High demand from leisure and large-sized MICE groups prompts policymakers and Thai privately-owned companies to beef up infrastructure in the attractive beach destination and make room for more.
BY SIRIMA EAMTAKO
Phuket and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) are working together to make Phuket a MICE hub in the Thai southwestern coast region. As part of the plans, Phuket is getting infrastructure improvements including a larger airport, a more extensive air and road network, as well as a host of tourism facilities that include some 5000 upcoming hotel rooms.
Last year, Phuket hosted 788 MICE events and generated 4.82 billion baht (USD $155million) in revenue, which is second to Bangkok. Of the total, international MICE activities contributed 4.72 billion baht from 59,066 foreign MICE visitors.
Despite the Thai government’s decision to scrap the MICE centre plan after almost two decades of planning, micenet ASIA learns that at least two privately-owned Thai companies are working on blueprints of MICE complexes near Patong Beach. If everything goes as planned, one of these will be managed by IMPACT Exhibition Management.
Mövenpick Resort and Spa Karon Beach Phuket general manager, Hansruedi Frutiger said: “I do not see that there is a need for a large convention centre in Phuket as we are able to handle large conventions previously.”
He said Mövenpick Resort and Spa Karon Beach Phuket shared rooms with Hilton Phuket Arcadia, Le Meridien Phuket and Centara Grand Beach Resort when any MICE group is too large to handle alone. “In the Laguna area, it is similar that all the hotels provide different room categories for the MICE organisers’ request.”
The four properties mentioned by Mr Frutiger are located on Karon Beach, within short travelling distance to one another and just under an hour drive from the airport, offer 1644 rooms combined. Each provides a number of meeting rooms, including grand ballrooms that can host from 780 to 1200 delegates.
Over at Laguna Phuket on Bangtao Beach, about 20 minutes drive from the airport, this integrated destination offers nine deluxe resorts with more than 1300 guest rooms and villas, 24 meeting rooms, and the stand-alone Latitude marquee providing up to 1000-square metre air-conditioned space.
In April and May 2012, Laguna Phuket hosted the island’s largest extended corporate gathering – an Amway China leadership seminar involving 15,000 delegates in a month-long rolling programme of activities that included nightly gala dinners for 600-900 delegates. During this time, the other parts of Laguna Phuket operated as usual for other guests.
While large MICE groups such as NU Skin and Amway from China and Herbalife Europe went to Laguna Phuket, Mövenpick Resort and Spa Karon Beach Phuket – which can accommodate a group of up to 350 guests at any one time – was the official venue for the International Water, Energy and Environment Congress from Asia Pacific, a large medical conference from Europe and a BMW meeting.
Karon and Laguna Phuket are more popular with large MICE groups due to their readiness in terms of facilities and large number of rooms when combined among same star-rating hotels. Patong, which already has a large number of hotel rooms, would become another important location for large MICE groups in Phuket should the planned, privately-built MICE venues materialise.
Laguna Phuket assistant vice president – destination marketing, Debbie Dionysius cautioned that during the high season, most hotel rooms in Phuket would be booked by leisure travellers, and so it would be difficult finding enough guest rooms to serve a large-scale exhibition and convention centre on a year-round basis.
“This is part of the reason why the MICE centre has not been built in Phuket. Hotels and resorts with their own large-scale MICE capacity, such as Laguna Phuket, are therefore able to secure such business,” Ms Dionysius said, adding that the best time to meet in Laguna Phuket is from March to mid-December.
Phuket is predominantly a leisure destination, attracting mostly holidaymakers from Europe, Scandinavia, UK and Russia during winter – from October to March, leaving April to September ideal months for large conferences and conventions.
High demand from both leisure and MICE business has resulted in the Phuket Airport seeing more international direct schedule and charter flights. It has handled over its capacity of six million passengers annually in the last few years, including 9.5 million passengers last year. The airport will be expanded to handle 12.5 million passengers when the 5.8 billion baht expansion is completed in 2015.
Phuket Airport currently handles 46 airlines providing direct air access to Phuket from Asia, Oceania and Europe, including connections in the Middle East via flights operated by Emirates and Qatar Airways. Thai Smiles launched a direct service between Phuket and Mumbai in April, offering the Phuket suppliers an opportunity to attract more MICE and wedding groups from India.
“Phuket becomes increasingly more interesting because of the airport expansion and new air lifts, and we are looking at introducing a strong MICE product on the island,” Centara Hotels and Resorts senior vice president sales and marketing, Chris Bailey said.
On new properties, Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach, opened mid-2013 with five meeting rooms and six outdoor function spaces for 10 to 400 guests, is eyeing meetings, incentives and weddings from Asia, Middle East and Australia while keeping a close watch on Russia and Europe.
The resort’s sales and marketing director Matt Fynch said Pullman Phuket Arcadia would enter the market with a promise of IT innovations as part of Accor’s five-star upscale brand, offering free Wi-Fi throughout the resort and a connectivity lounge that provides private rooms with LCD screens and Skype.
He said: “Our resort is tech-savvy, with high speed, mobility, and intuitive technology. We offer IT solutions managers that support the nomadic lifestyle of our business or leisure guests.”
Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach’s 277-key inventory is part of the 5000 new hotel rooms slated to open in Phuket between this year and 2015. The entire Phuket island currently has a supply of 636 hotels, including three- to five-star properties, with about 38,000 rooms, as well as another 20,000 bungalows.
Last year, Phuket’s market-wide occupancy hit 76 per cent and an average rate of US$142 per night, according to Phuket-based hospitality consulting firm, C9 Hotelworks.