July 14, 2017
 

PRIYAMVADHA BALARAM

The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) organised the second edition of the Thailand Incentive and Meeting Exchange (TIME) 2017 from 29 June to 3 July for the Indian travel trade. Themed 'Mantra of the Golden Land' this year, TIME 2017 was held across Bangkok and Chiang Mai, taking the delegates through knowledge sessions, team building activities, networking opportunities and city tours during the course of the event. 40 exclusive travel agents from across India experienced this business exchange that sought to present unique venues and incentive itineraries for the Indian MICE segment.

TIME was conceptualized as an endeavour to gain detailed knowledge about the requirements and concerns of source markets and also disseminate information to the buyers from the source markets about new meeting venues, hotels, team building programmes, corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and innovative itineraries.
The delegation was hosted at the Marriott Marquis Bangkok Queen's Park on the first two days. This is one of the latest MICE facilities in Bangkok with the lobby being a much-talked about feature. Situated in close proximity to the city's bustling shopping and entertainment hubs, the hotel has 1360 rooms and suites and 15 rooms for hosting meetings. The largest ballroom in the hotel covers 12000 sq ft in area.

The programmes during the first two days of the exchange consisted of knowledge sessions, panel discussions, interviews and table top networking with the Indian buyers and the Thai sellers. The panelists comprised veteran speakers from the travel trade and the corporate industry in India, along with TCEB representatives. Sushil Shamlal Wadhwa, Founder & CMD, Platinum World Grroup; Neena Kaul, Associate Director - Sales Operations & CIS, GoodYear India; Manpreet Bindra, Vice President & Head - MICE, FCM Travel Solutions; Ajay Seth, Senior VP – MICE, Cox & Kings and KD Singh, Founder & President, TravelBullz participated in the discussions. Nitin Sachdeva, India Representative, TCEB, moderated the session on gauging the requirements of the Indian MICE client, while El Kwang, Chief Editorial Officer of BizEvents Asia.com moderated the session on bridging the communication gaps between the service providers and the clients.

Highlighting the impact of the tax reforms that India is undergoing on the travel industry, Sushil said, "India's is the fastest outbound travel market in the world with a 12%-15% growth year on year and among all the segments, MICE is the fastest growing segment at 20%-22% annually. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is going to have a major impact on the MICE and travel industry especially. This single tax regime will ease the way businesses are done in the long run. The tax rate for the MICE or events industry, which is 15% service tax, will become 18% GST and as an agency, we try to charge between 10% and 15% as our management fees but rarely succeed. Negotiations may get tougher in the months to come. The travel industry will see a reduction in the service tax to 5% GST. For 18% GST, one gets the Input Tax Credit but with the 5% GST one does not get the credit. This may increase the cost for many heads, though the tax liability may be lesser. Airline tickets will go down from the present 5%-6% to 1.5% because of the sheer volumes. Overall, we still believe that the market condition will still be bullish. Thailand is the number one MICE destination for India. India is the 10th largest business market in the world with almost 1.5 million Indians travelling only for MICE purposes."

Neena Kaul spoke about the factors that make Thailand a viable MICE destination by way of its proximity to India, flight connections, etc. while also cautioning against certain visa limitations.

The delegates were flown to Chiang Mai on the third day to experience what the relatively lesser known city has to offer MICE groups. A one-hour flight away from Bangkok, Chiang Mai's regal and historical appeal is sure to go well with incentive and meeting groups. Surrounded by mountains and abundant green cover, Chiang Mai boasts of world-class infrastructure and facilities for tourists and business travellers alike. While being a self-contained city in itself, it is still stashed away from the usual buzz of a city. It is home to several remarkable resorts, hotels and convention centres.

An innovative city tour was organised upon landing by sending the delegates in groups to explore the city with the help of maps in 'Songthaews' or the local shared taxis. The city abounds with historic monuments, temples and museums that illustrate the region's past. The groups visited the Lan Na Folklife museum, Three Kings Monument, Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara monument and the Wat Phra Singh temple, while savouring local desserts to beat the heat.

Some of the top hotels and resorts in Chiang Mai are the Shangri-la, Four Seasons, Anantara, Le Meridien, Horizon Village & Resort, Rati Lanna and Dhara Dhevi. The delegates stayed in Shangri-La, which also has the largest function room in the city as well as in the Anantara.

The delegates participated in a table top session at the Khum Kham International Convention Centre where they interacted with the local suppliers whose services and products ranged from hotels, resorts and spas located in exotic places to nature safaris, elephant parks, jungle canopy stays and zip line adventure activities, in addition to a showcase of the native art and craft at the venue. Chiang Mai is known for its tribal and native artwork with a variety of hand-crafted lamps, baskets, artistic clothes, souvenirs and other handmade artifacts.

