"Chiang Mai has great potential for high-end MICE as a cultural destination," says Anthony McDonald, CEO of Bespoke Hospitality Management Asia.
"Chiang Mai used to be like Pattaya, with low rates across the board. But there were a couple of high-end properties that landed and repositioned the entire market. Also the Chinese movie 'Lost in Thailand' led to Chiang Mai's comeback as a tourist destination three to four years ago," said the energetic CEO, who has spent the past 25 years in Bangkok and flies to Chiang Mai frequently. McDonald, who is also CEO of the boutique lifestyle brand CrossTo (X2) has nine properties in Chiang Mai and one under development.
As part of the Thai government's push to turn Chiang Mai into one of the new MICE cities of Thailand, this year's Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM+) during June 8-10 will be held in Chiang Mai. It is the first time for TTM+ to be held outside of Bangkok.
Chiang Mai's CMECC convention centre, which was built three years ago, supports this push. However, the government imposes strict building restrictions upon the historical city, with no buildings taller than four storeys allowed in the city area. "This means there's a lack of 300 to 400-room hotels. With Chiang Mai's current success, everyone is already running at 80-90% occupancy. There just isn't room for huge groups to land. I see Chiang Mai's potential for high-end MICE who are willing to pay say, US$100 a head more for a truly cultural experience," says McDonald.
He stated the city's strongest point to be its connectivity, with its multiple direct flights to cities all over ASEAN leading to shorter travel time for tourists - but also the volume and size of its airport as one of its biggest limits. Chiang Mai's airport is currently running at eight to nine million capacity - plans are underway to increase its capacity to 15 million, but renovations have not yet begun.