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Building the MICE Market

By Debbie Dionysius

Thailand desperately needs the MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions] market to contribute to its bounce back from the traumatisation of the recent political troubles that have severely impacted on this important income generator for the Kingdom.

The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) had USD28 million (9 billion baht) allocated to MICE events in 2010, anticipating at the start of the year growth of 25 percent with around 785,000 visitors generating income of 56 billion baht from 400 events.

That forecast will, clearly, not be met. However, TCEB  should not be deterred and continue to pursue its six major strategies to develop and expand the MICE market in Thailand in partnership with private and government networks as well as the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) community. TCEB has only to look at the slow growth in 2008 caused by domestic political unrest [the yellow shirts this time] a troubled global economy and, in 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic to see how vulnerable Thailand tourism is to the vagaries of events beyond its control.

The TCEB six strategies revolve around widening marketing and public relations channels; more national image building (this is something that will require revisiting in the light of recent events) ; expanding the MICE infrastructure (on Phuket, for example, the country’s major tourism destination has no internationally classed MICE venue, with large hotels filling the gap but being limited by space and resources); building local and international networks through themes such as “Thai Team, Team Thailand” and to boost the role and potential of the TCEB.

These are all worthy and achievable goals, but perhaps Thailand needs to do a lot more because the MICE competition in Asia, and the Middle East, for that matter is intense. Places like Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Shanghai and Guangzhou, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Hong Kong are increasingly attracting MICE custom, particularly from places like Australia.

And there is one of Thailand’s problems. Not everyone sees the country as an ideal MICE venue. For example, one Australian based incentive agent once gave 10 reasons why Thailand is not yet the “hit” it claims to be for the MICE market. Reasons included few hotels near large convention centres, the lack of many such centres and their poor locations (in Bangkok) lack of communication skills and training in understanding MICE needs by staff and a focus by Thailand tourism authorities on numbers rather than quality.

By the same token Thailand has many attractions for the MICE market. These include geographical location, good direct air routes, attractive pre and post-business travel (to the southern islands like Phuket and Koh Samui, for example)  lively and proactive private sector MICE operators, such as big hotels at key tourist destinations; some dedicated individuals and the overall attractiveness of Thailand as a “truly amazing” destination.

But what else could Asia’s MICE industry do to attract more custom, particularly in Thailand? Well, the TCEB has already hit one good idea that is the promotion of “Green Meetings,” which are environmentally friendly MICE events as a selling point to promote Thailand. Other ideas could include including more CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes; more sophisticated programmes could be offered; use of social media to generate networks amongst MICE participants and even look at more family friendly activities.

Having said that, American surveys of the MICE trade have shown that when it comes to “green” Americans are all for the environment as long as they don’t have to pay for it and the same goes for CSR activities. We are likely to see, therefore, “green” and CSR activities, but on a minor scale as making major changes when the economy is weak and there are negative outside forces impacting on tourism in places like Thailand, makes change harder.

What many tourism professionals should appreciate is that the mentality and demands of MICE businesses are very different from the tourist business. The tourist business demands standardization and set routines, whereas the MICE business requires much more time, concentration, research, creativity, patience and determination.

A MICE project can, easily, take on a life of its own over months, even years. This is why it is advisable for any hotel or tourist based company looking to get into the MICE business to establish a separate company with separate staff, vision and resources. Training of staff, for example, would be quite different from standard tourist businesses because of the different requirements in managing a MICE event.

Staff training and, indeed, motivation, are key elements of a successful MICE—or destination management company—(DMC) where the association between management and staff is more close knit and there is an atmosphere of everyone working in cohesion toward the same goal—the success of the MICE event.

This Op-Ed piece originally appeared in the Bangkok Post. Published on August 16, 2010.
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Debbie Dionysius is Assistant Vice President, Destination Marketing responsible for Laguna Phuket’s new Latitude MICE venue.

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