Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) held its first FAM trip in late March for foreign delegates in two years, responding to the government's moves to reopen the country. The week provided international guests with direct experiences of Thailand's readiness and potential in terms of venues, accommodation, variety of activity options, access to facilities and health and safety practices. HQ was there and spoke to TCEB's Senior Vice President, Nichapa Yoswee, about what the future holds for Thailand.
1) After this period of stalemate, what were your priorities as a national convention bureau?
I think the pandemic has been a wake-up call for everybody in the sense that the entire industry had to go back and revisit their portfolio and identify key strengths and weaknesses. You had to re-look at the structure of the industry and that means we will probably have to disrupt the previous module and invent a new one. For example, we have been working hard to create community engagement and provide different groups with the intel and knowledge they need to play a big role as a host city. We also ask them to step up and contribute to a better destination when we bring new international events to the region. So, I think COVID has given us a blessing in the sense of what we can really rely on by getting in touch with local officials in this regard; and they now also understand how conventions, exhibitions and events can bring a positive and considerable economic impact to the region. Communities are also beginning to understand how to play a greater role in the partnership we want to forge, by ensuring a warm welcome to all delegates and good hospitality which is Thailand's claim to fame.
Another major priority for us will be to refocus our attention on our national agenda through research and reporting. The government has launched "12 focused sectors" as a national recovery driver, and while these 12 sectors at the forefront will fall to manufacturing-based companies, the medical and scientific industries have also been playing a key role in this. Right now, we have a very clear picture of the industry sectors that we need to focus on. Beyond that, I think what we have to do is to make sure that all the events that take place in Thailand must be sustainable.
2) You mentioned sustainability in that last point which leads me to the next question. What major role will sustainable policies play in your overall strategy?
I think TCEB has always been a spearhead in terms of driving the concept of sustainability, through sharing knowledge and getting people to understand a little better how they can be part of sustainable practices in the industry. We launched the ‘Green Meetings Guideline’ in 2015 to introduce our own programme management system to venues and increase environmental concerns and awareness among event organisers in demonstrating the benefits of running environmentally conscious events. We also lead a food waste prevention (rather than management) programme to prevent excesses and waste from happening in our venues. To engage with local farmers, we have launched what we call 'Farm to Functions' projects to ensure that all venues can have direct access to fresh, organic, high quality produce sourced directly from our local farms.
Sustainability has always been a key driving force since the beginning. We believe that MICE events by the collective nature of the industry, coupled with the individual responsibility of each participant, can generate lower carbon emission rates. That is why we have worked with other agencies for a calculated carbon neutral programme, so that the organiser can identify and understand how many carbon emissions that event will generate and how they can offset it. Furthermore, our assistance not only ends with the calculation of the carbon footprint, but continues in guiding events with enough tools to cover this and get the most environmentally friendly results possible. The direct translation of sustainability is sharing wealth and prosperity with the locals and knowing how to pragmatically engage them to be part of MICE ecosystem, not only acting as suppliers but also as our effective partners.
We want to bring long-term prosperity to the people and that means how can we really manage the event so that we can consume and produce less waste and somehow deliver a kick-back to the society. With that, we came up with an extra subvention programme just to help the organiser getting into the practice.
3) What is your take on the social aspect of business events in Thailand?
I think business events can always bring inspirational moments to the younger generations. Personally, I would like to think that mega-events around sport, arts and education can bring added value to communities and leave a legacy there. Not only can children and young people be inspired by these open options to get into certain professional areas, but this path can also help reduce social problems if the set of interests around the event converge. It is a challenging task because we need to involve the right parties, at the right time with the right content and that is hard work. But again, it is aimed at a lasting and long-term effect and hopefully it will pay off later on. This is why TCEB insists on asking the organiser to pay attention to this aspect and think more about how their event can create a good social impact in their region and field. We can help them connect with the right partner and local communities and then, through incentive programmes to push these ideas forward, get together with partners, thought leaders and co-creators, better results.
4) What about technology. Is hybrid here to stay?
Definitely with different goals and services. In the past I think technology was only associated with one-off contacts and complementing business when people met online to build and enhance connections, messages and services, but it never served to deepen relationships. Relationships will always require face-to-face meetings. However, technology will help the organiser to improve the delegate experience and that was the stimulus that COVID-19 provoked - we need different experiences. We are now forced to get used to technology and it can be somewhat of a good answer to many areas, especially on how to ensure trust, personal safety and improve user performance. Technology can also help the organiser broaden their scope, providing a wider reach and extending their content to other target groups, which may eventually constitute their future business. It will also serve as a connecting bridge through instant intel and group pairing, between organisers, convention delegates, suppliers and stakeholders. Technology is inevitable because by now we are already in the 4th industrial revolution, the digital economy. And COVID-19 is the accelerator to push us into that scenario, digitising our work context and somehow mirroring the way work sometimes mimics life. I believe it has a different function for every convention in different areas, so it's definitely here to stay.
Right now, we have what we call MICE Winnovation Programme and we have spent the past three years working with start-ups with the support of other relevant national government agencies that incubate start-ups. We started selecting a few - and right now we have around 50 technology providers - whom we put in a catalogue, asking them to present a number of MICE-specific services in their application process. Thus, the ease of doing business in Thailand under the care of TCEB will not only come to the fore by grant efforts but also by providing the necessary support to use certain technological tools.
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