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October 7, 2010

Passage to Bangkok

James Latham reports from the Thai capital where the Asian meetings industry has gathered for IT&CMA, the region's leading trade show for the sector.

In May of this year, Bangkok was at the centre of the world`s attention as the Red Shirt protests exploded into full-scale rioting and bloodshed on its streets. Today, the extensive fire damage to much of the retail element of CentralWorld – the $805 million mixed-development, which further includes the Centara hotel, cinema complex, and the Bangkok Convention Centre within its 830,000 metres of functional space – is back to perfect working order.

There is no evidence of the damage caused to it just six months ago. What does remain damaged, other than the missing 73,000 delegates and the 3 billion baht in lost revenue due to the cancellation or postponement of events during the troubles, is Thailand`s image as a meetings destination. Much work was being done by our hosts, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), to reassure international and regional planners that the domestic troubles are over and that they did not, in any case, constitute anything as dangerous as terror attacks.

Unsurprisingly, there were many seminars focusing on risk or crisis management, and insurance – the latter yielding little scope for optimism.

Damage Done: Despite their being little trace of the problems
Bangkok faced earlier in the year, the country is still facing
a PR battle to convince visitors of its safety


But the show, through its own deliverance, has yielded reassurance that markets in Asia bounce back remarkably quickly. Numbers are up and not down as observers would have predicted during the troubles. There are 2,340 delegates in total, 483 out of 500 hosted buyers are in attendance (from over 900 applications) and 142 journalists from over 35 countries are reporting good business from the show floor. The 304 exhibiting companies are enjoying the attention of buyers each attending 24 pre-scheduled appointments over two days, and the mood is one of relief and is generally upbeat.

Strong presence

South East Asia`s big guns – Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and also India – have a strong presence with additional representation from Egypt and Bruneii. Some incentive buyers expressed disappointment not to see neighbours Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, but as TCEB’s head, Akopol Sorasuchart, makes clear in his forthcoming video interview with MEETINGS:review, that the formation of the ASEAN +3 by 2015 is likely to harmonise any regional lack of representation, to include Southern China, at TTG Asia’s future events. Although he has much more persuading to do with regard to the country’s political stability, if Thailand`s bid for World Expo 2020 is to be won.

On the international association side, Asia is still losing out. Dan Rivlin, managing director of Kenes Group, said: “There’s a fear of failing in Asian culture. They don’t bid unless they know for sure that they are going to win.” He cited the lack of Asian representation on the boards of international medical associations, and conversely pointed to the strong representation that Australia, broadly representing Asia Pacific instead of Asia, had traditionally exploited.

Given the recently stated aims of Team Australia, the government and industry marketing partnership, to exploit the intra-regional association meetings opportunity, it seemed strange that Australia was not physically represented on the show floor. One suspicion is that the event’s corporate travel segment dilutes the potential for attracting association planners and indeed it was expressed on a number of occasions that perhaps the ‘double-bill’ of meetings and corporate travel spreads the offer too thin. Buyers from Australia were, however, in strong supply and they are reporting a return to longer haul travel demands, but with ever-shortening lead times. Not all is headed for Asia, however, with Europe still the most popular outbound destination.

Incentive travel
Destinations themselves are piling on the incentives – TCEB’s Thailand Maximize already offers substantial subsidies and its Thailand Extra Value is further adding subsidies of $1200 - $4,800 for groups of 101-800 people on top of a free excursion and reception. Malaysia`s MyCEB chief executive, Zulkefli Sharif, said that the organisation would be persuing the incentive travel segment from China, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia because of the shorter lead times, while it is also seeking government budgets to compete in the association market where it is losing out to subvented bids from Thailand and Korea in particular.

Corporate travel managers are seemingly at war with the hotel chains over 20-30% rate hikes in Hong Kong and Singapore with buyers, such as Premah Krishnan of UGL Australia, delisting chains that refuse to compromise. An interesting new technology from former venue finding and site selection supremo, Ian Quartermaine, called ‘MEETINGS IN’ is being launched next year as a digital platform for occasional or volunteer buyers in the corporate sector as a hotel, venue search and RFP tool that enables the non-professional buyer to source and buy occupancy directly online and commission free. The site, www.meetingsin.com will provide the service on a city-by-city basis, launching its Asia Pacific service in January.

The global DMCs are breaking into the local markets of the region. Kuoni Destination Management’s global expansion into Singapore led to its announcement of its biggest incentive movement from South East Asia into a non-European country when it moves 1,200 people from Amway Asia to Dubai in December where the group owns Desert Adventures. The Singapore-based director of sales MICE for South Asia, Reto Kaufmann, expects a record year since Kuoni set the office up just two years ago, with the company expected to move up to 18,000 incentive travellers from the region.

For more information from the region, visit www.ttgasia.com and watch out for James Latham’s video reports from IT&CMA and CTW in the forthcoming weeks on MEETINGS:review.

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