Many would argue that Thailand, once the pride of the region, the nation which showed the rest how it should be done, has blown its credibility when it comes to business and attracting the growing MICE market.
The Thailand Exhibition and Convention Bureau, which overseas the whole MICE industry in Thailand, still has the economic review of 2004 on its website, where it lauds the progress of the country under Premier Thaksin, and refers to Thaksinomics. How times change, and the question now is, has the military coup of September 2006 impacted greatly on the countries ability to attract new and returning business visitors?
There is, as always, no simple answer. For those living and working in the capital, Bangkok, there has never been any real indication that there is a military government, and everything appears to move along as before. Talk to any of the hoteliers and they will tell you a different story. They speak of reduced occupancy levels, especially at the higher end of the market. But looking at Thailand as one of the prime locations for a conference, exhibition or convention and it can be seen that the facilities remain as good as ever. The country is still a regional leader in the hospitality world, which goes beyond the clichéd “Land of Smiles”. There is, and always, will be a warmth from the Thai people which is more genuine than the publicity campaigns and public relations training. In terms of amenities, Thailand is still one of the best equipped to hold a MICE event. For instance, Bangkok has three major locations, whilst Pattaya, on the east coast can boast another specialised venue for holding exhibitions. There are hotels with the very best in convention facilities both in Bangkok, and in the provinces. Even in Chiang Rai, once the heart of the notorious Golden Triangle, there is a five star hotel, the Anantara, offering every amenity for a company get together. This used to be the region more used to visitors from American security agencies than business people. In an effort to spread the wealth of the MICE industry, there are new centers in Khon Kaen to the north east of Bangkok and Nakhorn Ratchisma (Korat) further north still.
The biggest of them all is IMPACT at Muang Thong Thani. Built originally as a sports stadium the area has been extended and developed to now include huge exhibition halls with a total of 140,000 square metres of indoor space. It’s massive and is said to be the largest pillarless exhibition arena in South East Asia. IMPACT is a good place for events such as the Motor Show and trade shows. It has its own shopping area and an impressive banqueting room for the big gala dinners. Slightly easier to get to is Bangkok International Trade Exhibition Centre (BITEC), which is closer to the new airport at Suvarnabhumi, which is clearly an advantage. The venue can handle up to 100,000 visitors a day, has good parking and is a clean bright and modern facility.Then there is the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC), which is the oldest, but the easiest to travel to.
The QSNCC is in the heart of Bangkok, and is directly on the underground MRT system. It has hosted UN meetings, ASEAN conventions and has basically been there and done it all in terms of high profile events.The likes of the Book Fair, which attracts a very different visitor to those going to a trade show, is held at the QSNCC. With easy public transport access, typically this year’s book event was packed with students and educationists. So, there is a good mixture of venues in Bangkok, with the other option being out on the east coast, near Pattaya. Adjacent to the Royal Cliff Hotel is PEACH, the Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall, offering another 6,675 square metres of exhibition space. Not the biggest, but a very attractive seaside proposition, as an alternative to downtown Bangkok. More recently, at the Thailand Science Park, another convention center has opened, under the same management as QSNCC, with 30,000 square metres of space.
So, it could never be claimed that Thailand has not got the facilities to hold the biggest and the best MICE events in the region. Add this to the leisure aspects, with the glorious beach locations in Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Chang, along with alternative mountain resorts of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, you have the ideal country to attract the most critical of visitor. Golf, sailing, diving, trekking are all within easy reach. The question now is: Where does Thailand go from here? Clearly the political situation has made a difference to the number of people visiting the country, both from the business and leisure sectors. Some of those planning to come to Thailand have found alternatives in Malaysia, Vietnam, and even less obvious places such as Cambodia. There is no let up in the events coming through at the various venues, The Leather Fair, The Fashion Show and company conventions still keep many of the hotels afloat. However, in the long term it will be of vital importance that Thailand sorts its political situation out, and hopefully there will be an election in December and hopefully it will mean a return to the normal democratic ways of most nations.
Organisations such as the Tourist Authority of Thailand have done an excellent job of keeping the spin going, with regular announcements about the high numbers of visitors still coming to the country, but its only when economists start to mention the alternative figures that we begin to realise that there has been a drop in trade, as well as a drop in investment. Companies who were ready and willing to put their money into the country have stalled their decisions, awaiting the outcome of the next political move. Meanwhile, those involved in bringing the trade to Thailand, selling MICE facilities and getting the visitors to come to the best equipped country in the region, cross their fingers in the hope that normality returns quickly to Thailand.