Many companies may be tempted to drop Thailand from their destination list because of the political upheaval late last year that stranded hundreds of visitors when government protesters shut down Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The country deserves a second look, however, particularly as a teambuilding destination. Beyond the sand, sea and surf, Thailand provides a variety of options for companies eager to build stronger bonds among their employees.
Movie and TV shows are an endless source of inspiration for teambuilding programmes. Thailand is no exception. Reality show-inspired themes permeate teambuilding itineraries. It is a measure of a show’s global reach and the cultural phenomenon it has become when corporate groups located continents away have a strong emotional reaction to a bonding activity based on this popular entertainment fare.
The country’s diverse landscapes put a different twist to old challenges. And we have selected three top Thai destinations to give you some cool ideas for your next offsite team exercise.
Groups visiting the country for the first time would not go wrong in choosing the Thai capital as the base of its teambuilding activities and programmes.
As Carine Battajon, MICE manager of Exotissimo Travel, says: “Everything is doable in Bangkok – from a Thai cooking contest to a city-walk race. It is a very convenient place to gather group members who are flying in from different countries.”
This year, Exotissimo expects more groups from the region, particularly from Southeast Asia where delegates are more competitive about teambuilding outcomes than their European counterparts. The company’s customer base includes UBS Singapore, Natixis Pramex International Singapore, Total France and AEGON Spain.
The “markets race” that takes participants from local merchandise stalls to trendy shops is quite a popular way to develop camaraderie while your group is interacting with local denizens.
But the most fun activity does not have to be done with your feet on the ground.
One of the most inventive teambuilding exercises that Exotissimo organised, to date, was the “Rally on the Klong”, a race along Bangkok’s ubiquitous canals. Besides navigating the canals with the help of guidebooks and maps, each team aboard a long-tail boat and armed with pocket money and goodie bags must complete a number of tasks along the way. Finishing first is not necessarily the objective as the race uses 25 criteria to determine the winner.
“This race was used with great success by AEGON Spain, which recently brought 150 people divided into 25 teams. Each task inadvertently brought out unexpected forte of some of its employees. It was a good way of developing the ‘winning points’ of each person in the group,” Battajon notes, adding that cruising its backstreet canals is a fun and novel way to experience Bangkok.
Knowing that companies always look for something fresh in their teambuilding exercise, no programme is exactly alike. Exotissimo always tailors each activity by adding new elements or tweaking existing ones.
“Of course, we have to take note of the objectives – what the company wants to achieve. But the perennial challenge for us is to come up with something different compared with their previous experiences. But with creativity and an open mind, it is always doable,” Battajon says.
A nature lover’s paradise, Chiang Mai, located in north Thailand, draws visitors as the former capital of the Lanna kingdom which dates back more than 700 years. What’s more, it remains an affordable destination inspite of the modern developments.
Stuart Blott, business development manager, Track of the Tiger, says: “The city’s inventory of attractions grew exponentially over the past few years, yet the pricing stayed where it always had been – lower than that of any other comparable destination in Southeast Asia.
He explains: “In the city, there exists luxury and boutique hotels, world-class spas, great international and Asian restaurants, innovative special event and teambuilding services, variety in the nightlife and improved infrastructure to support it all.
“Out of the city, it boasts new resorts and spas, responsible special interest tours, excellent adventure and eco-tourism products, voluntourism, and great golf courses.”
Track of the Tiger is the leading provider of teambuilding services in the province and counts big multinational companies as its clients. They include HP, Colgate Palmolive, Reuters, GE, Dusit Hotels & Resorts, Siemens, Guerlain, Schlumberger, BP, Prudential, Novartis, Nokia, O2, Bayer Group, TI Automotive, Dell, Deutsche Bank, Barring Asset Management, Mandarin Oriental Group, US Consulate Chiang Mai, and Pernod Ricard.
For teambuilding options, Chiang Mai provides plenty for those seeking adrenaline-pumping action that is sure to help a group develop into a cohesive unit in a fun and memorable way.
