself as full-service at accessible
Unlike other venues, requests are still coming in from overseas.
“Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, Australia: They're interested in
the product, whether it's for next year or later,” said Hudson. "As for
domestic business, we're hoping that the government will show faith in