Stuart Wood spends a week in Thailand, where the MICE industry is putting business into a higher gear.
Thailand’s developing economy is in the midst of its own American Dream.
Along the seemingly endless, humid highways that stretch between Bangkok and Hua Hin, car dealerships are dotted along the road at regular intervals, while gigantic billboards display their latest models. An emerging middle class is increasingly living outside of rural areas here, desiring ownership of a home and a vehicle.
The literal mobility offered by a new car is mirrored in the desire for social mobility which I find across the country. Reading a copy of the Bangkok Post, I’m struck by a large pull-out section called Elite Life, which provides an aspirational glimpse of expensive jewellery, fine dining and Bugatti supercars.
These industries are among those being targeted by the Thai Government, and the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), to bring more investment into the country. The MICE industry has support at the highest level in Thailand, and smart industries such as automotive, robotics and biotechnology are top of the agenda. The hope is that tradefairs and conferences from these sectors can bring in big business.
Much like the trucks that speed along those humid highways, then, TCEB is using the power of MICE to put Thailand’s developing economy into the fast lane.
In this light, it seems fitting that as I step off the plane in Bangkok, I am greeted by the new MICE fast-track service being offered by TCEB.
The service provides business travellers arriving into the country with a guide through customs, to help speed up the process of reaching their hotel or event. It is another example of Thailand’s uniformly welcoming hospitality, but it also demonstrates just how much importance Thailand gives to business travel, and the MICE industry as a whole.
TCEB reports directly to the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has recognised the power of the industry to be a catalyst for economic development. This was the message being pushed at the Thailand MICE Forum in September, a conference which brought together leaders from key international associations: UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf, SITE President Philip Eidsvold and ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath.
During the opening address, TCEB President Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya commented: “The MICE industry can play a role in boosting the whole country’s economy, by creating a mechanism to allow Thai entrepreneurs to set standards and create links internationally.” The goal, he said, was to raise awareness of MICE and business tourism on a national level.
Mr Phiphat Ratchakitprakar, Minister of Tourism and Sports, added: “The Government places great importance on developing and supporting the MICE and tourism industries. It is the driving force of the Thai economy to continue growing. We will develop together, steadily and sustainably.”
We spend a week in Thailand, split between the capital Bangkok and Hua Hin, on the western side of the country’s horseshoe-shaped peninsula. Among the most impressive of the venues we are shown around is ICONSIAM, a lavish shopping mall in Bangkok with an under-construction MICE space on the top floor.
The True Icon Hall, when it is completed in November, will be a 3,000-capacity venue for conferences and exhibitions, with retractable seats that fold into the wall and an LED-programmable ceiling. It will also feature a breakout space sure to impress: a large balcony with ranging views over the Bangkok skyline.
Other spaces we are shown are a bit closer to Earth. The Michelin-starred Bo.lan restaurant in Bangkok is a culinary attraction for international delegates, and its food is as sustainable as it is delicious. Head chef Bo Songvisava (who featured on Netflix hit Chef’s Table, and is pictured back left below) guides us through a workshop to highlight some of the restaurant’s sustainable practices, as it works to be completely waste-free. Bo.lan prints its business cards on seed paper, which it creates by pressing the pulp of its used meal receipts. Unfortunately, CMW’s paper-making skills don’t quite match our appetite.
Elsewhere, we pay a visit to the Chaipattana Foundation in Hua Hin, where sustainable development is also on the agenda. Here we learn about the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s idea of the ‘sufficiency economy’, which asked the Thai people to make do with what they have, and to respect the land. His message was that Thailand’s development must not leave behind those who are least privileged – it must be steady, and sustainable.
This is all aligned to the message which TCEB, and the Thai Government, are sending with regards to the country’s MICE industry. Thailand has a varied offer which includes culture, food, history and business – as well as a forward-thinking mentality when it comes to selling these commodities to the international market. On top of this, it offers good value for money when compared to many of the other regional leaders, such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
But as the MICE industry fuels its continuing economic growth, Thailand is also making sure that it doesn’t lose touch with sustainable practices, and leave its upwardly mobile citizens in the rear-view mirror.