There was a team building activity organised at the Horizon Village & Resort, an idyllic location for groups who would want to have a green venue with the backdrop of landscaped gardens, flora and fauna. This property is community-backed in terms of employing the locals and running the property sustainably. The resort has 209 rooms spread across a 115-acre botanical garden and is away from the city. A number of social functions and team building activities take place here regularly.

MICE groups that want to experience a grand and luminous event, can choose to host a dinner or a gala event at the Royal Botanical Garden – Royal Park Rajapruek. Located against the settings of mountains and lush greenery, the venue houses the Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion, featuring Lanna architecture. The TCEB had organised a spectacular dinner interspersed with colourful cultural performances at this venue, before taking the delegates on the Chiang Mai Night Safari later in the night. Chiang Mai's eco-friendly way of life has proven advantageous for corporates who want to include CSR programmes in their itineraries. From planting orchids and soft treks and zip line adventures to taking a tour of the Royal Projects initiated by the king 60 years ago, there are ample activities to choose from.

Subsidies and tax schemes
TCEB has designed several financial subsidies to woo MICE groups. Drawing attention to subsidies and tax saving schemes, Nitin explained, "For the new fiscal year starting this October, we have run successful campaigns like 'Meet Double Cities' and 'Meet Sustainable Ways'. For the latter, not only do we promote CSR activities available in the country, but one can either choose one CSR activity or use the Thailand MICE Venue Standard (TMVS) certified venue for getting financial subsidies."

"In 'Meet Double Cities', as a country bureau, we try to introduce other destinations within the country - not just Bangkok. There are other key cities that are more than ready for the delegates to organise their meetings and incentive events. We encourage them by providing financial subsidies if the event is organised in two cities; it can be any pair of cities - Chiang Mai-Phuket; Bangkok-Pattaya or Bangkok-Hua Hin, for example," said Nooch Homrossukhon, Director- Meetings Industry, TCEB.

Nitin said, "We pay a reimbursement based on the number of people, for which there is a minimum cap of 200 people to qualify and if they have booked for a minimum of three nights with either a CSR activity or a green venue, they are eligible for a refund of 100,000 Thai Baht and the subsidy increases in proportion to the number of people. There is a similar subsidy for 200-pax groups in the 'Meet Double Cities' campaign for a minimum of four nights in two different cities and some extra different criteria."

Mega groups from India
"We always welcome any sort of business, but we have to consider the accessibility factor - the flight capacity. We have grown in terms of numbers per group. Earlier we had one or two groups of over 1,000 pax. Last year we saw many such big groups from India, about 10 groups of over 500 pax and three to four groups over 1000 pax. Now, we expect this trend to continue next year also, considering the changing taxation system and the demonetization move, which have worked towards the Asia market. With the cost going up in the long haul market, Asia is the real winner. It has given us more responsibility for us to actually get more experiences in the market," Nooch said.

New developments
Nooch said, "Over 70% of leisure and MICE travellers are repeat visitors to our country. We are introducing new destinations in our country. For example, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai are very new markets. Through our CSR activities, we are trying to encourage more engagement with the locals by facilitating the groups to interact with them."

TCEB believes that Thailand is still ahead of the game compared to its key competitors in the ASEAN region, especially with the Indian MICE segment. It bets on the sheer variety of products for MICE business. "We are Indian-friendly and understand your culture and behaviour preference better than other countries. The experience that we offer is very unique. You cannot find our unique experiences in other countries. Today, Indian visitors are not just talking about Thailand as a whole but talk about specific cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Pattaya. "From the world market perspective, we see a growing trend but we see big growth from the Asian market. Hence, it is largely a regional movement that accounts for about 75% of all the MICE visitors to Thailand from Asia. As far as meetings and incentives are concerned, we are going to launch a marketing and promotional campaign next year, which would be more customer-centric but I cannot reveal any more information at this point in time," she said.

Alluding to the shared cultural connect between India and Thailand, Nooch said that the influence of Indian culture has been blended well into their programme so that guests perceive the exceptionality of Thai culture whilst sensing familiarity with their home culture. "The Thai culture factor is going very well with our Indian clients. We have unique CSR activities that many corporate clients have included in their programmes."

True to her words, the hospitality extended by the service providers and the organisers of TIME 2017 echoed with warmth and outstanding competence as they paid utmost attention to the details while executing the itinerary professionally.

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