Global event specialists have more than passing knowledge of what Bangkok has to offer for incentives and corporate functions – the city has long been an Asian fixture on the world events map as an affordable and value-for-money destination.
The Kingdom’s unique selling point has always been its rich 700-year-old history that offers an undiluted Thai culture so captivating to many groups. A rarity among destinations in the region, the city – like the rest of the country – has never been under Western colonisation, enabling it to develop a 100-percent pure Asian culture and tradition that is easily recognisable. This is the ace that has won Bangkok countless battles for the hearts and minds – not to mention the wallets – of outbound event organisers.
Striking a balance
However, with so much local tradition always on display, it may be high time for event specialists to focus on the city’s modern appeal. Unlike its up-and-coming neighbours in Southeast Asia, Bangkok no longer claims to be a “new” destination and companies have been known to hold events in the city multiple times over the years.
“We cannot escape from inserting a traditional element into our programme, but having something 100 percent traditional can actually be boring,” says Thitima Phophairoj, incentive and convention manager at Destination Asia, “so we mix and match modern with traditional in our itinerary to make it more exciting. We can hold the event in a traditional palace but then have a programme that includes more interactive entertainment like boxing and sword fighting.”
Destination Asia has organised events for the Young Presidents Organization from the US (500 people), Amway India (3,500 people) and IBM Asia-Pacific (a total of 6,000 people in three waves). Other groups it has handled include Honda, Toyota and Acer.
Tim Upchurch, MICE manager of Exotissimo Travel Thailand, echoes that the traditional element still figures prominently in a group’s programme. But there are plenty of opportunities to show off the city’s cosmopolitan side. “We’ll have groups who will travel from Bangkok to Ayutthaya for a real ‘wow’ but nonetheless very traditional gala dinner at one of the temples there, but they will travel on a fleet of chartered river cruisers set up in the style of Café del Mar, with DJs, masseurs, a chill-out lounge and cocktails and entertainment on deck.”
Another alternative, he adds, is to privatise the venue Face where the group can dine in a Thai environment, and then be whisked off to the futuristic Bed Supperclub, where they will have a VIP nightclub experience in super-hip surroundings.
Upchurch notes that “the rooftops are still a favourite: Red Sky (in Centara Hotel, Central World), Breeze (Lebua at State Tower) and Vertigo (Banyan Tree Hotel)”, adding that many groups like to incorporate one of these venues in their itinerary.
“We have created a private nightclub in a modern, inspirational location such as the Dome of the State Tower with fantastic views. In one recent event, a large group of finance executives wanted to let their hair down and have a typical ‘Asian’ experience with a fun VIP karaoke evening and party on the roof. Not for everyone, but it depends on the group and nationality!”
A matter of taste
The decision about which aspect of Bangkok gets played up ultimately rests with the corporate client. “The destination is very versatile and we can do almost anything here,” says Marina Chinanurakchart, director of sales and marketing at Meeting and Convention Planner Thailand. “Overseas clients will typically ask for a more traditionally cultural programme unless they are staying multiple days, then they ask us to give the programme a modern twist. The ‘hip’ theme is something very ‘in’ with local events.”
Adding the contemporary touch, she points out, sometimes boils down to picking the theme of the event. “We had this ‘Blue Sapphire Theme’ that we created. We used a lot of glass, blue crystals and even flowers dyed blue. It came out fun and very hip.”
Another way for groups to experience modern Bangkok is getting them involved in activities that take them to newer landmarks, according to Quintessentially, a luxury private concierge. Benjasiri Park is one of these, a green lung located between Sukhumvit Soi 22 and 24 that was built in 1992 to mark the 60th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.
“It is perfect for a round of jogging in the city centre for those who seek an outdoor workout,” says Ob-oom Chutrakul, managing director of Quintessentially Bangkok. “It has an ornamental lake and features 12 pieces of contemporary sculpture by Thai artists. It is often used for open-air events.”
Quintessentially caters to both individual as well as corporate membership for whom it provides assistance for entertaining, corporate hospitality, product launches and client gift suggestions among others. It provides insider access to exclusive events, such as award shows and private art exhibitions.
