With little prospect of international travel resuming before the end
of the year, the challenge for the MICE sector is to promote itself to
the domestic market. Launched ten years ago after political
demonstrations closed Bangkok and even the airport for weeks on end, the
“MICE City” label was designed to improve the attractiveness of MICE
services and infrastructure in other regional hubs. “We couldn't just
rely on Bangkok,” said Pattanachai Singhavara, Director of TCEB's
Southern Region Office.
The road has not been without challenges. “We would like to get
people to become part of the meeting industry but it's been really hard
to do that,” says Singhavara. “People don't know what MICE means so we
have to educate them.” To train future tourism and MICE professionals,
TCEB has worked with universities to create curriculum and degree
programmes, that now even include a PhD in Tourism, Hotel and Event
Management at Silpakorn University.
The MICE City label requires support from local authorities as well.
Once a city has issued a letter of intention to apply for the label,
auditors go in to examine a range of criteria from transportation and
accessibility to accommodations and facilities. Other questions
including the social and economic impact on the area are considered
carefully, as is a commitment to sustainability.
Until recently, only five destinations qualified for the title:
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Pattaya. They were joined by
Nakhon Ratchassima in the northeast and Songkhla in the south of
Thailand. A further ten cities are still in the application and vetting
TCEB organised a dedicated Thailand MICE United event in September to
formally introduce the two newcomers to the market, bringing together
together representatives from the seven cities and providing local
businesses an opportunity to meet potential customers in a networking
It was itself a model of how to hold a large-scale event that mostly
respected the rules of physical distancing, with 1,296 attendees spread
across morning and afternoon sessions in Bangkok's Royal Paragon Hall, a
space that can normally accommodate up to 5,000 guests.
MICE United also set an example as a hybrid meeting, with the
livestream clocking an additional 4,778 viewers online. The message was
reinforced by costumed guides wearing sandwich-boards with reminders to
wear a mask and keep a safe distance.
One of the biggest challenges to the industry will be restoring
confidence. Initially the TCEB grants only applied to meetings held
outside of the organiser's home province or region. But there were few
takers. So TCEB changed the requirement and all meetings are now
eligible, even those held in the same city.
Matthew Fryar of Avani+ Hua Hin Resort says that adhering to new
health and safety practices is key to regaining customer confidence. He
feels that destinations like Hua Hin, within driving distance of Bangkok
and favoured by the Thai market, should seize the current opportunities
and surpass customer expectations.
“There is greater focus on on health and safety practices for which
we are well equipped,” says Fryar. The brand has been certified by TCEB,
by the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Safety and Health Administration
(SHA) certification for individual travellers and by the brand's own
AvaniSHIELD standards. He sees domestic MICE, weddings and weekday
incentives as areas of growth. “We have done exceptionally well in these
In the absence of free-spending multinationals, all venues recognise
that they have to adjust their prices to the local market. Many hotels
with MICE facilities were unable to speak on the record. Centre Point
Prime and the unrelated Grande Centre Point in Pattaya both pointed to
their particularly advantageous packages that were aimed squarely at
their industrial neighbours like PTT, the state petroleum company, and
at business from Bangkok, a two-hour drive away.
For a hotel like the Shangri-La in Bangkok where events for 200
people were considered small fry and 1000 attendees for a function were
routine, now booking in 50 people is considered a good day's work.
Published combined room and meeting rates now start at 3500 baht a
person when previously rack rates for the room alone would be close to
double that amount.
Maintaining international engagement
Even though international events are still a remote prospect, TCEB is
keeping in touch with foreign nationals and the international business
community. As well as hosting the Thailand Incentive and Meetings
Exchange (TIME) as a hybrid event, TCEB has taken consular officials and
commercial attachés from Bangkok's embassies to the island of Samui to
demonstrate Thailand's preparedness for post-Covid travel. “182
countries say that Thailand is ready,” says TCEB's Isarangkun, referring
to Thailand's “safe country” status and near-zero local contamination
rate. “But instead of letting everyone in, we need to keep guarding
The industry stands behind these cautious moves, even if the wait to
reopen is a painful one for some businesses. “I believe Thailand is
proceeding in the right direction, cautiously opening up domestic
events,” says Sumate Sudasna, president of Thailand Incentive and
Convention Association (TICA).
“If domestic events take place with no incident, we hope travel
bubbles and regional travel will follow as soon as all factors are
positive.” He hopes for a cautious return of international travel in Q3
2021. Sudasna however is honest in his assessment. “The wait will be
challenging as we find ways to stay afloat.”