New MICE Cities to drive domestic meetings in Thailand

Until recently, only five destinations qualified for the title.

Nakhon Ratchassima in the northeast and Songkhla in the south of Thailand has joined Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Pattaya as official MICE Cities.
Nakhon Ratchassima in the northeast and Songkhla in the south of Thailand has joined Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Pattaya as official MICE Cities. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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 process.

Songkhla in the south of Thailand has joined Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Pattaya as an official MICE City.
Songkhla in the south of Thailand has joined Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen and Pattaya as an official MICE City.

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 event.

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.

Restoring confidence

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.

Avani_Hua Hin_Meeting Foyer
Destinations like Hua Hin, within driving distance of Bangkok and favoured by the Thai market, should seize current opportunities.

“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 unprecedented times.”

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.

"If domestic events take place with no incident, we hope travel bubbles and regional travel will follow," says TICA president, Sumate Sudasna.
"If domestic events take place with no incident, we hope travel bubbles and regional travel will follow," says TICA president, Sumate Sudasna.

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 ourselves, too.”

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.”



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