Chuktrakul says an evening stroll on the city’s Khao San Road – also known as “the centre of the backpacking universe” with its budget guesthouses, bars, cafés, restaurants and market stalls – is a modern-day adventure not to be missed. “It is one amazing experience found among Bangkok’s hectic streets, though locals are hardly found there. Khao San hardly sleeps; neon signs flicker into life, music blasts from street-side sound systems. Visitors can walk around shopping for souvenirs while enjoying their pad Thaisnacks right on the street.”
A great canvas
Cocktails at an art gallery displaying modern Asian art; lunch at an electronics factory with the high-tech production line as the backdrop; and a visit to the Museum of Modern Art near the MBK shopping mall are just a few event ideas for groups to experience a different side of the Thai capital.
“Bangkok is a great canvas for contemporary events,” says David Barrett of Diethelm Events. “The city can deliver a high-end, high-tech event and compete with our regional neighbours in terms of venues, fusion food, futuristic entertainment, modern décor and state-of-the-art technology.” One standout contemporary event Diethelm has organised was a product launch of a new digital designer. The futuristic Bed Supperclub, which remains trendy even with several years under its belt, was the scene for a “Scandalous Party” where guests were invited to “bed” to see a “supermodel” (later revealed to be the new digital scanner).
“Bangkok is blessed with a number of top-class audio-visual suppliers who stock the latest gizmos and gadgets to enhance meetings and theme dinners,” says Barrett. “Sweeping 180-degree panoramic screens using multi-projectors to engulf the audience, intelligent lighting – which comes as a standard kit with some modern hotel ballrooms – and Thai dance troupes who can choreograph contemporary dances to fit a modern theme, all help to position Bangkok as the right choice for a venue with a contemporary twist.”
Barrett notes that the cost of putting together a high-end production is approximately the same regardless of whether the theme is traditional Thai or a trendy/futuristic performance. The cost comes to around THB36,000 (US$1,190). “From the latest visual imagery and contemporary entertainment to cutting-edge cuisine and stage design, Bangkok comes in cost-effective,” he adds. N
Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is the country’s main point of entry with Thai Airways as the primary carrier. Other carriers flying to the capital city include Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, China Southern, United, Air France, Philippine Airlines, Air Asia and British Airways, to name a few. Exclusive chartered flights can also be arranged for large groups.
Land transport via first class trains operated by Eastern and Oriental Express can also be an option for groups coming from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur – where the journey itself is an experience.
The capital city has its dry season from December to April and the wet season from May to November. Temperatures can range between 24ºC and 32ºC.
Thai is the official language but English is widely used across the country.
Visas are not required for citizens of most countries staying in Thailand for no more than 30 days. Two-week extensions can be obtained and travel agencies can facilitate this process, with pick-up and delivery service to your hotel room. Visa-on-arrival is available for stays of up to 15 days (30 days for Malaysians) if crossing at a land border point from a neighbouring country. For details of visa requirements, visit www.mfa.go.th
Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau
tel: +66 2 694 6000
David Barrett, executive manager, Diethelm Events
“The city centre lends itself to a modern Bangkok theme and activities. The Renaissance Ratchaprasong Bangkok would be top of my pick of hotels for a contemporary event in Bangkok. The hotel is modern and oozes with contemporary style. A riverside option would be Millennium Hilton, which always has out-of-the-box solutions on offer for event planners.”
Back on track
Meanwhile, through sheer determination to regain lost ground after the political turbulence that rocked the country in mid-2010, Bangkok and the rest of Thailand have gotten their groove back as one of Asia’s popular destinations for business events.
“We were largely back to normal by August last year,” says Puripan Bunnag, acting director, meetings and incentives department at the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), which supported about 400 groups representing a total of 90,000 visitors in 2010. “In 2009, we supported groups totalling 50,000 visitors.”
TCEB’s comeback campaign, dubbed “Believe in Thailand”, will run until the end of this year and is bearing fruit with three mega-events secured through 2013: the Herbalife Extravaganza Event (2011), Rotary Bangkok 2012 and Bangkok 2013 World Stamp Exhibition. At least 30,000 visitors are expected to join the Rotary and 25,000 to join the Herbalife events, while 20,000 delegates are expected to attend the World Stamp Exhibition. “These three events prove that the international community remains confident in our country’s ability as a highly skilled host of large-scale events,” says TCEB president Akapol Sorasuchart.