But when participants come from an IT and telecommunications firm whose delegates can use their tech smarts to finesse the most difficult tasks, teambuilding specialists like Track of the Tiger just had to put their foot down.
Blott recalls: “Last year, we managed a ‘Chiang Mai City Challenge’ for a leading global mobile phone operator. The goal of the challenge is to travel around the city learning about Chiang Mai culture and history. Unfortunately, this group was very tech-savvy and some teams decided they would park somewhere comfortable and use the internet on their phone to determine the answers to our challenges, without having to undertake any of them.
“Our facilitators quickly vetoed the concept and the teams went on to have a fantastic time.”
One of the most popular challenges designed by Track of the Tiger, the Chiang Mai City Challenge is a cultural challenge that takes in some unique sites around the city. Teams have access to their own Songthao [the public transport in Chiang Mai] and must travel around the city completing as many of the 12 tasks as they can.
This bonding exercise will take clients to museums, markets, shops, restaurants, historical sites and temples and will ask them to cook, barter, shop, taste, photograph and learn about Chiang Mai and its wonderful culture.
“It is unique because it provides both a teambuilding experience, a cultural experience and a tour experience – ideal for groups who have been in conference during their time here,” Blott says.
Another action-packed activity is the “Lanna Treasure Teambuilding Challenge”. Designed for a three-day/two-night or four-day/three-night stay, it involves teams learning about a lost Lanna Treasure with information and manuscripts provided on ancient parchment. Teams must obtain pieces of the lost treasure map by completing challenges all over the city of Chiang Mai, before heading up to the jungle, following clues and unravelling the mystery of the lost treasure.
“The unique selling point of this challenge is that not only does the single overriding theme continue throughout the three or four days, but that teams will be truly tested mentally and physically in their quest to obtain the treasure. Additionally, it takes place primarily at the eco-minded Pang Soong Lodge, within an area owned Pang Soong Nature Trails, which provides direct benefits to the local village of Ban Mae Lai,” Blott explains. He adds that Pang Soong Nature Trails won the SKAL Ecotourism award in 2006.
Meanwhile, Blott is aware that holding these exercises away from the capital city stretches the company’s organisational comfort zone. But that is no reason to shy away from destinations like Chiang Mai.
“Logistics and operations are the most challenging elements of operating an event in Thailand. Transferring and communicating international organisational needs and quality requirements to partners, suppliers and employees can always pose a challenge. We solve this by undertaking frequent and thorough training of all facilitators, suppliers and partners and by maintaining very strong, open relationships with partner hotels, restaurants, teambuilding venues, suppliers and others.”
Called the “Pearl of the Andaman Sea”, Phuket has been a popular leisure destination for tourists lured by its white-sand beaches and lush tropical forests. The island is now in the midst of a major transformation to become business meetings and incentives destination. Where corporate teambuilding is concerned, however, insiders say Phuket has always been on the map of event organisers.
“Obviously with the current economic climate, people expect things like teambuilding events to decrease,” says Russell D Russell, managing director of Bowen Training Co, whose clients include GIC and CIC in Singapore, ABB in Australia and Young In in Korea.
“However, we’re actually running quite a number of key team dynamic events and clients are seeing the logical benefits in taking part in these programmes now. At times like this, it is imperative that any organisation’s core team is solid, focused and driving in the same direction.”
With the island’s beaches, it is hardly surprising that water-based sports dominate most of teambuilding exercises in Phuket such as dragon boat racing, sailing and speedboat adventures.
Russell recalls: “We organised an island retreat for a group of executives from an Australian company and part of the event was for groups to build rafts which could support the weight of all group members while they paddled out to a marker and back. Everyone made it back to shore, but the rafts generally come back in pieces.”
Companies coming here for teambuilding will find seasoned veterans in the field. Veterans who have years of experience.
