Thailand - A new chapter for the books

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Thailand has enjoyed an enviable tourism growth compared to its neighbours in the region, notching 38 million visitors in 2018, which translates to an increase of 7% over the previous year. Against the recent trend of falling tourism spend, Thailand instead attracted 10% increase in tourist dollars, hitting 2 trillion baht (US$62 billion).

It has also fired up two new engines to spur growth in new industries, prioritising innovation and technology in fields such as automotive, electronics, advanced agriculture, food processing and tourism, all while breaking into new industries such as robotics and digitalisation, automation, aviation and logistics, biofuels and biochemicals, and medicine.

This new wave of development is good news for the business events industry, as it opens the doors for new opportunities and events to Thailand.

Catalyst for change
At the driver's seat of these changes is the country's promotion and development agency, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). Rigorous marketing and promotion over the years has stepped up the quality and volume of events to the country, and this year, it eyes an ambitious target of some 1.4 million business travellers. "TCEB is deepening its roles from being a mere supporter to becoming a co-creator of business opportunities," explained Nooch Homrossukhon, TCEB's director of meetings and incentives department.

It's no silver bullet to success. Instead, the agency recognises its roles as a co-creator, partner, collaborator and thought leader with both government and private sectors to create an ideal ecosystem, says Nooch.

"Among partners, being transparent is key," emphasised Nooch. And there's perhaps no better showcase of this than when Bangkok hosted the SITE 2019 Global Conference in early January.

The global incentive association debuted its first Thailand chapter from January 10 to 14 to a record delegation of 375 incentive travel professionals from 30 countries. To pull off the event, an initial host committee of 13 members was put together, which was later streamlined into an agile working team of four to speed up the decision making process.

Enticing regional business
The country is also thriving on a growing volume of regional meetings and events that is helping to sharpen its expertise.

With MICE arrivals from the neighbouring ASEAN rising by 58% in 2018, Nooch is seeing opportunities to attract an even greater share of business. In January, TCEB launched the ASEAN MaxiMICE campaign to source for more meetings and incentives from top-performing markets, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. It lowered the qualification criteria to groups of at least 40, instead of 50, with a minimum two-night stay in Thailand.

TCEB expects the new campaign will spur a 5% increase in MICE travellers from each of the four markets, with at least 20 new groups to Thailand over the campaign period until end-August.

Simultaneously, Thailand is also looking to neighbours Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam as strong emerging markets, offering benefits to meetings and incentive groups under its Fly and Meet Double Bonus campaign.

Thailand has also rolled out the welcome mat with the launch of an electronic visa in February, in phases. Beijing will be the first Chinese city to benefit from the new visa, followed by other cities over the next three years. The electronic visa will also been extended to the UK and France from March and April respectively.

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The Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit in a 31-storey mixed-use development in the Nana neighbourhood.

Lap of luxury
The flurry of new luxury hotels opening in Bangkok is giving a much-needed lift to an ageing inventory.

Among the illustrious names is Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, which opened last August in the bustling Ratchaprasong intersection with 171 guestrooms. The centrepiece of its meetings facilities is the 730sqm Magnolia Ballroom, which fits up to 700 guests.

Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit has taken up residence as part of a 31-storey mixed-use development in the Nana neighbourhood in December. The 273-key property adds substantial meetings and events space that spans 1,359sqm, with a 850-guest ballroom and four meeting suites.

Japanese luxury group Nikko Hotels International has taken the wraps off its new 301-key property. Hotel Nikko Bangkok offers a sizeable 1,800sqm of meetings and events spaces. The largest venue, Fuji Grand Ballroom, will be able to host 1,250. A further eight small- and medium-sized function rooms, outdoor terrace and balcony are also available.

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Rosewood Hotel Bangkok is expected to debut this March.

At the end of March, luxury brand Rosewood is also expected to debut in the capital with a 30-floor property in Bangkok's Ploenchit district. The 159-room Rosewood Hotel Bangkok will offer facilities such as a 320sqm residential-style space, The Pavilion, for up to 200 and a boardroom that overlooks the capital's skyline.

Several brands have lined up along the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya river, with entrances such as Capella Bangkok, a 101-key urban resort along a 350-metre riverfront stretch, and Four Seasons with a 3.6-hectare complex comprising of 366 private residential units and 299 guest rooms and suites.

In the last quarter of 2019, Orient Express Mahanakhon Bangkok will perch on the upper floors of the King Power Mahanakhon. The hotel will feature 154 rooms, as well as a jacuzzi and the Orient Express Spa by Guerlain.

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