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The Power of Event Marketing and Sponsorship

By Debbie Dionysius

Event marketing is one of the most effective ways of promoting a destination in Asia because it injects a strong human element into the equation in an era when cyber marketing through the internet is growing rapidly.

Sponsorship of sports events is a USD$40 billion a year business globally, of which Thailand had about USD$330 million in 2008. So it is big business here, particularly for the largest tourist destination resort operator on Phuket, Laguna Resort & Hotels [LRH], who run some of the largest events.

Of course event marketing depends very much on sponsorship and this, in the current climate, is an issue companies promoting high profile destinations, such as Phuket, must contend with as sponsors and potential sponsors put projects on “hold” to see how the recession pans out.

Conversely, public relations and online marketing are expected to increase by 40% and 55% respectively, reflecting the cost-effectiveness of these disciplines. All a bit depressing overall, you might say. Well, no. 

South East Asia continues to be a mecca for global events because of its central global location, climate, cost effectiveness, the attractiveness of the destinations, such as Thailand; good airline services and a well earned reputation for running efficient events. And it continues to grow. I can cite as an example LRH has been shortlisted by a global multi-disciplined athletic organization to be the first Asia Pacific host of a new multi-sport series championship aimed at a different demographic from the current Laguna Phuket Triathlon or marathon, which are already run each year on Phuket.

Details of this new event are still confidential and subject to final agreement. But the point is that South East Asia, and particularly countries like Thailand, are recognized globally as among the best areas to conduct sponsored events. But we cannot do it alone. We need government support to mount these and other events if we are to continue attracting top sports people to the region.

In Thailand while the Tourism Authority of Thailand obviously promotes the country well, it is rarely a direct investor in events that attract millions of baht in extra income for the country each year. The TAT focus is more on promoting Thailand offshore as an inbound destination. Some of the events, such as newer ones on Phuket like the Cricket 20s, Rugby 7s and 10s, various local festivals and other smaller events can be financed by the private sector. But the larger events, such as the triathlons, marathons, golf tournaments and even some of the growing number of major yachting events in places like Phuket and Koh Samui, which are catering for an increasing number of marinas and, consequently, events,  could do with some government backing to help take them to another level.

Prime destinations like Phuket lack an international grade stadium, and such is the size of the island and the type of events here, it is unlikely to get one. Similarly, while there has been talk of a large convention centre for MICE [ meetings, incentives, conventions and events ]  the funding for such a centre is huge and it could take years to materialize.

So in the mid to longer term it will be the private sector that needs to bear the organizational and funding brunt of event marketing in Thailand and around the region. This is a challenge we, of course, take up as there is, admittedly, another incentive for holding these events: to attract the tourism dollar. The hundreds of athletes and their friends and relatives who come to Phuket for the triathlon and marathon are generally of the younger demographic who enjoy the island’s many facilities and entertainment. Those coming for the new event are likely to be slightly older and have different spending habits.

All of which is grist to the mill for the event marketing industry in South East Asia. With many of the events now attracting international television coverage we can look forward to more visitors from places like China, Japan, Korea, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia for events in the future.

This Op-Ed piece originally appeared in the Bangkok Post. Published on August 29, 2009.
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Debbie Dionysius is Assistant Vice President-Destination Marketing at Laguna Resorts & Hotels, Phuket.  She is responsible for marketing communications, writing, editing, brand management, event management, market and sponsorship sales and media relations

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