June 15, 2022 | By Gerardine Donough-Tan | Image: Designated MICE City Chiang Mai in Thailand | Credit: TCEB

Incentive travel is making up for lost time in Southeast Asia, and Thailand is one of the early beneficiaries, including drawing groups from Australia, with one even buying out a hotel for a 400-participant program.

The Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian pavilions at IMEX Frankfurt 2022 drew many trade visitors and enquiries when it took place at the end of May, with the three national convention bureaux actively posting on social media to show the buzz.

Commenting on the inbound Australian incentive travel market, Sumate Sudasna, president of Thailand Incentive & Convention Association (TICA), said: “The main trip features are unchanged, with more emphasis placed on adequacy rather than luxury. The purpose or objective of each program and group size are key factors.

“Program composition is similar to pre-pandemic years, with easy flow, good meals (not extravagant) and mild activities. Much depends on group demographics. Recent users include real estate and banking, opting for Bangkok and Koh Samui. Phuket is also popular with most Australian programs.”

While currently there isn’t much emphasis on sustainability, CSR or voluntourism, such requests may grow in line with the global focus on sustainable events, he added.

One Australian incentive bought out a hotel for a 400-participant program – perhaps a sign of post-pandemic caution and customisation?

A Thai DMC revealed that Australian travel agents tend to deal directly with hotels instead of engaging DMCs to manage the ground program.

Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB)’s “Thailand MICE: Meet the Magic” campaign launched at IMEX will need the Thai MICE industry to pull together as it promotes both the physical hardware and softer elements such as food, culture, hospitality, art and Thai products.

TCEB’s SMILE campaign – Safe Meeting and Incentive Localised Experience – is also a multi-stakeholder collaboration. Thailand is trying to stand out in the international market by creating impressive MICE events and establishing a unique identity.

Meanwhile, Accor, the largest international hotel operator in Southeast Asia, reported strong demand in general for Bangkok and Chiang Mai later this year and in 2023, and cited Desaru in Malaysia as also popular. Enquiries are also coming in for Phuket, as well as Danang and Hanoi in Vietnam.

Antony Meguerdijian, vice president of sales for Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, shared: “We are seeing strong rebound among insurance groups, some multi-level marketing companies and FMCG companies.”

On group profiles and preferences, he said most have 100-plus participants. Larger groups now request to split across two or three hotels as a precaution due to COVID-19.

“We also see some groups split into smaller waves with entire incentive programs stretched over two to three weeks. There is certainly strong demand for resort destinations with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, with a preference for luxury properties,” said Meguerdijian.

Most incentive groups still retain one awards ceremony, gala dinner, townhall or get-together at the hotel. Outdoor venues are preferred for social distancing and fresh air. For instance, the newly reopened Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia offers several on-site activities, including botanical and culinary garden tours in its expansive grounds. Special events may be hosted in the new, fully airconditioned Raffles Marquee.