[Sponsored Article] Visitors flock to Thailand for the most appealing of reasons: happy people, a rich culture, beautiful landscapes and amazing food among them. But for those with business on their mind, the ‘Land of Smiles’ also offers a region-beating edge. Testament to the results of Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB)’s new branding campaign, "Thailand: Redefine Your Business Events, record numbers of international MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) travellers are voting with their feet, propelling Thailand to top exhibition spot in ASEAN in terms of both net event space sold (640,000 sq m), and annualised revenue (US$220 million), according to data from UFI, a global association of tradeshow organisers. Value for money, a strategic location in Southeast Asian region and new business opportunities from Thailand 4.0 economic transformation policies are factors cited by exhibitors and attendees alike. From Q1-Q3 of financial year 2019, overseas MICE travellers to Thailand numbered 967,828, a +6.25% increase from 2018. The standout performer was the exhibition sector, whose overseas participants during this period rose by 20.02%, affirming their confidence in business opportunities in Thailand. Geographically, Thailand is a convenient destination from all regions within ASEAN. Expansion of airline services is further enhancing its connectivity, and now with visa-on-arrival fees waived for 21 nationalities, including Chinese, it’s no wonder that business travel from surrounding countries is so strong. According to latest statistics from Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau, the top five markets for international MICE travellers to Thailand (period Q1-Q3 FY 2019) were China, India, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Visitors from China recorded a +25.96% increase, and from Japan +50.66%. For business visitors from further afield, Thailand is proving an effective launchpad for tapping lucrative markets in Southeast Asia. Event organisers, too, are reaping the benefits. Their eagerness to gain exposure on such a promising platform has seen Thailand successfully secure 17 new trade shows in 2019. The headline event is Bangkok’s hosting of the UFI Global Congress, the exhibition industry’s largest global meeting of the year. From 6-9 Nov 2019, some 500 exhibition industry leaders and professionals from 50 countries will gather to share insights on latest trends and developments, strengthen connections, and build their networks. The 17 new shows represent an historic high – and a further 22 are in the pipeline – further affirming overseas confidence in leveraging exhibitions in Thailand for business growth. More than half of these shows represent the 12 focus industries of Thailand’s 4.0 policy, such as digital, logistics, food, smart devices and energy. They are mainly staged as an ASEAN edition of international fairs, or Thailand-based shows to penetrate ASEAN market. Highlights of 2019 include CEBIT ASEAN Thailand, a high-level event from Germany dedicated to the ICT and digital business sectors, and the ASEAN edition of SILMO, a leading optical expo held each autumn in Paris. From the US comes ANDTEX, Southeast Asia’s premier event for the nonwovens and engineered fabrics industry; and from Singapore the debut of InfoComm Southeast Asia, an integrated audio/visual (AV) experience equipment show. Thailand is also ASEAN’s leading trade show platform dedicated to robotics and automation. The hosting of five high-level industry events - INTERMACH, Propak Asia, METALEX, Manufacturing Expo and Automach – endorse the nation’s importance in showcasing technical innovation. Future industries such as these have a bright future in Thailand thanks to the government’s push to encourage investment in digital transformation. To date, these efforts have successfully attracted the likes of Airbus to establish an aircraft maintenance and repair facility, Alibaba to expand its logistics business, Hewlett-Packard to invest in AI (artificial intelligence) and Big Data, and Hitachi in automation. Auto manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Mitsubishi are among those taking advantage of the Thai government’s tax incentives and support to ramp up EV (Electric Vehicle) production. As these industries advance, trade fairs will be an important growth driver. To maximise the potential, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau has launched its 360 Degree Exhibition Success campaign, an initiative reaching out to all stakeholders of the industry in a range of ways. In the planning stage, the Bidding Fund will help organisers launch international exhibitions in Thailand by providing market support and access to industries, and supports collaboration between Thai or overseas organisers in staging new shows in Thailand. The Exhibiz in Market element is designed to help exhibitors grow new business by giving the national pavilion leader a platform at trade events in Thailand; while the ASEAN+6 Privilege incentivises business mission organisers to bring trade visitors from major ASEAN countries to join business meetings held concurrently with exhibitions. In the first few months since its launch, this campaign has brought 798 trade visitors from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Laos to 16 trade shows in Thailand, and hosted the national pavilions of nine countries consisting of 16 exhibitors in eight shows. Building on this momentum, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) will introduce three more pro-business initiatives during the UFI Global Congress. Overseas delegates will have a chance to visit Thai Town to meet TCEB and find out how the bureau serves as their partner for success, as well converse with the Thai Exhibition Association (TEA), which exists to connect them to Thai service providers. Thai Town will also be home to booths manned by representatives of Thai MICE cities, showcasing the infrastructure and facilities that make them destinations of choice for accommodating international trade shows. In a similar vein, the Focus on Thailand session is an opportunity to hear first-hand how others have successfully collaborated with Thai companies in staging international trade shows in the country. Finally, Speed-Dating – Following Focus will give UFI members a chance to meet with event organisers from Thailand to explore ideas for collaboration. With so much potential on offer, the world is looking at Thailand. During three high-impact days from 6-9 November, the exhibitions industry will be reminded why.