The “Believe in Thailand” campaign has five packages for which TCEB offers support of up to THB20,000 (US$656) to groups of more than 50 participants, staying a minimum of three nights. This enticement can be applied to the following activities: team building, golf and spa, cultural performances, CSR (corporate social responsibility) or green meetings.
The country is looking to maintain an average annual growth rate of 15 to 20 percent for its business events sector, which it hopes will earn a total revenue of THB57.6 billion (US$1.9 billion) by year-end.
EXOTISSIMO TRAVEL THAILAND
MEETING AND CONVENTION PLANNER THAILAND
Groups visiting Thailand should avoid committing these social blunders:
Don’t sit on an image of Buddha when having a photograph taken
Don’t hug a Thai to show him your appreciation. A firm “thank you very much” is enough
Don’t touch anyone’s head for any reason. The head is the most important part of the entire body
Don’t place your feet so that they point towards a person, religious image or a picture of the Thai Royal Family
Don’t step over any part of another person
Don’t point at anyone with your forefinger
Don’t step on a door’s threshold
Don’t walk into someone’s house with footwear on
Source: Quintessentially Bangkok
Enigma Shadow Screen
Located at the Siam Paragon Cineplex, this members-only cinema and lounge has a unique nightclub ambiance complete with plush love seats. This 34-seater venue is ideal for exclusive movie screening events.
Housed in a custom-built new building and set in a modern and futuristic all-white environment, BED is a unique combination of upscale restaurant, club, art gallery, theatre and stage merged into one. The popular “dining in bed” experience has a restaurant that can hold 100 to 120 guests for private dinners. and up to 300 guests for cocktails. The bar can accommodate 250 guests for a cocktail party and 350 guests for a pumping private party.
Sitting on the 25th floor of 48 Column Tower in Sukhumvit, the Long Table comes from the same group that designed the Bed Supperclub. Long Table encourages groups to enjoy communal dining in what is claimed to be one of the world’s longest dining tables, which can seat 70 people. The rooftop bar gives a panoramic view of the city below while the dim hallways, intricate lighting and mirrors create the illusion of more space.
The latest F&B outlet at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok serves Thai cuisine tapas- style. Opened only for dinner, the place is transformed into a spectacular Thai Dining Theatre with a live cooking show, contemporary Thai dance and a theatrical performance of service by the waitstaff.
The arch of this rooftop bistro and wine bar is now an instantly recognisable landmark in Bangkok. Located on the 55th floor of the Centara Grand at CentralWorld, it is one of the city’s most popular chill-out places. It has indoor seating for 81 people and outdoor seating for 149.
Located on the 63rd floor of The Dome at Lebua at State Tower, Sirocco is one of Bangkok’s most coveted dining choices. Mesmerise your group with a breathtaking view of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River, an amazing Skybar and quality Mediterranean fare with ingredients from the world’s best markets. Live jazz music features international vocalists. This multi-award-winning venue seats up to 150 guests.
Studio 9 at Patravadi Theatre
Situated on the far banks of the Chao Phraya River in a compound owned by the renowned Patravadi Theatre, a stalwart supporter of Thai performing arts, Studio 9 combines dining with arts, music, dance and acrobatics experiences.
The Mansion 7
Located at the Boutique Thriller Mall on Ratchadapisek Road, The Mansion 7 is a niche retail and lifestyle complex that capitalises on the Thais’ fascination with ghosts. It features items and services with unique concepts that are found nowhere else in the city. At the Beer Mansion, staff dressed as gnomes. Other outlets are also not short on gimmicks; the main draw is a tour of the 900sqm, three-storey haunted house called the Dark Mansion. The complex has an open space of about 350 to 400sqm, which can be leased for private events. It can hold up to 350 people.
Some 61 floors above the streets of Bangkok, this open-air rooftop lounge at the Banyan Tree Hotel has views that simply take your breath away. Stylish, sophisticated and reaching for the clouds, there is no better place for a glamorous cocktail party or fashion launch than this outlet. Indulge in a variety of western-style fresh grilled seafood and premium steaks, champagne and a wide selection of cocktails, wines by the glass and non-alcoholic drinks. The seating capacity here is for 265 guests.