International face-to-face association meetings will take time to return, but the Thai CVB has initiated a number of programmes now that will establish a strong foundation for safe and fruitful conventions in the future
In 2019, ICCA placed the Thai capital city of Bangkok in 13th spot on its ranking of top 20 cities for association meetings. The city hosted 124 association meetings, whose visitors made up 26 per cent of Thailand’s arriving business events visitors that year.
However, Thailand’s good fortune in business events did not carry forward into 2020, as the world came face to face with the Covid-19 pandemic which has decimated the events industry.
According to Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), among 122 TCEB-supported events, 36 were cancelled while 86 were postponed, representing a minimum of around 25 to 30 per cent decline in government-supported events.
International association meetings took the brunt of the blow.
According to Loy Joon How, general manager of Impact Exhibitions Management Co., all association meetings scheduled to take place or planned at IMPACT’s convention centre were either cancelled or postponed due to imposed travel restrictions and border closures.
Thailand-based associations responded to the lockdown by taking their meetings online.
“During the early days of the outbreak, we held our monthly board meetings via Zoom, as well as our meetings with other associations or authorities, and some of the meetings were hybrid,” recalled Pornthip Hirunkate, vice president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA).
For the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Thailand chapter, the pandemic was instrumental in catalysing the creation of compelling online content.
“Our five-session SITE Talk series was very well received. We will continue to host more (sessions),” said Max Boontawee Jantasuwan, founding CEO of Events Travel Asia and president of the SITE Thailand chapter.
The SITE Talk series were co-funded by TCEB.
Face-to-face meetings have started to resume as Thailand emerges from its lockdown. SITE Thailand and ATTA both hosted their AGMs in July, as required by the law.
While ATTA’s AGM had approximately 400 to 500 members in attendance, its monthly meeting in June had a smaller crowd of just 200, in instead of the usual 300 to 350 attendees.
Pornthip shared that the reduced capacity was in response to social distancing needs. ATTA also ensure reduced physical contact at the meetings, with breakout sessions removed and meal service limited to only seated servings.
She said: “As one of the industry’s leaders, we have to set an example for our members on how to conduct a meeting under the current situation, and to follow all the rules and regulations laid out by the Ministry of Public Health.”
The bulk of face-to-face meetings now are domestic gatherings, and industry specialists expect international meetings to take a much longer time to return due to Thailand’s strict border controls.
“At this point of time, despite the gradual lifting of lockdown measures, travel restrictions and border closures are still in force. As such, (international) association meetings are unlikely to resume any time soon,” Loy stated.
TCEB has been especially hard at work. The past few months have seen implementation of the TCEB Covid-19 Information Center to help keep event organisers up to date; the MICE Venue Hygiene campaign to certify venues; and TCEB’s Virtual Meeting Space to support local and international organisers in bringing their events online.
TCEB has also launched over US$650,000 worth of grants through its I M PEOPLE FOCUSED and EASE UP financial support programmes for event organisers in preparation for when international meetings are able to return.
The latter programme offers up to five million baht (US$158,843) in grants for meetings with a minimum of 40 delegates and at least two nights’ stay in Thailand. Each qualified event stands to enjoy a financial subsidy of up to 1,500 baht per pax, up to a maximum of 300,000 baht per event.
Associations looking to convene in Bangkok will also have peace of mind, knowing that venues will support them should their meeting be disrupted.
“As a venue, the first order of the day is working with the affected associations to reschedule and sort out possible alternative dates. We provide them with the required contingency plan guidance, and help them to re-plan their meetings in accordance with the government’s policies and guidelines on social distancing, safety, hygiene, and medical protocols,” said Loy.
He added that IMPACT is now collaborating with various technology vendors to offer technology solutions such as virtual and hybrid meetings, event live-streaming, delegate registrations, as well as contact tracing and attendee density tracking.
“We are also giving associations turn-key technology solutions to ensure that their meetings are held successfully under the new normal requirements and formats,” he said.
Max is confident that association events will resume in whichever form that works best “because we need to support our members and stay connected”.
However, he predicts that the meeting format will alter post-lockdown. “(Meeting) size will be considerably smaller and (be) more exclusive to drive the interest and attention of the audience or prospects to join,” he said.