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Bangkok .. our take on the current situation for MICE in Thailand.

SMALL - DESTINATIONS MANAGEMENT ban-tai-beach-at-pha-ngan-island

SMALL - DESTINATIONS MANAGEMENT ban-tai-beach-at-pha-ngan-island

It is always difficult to access risk and I err on the side of caution when it comes to safety and security.  However, I know Thailand well, and have been managing meetings and events there for many years, and the current situation does require some objectivity.

Yes, there is unrest in Bangkok, but how does this impact decisions with regard to planning meetings, or rethinking destination choices.  Certainly hotels in the capital have reported a significant decrease in visitors to Bangkok over the past month or so, which is understandable given that in late November, 20+ governments issued a warning to their citizens regarding traveling to the capital.  However, there does need to be some separation between what is happening in Bangkok, and the rest of Thailand which is mainly unaffected.

Let’s not get too caught up with the sensationalism in the media, I take a simplistic view, and it is centred around Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup and went into exile.  He has continued to dominate Thai politics, which is admittedly unusual given the circumstances, for instance, in 2010 there was similar unrest when Thaksin supporters, who protested and, to all intent and purpose, occupied central Bangkok, demanded his return.  Lo and behold, in 2011 his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra came to power with a landslide win. Critics obviously say she is Thaksin’s puppet, which she has consistently denied.  With this backdrop, it is no wonder that when Yingluck Shinawatra tried to pass an amnesty law that could have allowed her elder brother’s return, this ignited the current protests, even though her attempt failed.  Of course there are many other factors, but this, in my opinion, is central to the current unrest.

The real question is how does this affect Thailand as a destination for MICE in the short and medium term.  On the positive, (and I consider this quite significant at present) the Thai Baht has dropped to a three year low, or around 5% in the past two months, so it is a great time to be leveraging both via FX and the current unrest to get the best deals.

Phuket and Koh Samui are currently unaffected and this has certainly been the case in the past; these regions are relatively autonomous and geographically separated from Bangkok.  There is no need to travel by road through Bangkok (unlike Hua Hin and Pattaya).  Certainly I have been in Phuket over the years when there has been unrest in Bangkok and I have considered there to be no decrease in safety or security, either perceived or apparent, and I do not see this latest political deadlock as being any different.  Testament to this is the increase in visitors to Phuket during this period.

There has to be consideration of what is happening in Bangkok at present and no-one can predict the outcome.  As a seasoned project manager aka event risk manager, I am advising caution to groups that are looking at events in Bangkok, Hua Hin or Pattaya in the next 3 months.   Although 5 star resort developments are extremely safe, the ‘inconvenience factor’ of groups traveling around or through the capital may remain challenging in terms of road closures and even more traffic congestion. There is always a risk with any political unrest, be it in Europe, America’s or anywhere in the world, of being in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’, and common sense dictates to stay away from troubled areas.

In the medium term I am of the opinion that all will go back to normal in the capital in the coming months, however, I am still cautious regarding Bangkok until after the elections in February.

Putting Bangkok and it’s environs to one side, I do see opportunity in areas that are unaffected and unlikely to be so, and see this as a good time for contract negotiation.   Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai remain destinations on the radar for 2014 that should remain firmly on MICE itineraries with the added bonus of being lower cost in terms of foreign currencies and some of the best destinations available globally on many levels.

Of course, it is important to appoint an event manager that understands the region and is independent and knowledgeable when making recommendations, this is the case with all destinations globally.  It is our job to ensure the very best experience for our clients and always to act in their best interests, selecting both destinations and venues that dovetail with needs and objectives.

For further information please contact me directly at hillary@ddkasia.com.


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