MICE is the acronym that is driving the travel industry in East Asia, and while competition is getting tougher, no country has a better handle on the concept than Thailand. Meetings, Conferences and Exhibitions (with Incentives thrown in to make the mice) make up the bulk of potential for growth beyond the random and somewhat fickle individual tourist market.
An analysis of what makes a good MICE destination makes it clear why industry experts consistently rate Thailand as the best MICE destination in the world with three of its centers – Bangkok, Phuket, Chiangmai – all scoring consistently well.
Meeting planners searching for the best Asian location for a conference at the right price are looking at a want list of issues that includes good communications, pleasant surroundings and safety. Thailand also has glamour and a service culture, warm weather, delicious cuisine and great beaches. The MICE facilities are some of the best in the business. Thailand ticks all the boxes.
It has another advantages too: its proximity to two of the biggest economies in the world, China and India, which gives Thailand a huge advantage in attracting MICE opportunities. Over the years, it has had the occasional burst of domestic political turmoil, but it never seems to last long and has almost no impact on the tourist and MICE businesses.
Look at the figures for MICE visitors to Thailand. The total number of visitors to Thailand has grown remarkably over the past 15 years from around eight million arrivals in 1998 to more than 22 million last year, according to Thailand’s Office of Tourism Development. China became Thailand’s biggest source of arrivals in 2012 with 2.8 million, a 35% increase over 2011.
Bangkok has the biggest convention and exhibition facilities in the country, including the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre and the Impact Arena Exhibition Centre.
One important point to bear in mind when planning a MICE event is that you want to keep the guests at the venue as long as possible. You do not them wandering off. Yes, they need down-time but none of it should be during the planned events, and the venue should provide the opportunity for extra-curricular activities. Thailand handles this very cleverly.
For example, on the drive from the airport to Bangkok about two thirds of the way along there are a number of hotels designed specifically for MICE business. They are close enough to the city to make visits there easy but the hotels work hard to keep enough attractions on site to keep the attendees happy at the convention site.
Now let us look at Bangkok, Chaingmai and Phuket. They are all immensely attractive but each have their own special plus points.
Bangkok comes first because of its overall convenience. The new airport works wondrously well, although it is already operating beyond its design capacity. The drive to the convention sites and hotels is easy and comfortable.
Are there any drawbacks? Two. One minor, one more important. The minor one is the tuk tuks – three wheeled taxis which are ever plying for hire. Regardless of where you ask to go, you will be taken to a jewelry shop where most on-display items are over-priced rubbish. Do not use tuk tuks. This is a word of advice given to anyone going to Thailand on a MICE trip.
The second is the heat. In Bangkok, April is the cruelest month but it remains hot throughout much of the year, exacerbating the traffic fumes. The hotels are very well air-conditioned, as are all of the taxis and any coaches that will be arranged for you. But walking is not an option for many visitors during the hot and humid months. For that, best choose the Thai winter. Say, August through January.
Bangkok’s hotels include some of the best in the world. The Mandarin Oriental, situated next to the river, has often won world’s best hotel awards, and has excellent meeting rooms. Right across the river from the Oriental is the Peninsula Bangkok, which has larger facilities and a quieter, more secluded vibe.
The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit has one of the best locations in town, right on one of Bangkok’s main thoroughfares, and has nine meeting rooms of various sizes.
The Grand Hyatt Erawan, meanwhile, is a custom-built conference hotel with 3,330 square meters of conference space in 14 function rooms. The ballroom alone can hold 1,500 people.
But perhaps you want the seaside? Then there is Phuket. This is the largest island in Thailand – about the size of Singapore. Lying to the west of the Thai mainland in the Andaman Sea, it is connected to the mainland by two bridges. The island was on one of the major trading routes between Indian and China and has a rich history. But nowadays its principle source of income is tourism. The weather is always fairly hot but because it is an island the heat is tempered and quite bearable.
It is a much more relaxed location than Bangkok, and is very popular for corporate meetings and seminars. The flight connections are good, with many direct flights to various Chinese cities.
Phuket is currently going through an intensive period of leisure urbanization with many new hotels, apartments and houses under construction. A total of 5,080 additional hotel rooms are expected in Phuket by 2015.
Laguna Phuket is a very special place cleverly planned to bring together disparate pieces to form the ideal MICE environment. Laguna Phuket includes six resort hotels plus the 1,000-seat Latitude Marquee for the MICE activities themselves.
The Banyan Tree Phuket is one of the top venues in the area, and the Angsana Laguna Phuket has a 350 square meter ballroom, and can handle meetings of several hundred people. For large scale events, there are a number of choices including Mövenpick Resort & Spa Phuket which has 12 meeting spaces including a ballroom that can handle up to 800 people. Also on the large side is the Hilton Phuket Arcadia which has facilities for groups of up to 1,200.
A smaller place worth considering for more intimate MICE affairs is the Twinpalms resort.
So what you end up with is a strong attraction – a Thai seaside resort with all that it implies – plus excellent MICE facilities. Phuket can handle pretty much any MICE task you can think of.
And then there is the mountain resort of Chiangmai. Yes, it has a hot season running from April to July while in the cool season which runs from December to the end of February it gets distinctly chilly in the evenings. To the displeasure of many it often suffers from a haze caused by the burn-off of forests in Burma. But for those bothered by Bangkok weather, Chiangmai is the answer. Chiangmai is a large and culturally significant town. Worth noting is that it’s the only tourist destination in Thailand to be in the 2012 “25 Best Destinations in the World” on TripAdvisor.
Chiang Mai has some 33,000 hotel rooms and it is working hard to be a major MICE destination. The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau is working with eight key government and private organizations in Chiang Mai to increase the MICE business enjoyed by this northern city of Thailand.
It is important to note that the Chiang Mai International Convention and