Back on the road to recovery
Around this time last year, Thailand stood proud as a globally preferred destination for Mice. Its economy was on the mend and its tourism chiefs had plenty to smile about.
All that changed drastically when red-shirted protesters took to the streets of Bangkok between March and May this year, paralysing the tourism and Mice industry.
The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) put the loss of revenue, from an estimated 73,000 fewer Mice visitors, at more than US$93.8 million during the three-month upheaval.
In July, revenues for this year fell 30 per cent below last year's levels, with an 11 per cent decline in Mice business travel compared with last year.
Like other destinations in Asia-Pacific, the events industry is too important for Thailand to lose, so the government is prepared to dig deep to revitalise it.
'The government has planned an allocation of over 40 million baht [HK$9.9 million] for short-term measures to revitalise the industry under new initiative 'Believe in Thailand',' says TCEB president Akapol Sorasuchart.
Akapol says the TCEB is implementing three measures to invigorate the market and enhance Thailand's reputation as a regional hub.
'First, there is an immediate need to help companies impacted by the protests and TCEB is now giving these companies direct support.
'Secondly, in the longer term, we are working to open up new and untapped market opportunities for Thai Mice operators.
'And thirdly, we are redoubling our efforts to build the international image of Thailand's Mice industry. We anticipate full recovery around the first quarter of 2011.'
From now until December, those who host or arrange exhibitions in Thailand are being offered guaranteed incentives by the government.
For instance, a meeting or incentive group of between 100 and 200 people can receive up to 40,000 baht, which can be reimbursed for expenses such as meals or entertainment entrance fees.
For exhibitions, there are offers such as a free night's stay for visitors and international exhibitors staying at least two nights. Groups of 20 or more can enjoy Bangkok tour offers.
The government's gesture is timely because hotel groups, such as Dusit, have seen a rise in Southeast Asian destinations that have been aggressively targeting Mice tourists at Thailand's expense.
Jennifer Cronin, sales and marketing vice-president for Dusit International, says: 'The state of emergency in Thailand should be soon lifted [in Bangkok], which will regain clients' confidence in Thailand and help the destination to compete.'
The state of emergency decree imposed in April was lifted recently in Thailand's northern provinces, but is still in effect in Bangkok.
'Just like many of the hotels in Bangkok, we have experienced significant decreases in occupancy after the political unrest especially for the month of May,' Cronin says.
'However, Mice business has improved significantly, especially regional meetings and conferences. Our occupancy is improving dramatically and now exceeds 70 per cent at Dusit Thani Bangkok.
'We are confident that the Mice business will come back to normal within the next 12 months.'