“We have a lot of human resources that can support and make an event successful. Doing teambuilding in Phuket is safe even if groups have to go into a remote area within the island,” says Prasert Tantrapiwat, managing director of Phuket-based MICE Master Co, which has handled teambuilding programmes by IWC (International Watch Company), Häagen-Dazs, Samsonite, Cisco System, Evian, KIA Switzerland and
One of the most memorable programmes it organised recently was “The Great Escape” teambuilding event for IWC. The programme essentially was a role-playing game where different teams took a boat ride without knowing the plan. “Pirates”, played by MICE Master’s staff, seized the boat and brought to a “deserted” island where the fun begins. Each team was asked to perform a number of basic survival tasks like making an SOS sign, lighting a fire using primitive methods, fishing and cooking their catch, building a raft among others.
“This challenge needs a good mixture of skills – communication, energy, creativity, planning and teamwork to complete each assignment. Being in a secluded beach added to the atmosphere and excitement,” says Tantrapiwat.
Two of MICE Master’s creative teambuilding programmes get their ideas from today’s pop culture icons. The “Amazing Cooking Race” has teams on a race riding a local bus to take them to several “stations” where they are asked to complete an assignment.
Among these tasks include going to the local market to buy ingredients, cracking open a coconut to take out its meat and milk, getting the recipe, and then going to the last station where the recipe needs to be cooked.
“Mission Seems Impossible”, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Tom Cruise movie, sees different teams leave their hotel in separate vehicles to take them to places where several action-packed activities await them. Among them are go-cart racing, jungle trek paintball battle and raft building. To add a spice of complexity, each has to fathom a series of clues using a map and a compass.
Tantrapiwat adds: “We incorporate local flavour to the programme with elements that require teams to interact with local residents and go to places less travelled by normal visitors to get a feel of the local way of life.”
On the other hand, Bhuket Incentive and Convention (BIC) Planners sees a growing number of corporate groups who want to include a community-based elements into their teambuilding activity in line with its CSR (corporate social responsibility) policy.
“Groups gravitate towards our ‘Corporate Community Works’ programme which gives them a chance to give back to society and nature through a more hands-on approach like mangrove planting and fish release, organising Goodwill Games with students from underprivileged schools,” says BIC director of sales and operations Thanate Kienpotiramard.
“I hope this will continue because while many companies might be cutting back on their long-term CSR projects, this programme gives them an opportunity to give back on a smaller and shorter-term basis that is still appreciated by those in need.”
BIC’s Corporate Community Works programme can be a full-day or half-day event. And the chosen activity and beneficiary greatly depends on the company’s current advocacy. Activities range from reforestation or wildlife-related projects, improving school facilities, beach clean-ups, and visits to orphanages or senior citizens’ homes.
“Hands down, these are the most powerful and emotional programme that I have done in over 15 years of teambuilding,” says Kienpotiramard, whose clients include PepsiCo, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Intel, Bridgestone and Exxon Mobil.
The way forward
The present global financial crisis certainly will have a huge impact on teambuilding events not only in Thailand but also around the world.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic.
“When the firms are able to adapt their organisation to fit the economic crisis, teambuilding activities will be a major thing for consideration,” says Tantrapiwat.
“We can see recently that many companies are paying more attention in improving the productivity and morale of their staff by including a teambuilding programme into a conference or incentive trip.”
Bangkok is a hub for many destinations in Southeast Asia and there are a large number of direct flights from Europe, the US, Australia and the rest of Asia. The city is also served by many low-cost carriers for those organising events on a budget.
Chiang Mai is an eight-hour drive from Bangkok by car or by bus. Train services are also available. Express and rapid trains operated by the State Railways of Thailand leave for Chiang Mai from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station six times a day from 8am until 10pm. The trip takes about 11 to 12 hours for express trains. The best way to travel is by air. Domestic airlines including THAI Airways, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia, Nok Air, Orient Thai Airlines, Air Andaman and Phuket Air operate several flights daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The southern island of Phuket is accessible by air, land and sea. Still, the easiest way to get there is to take the plane. There are international flights that fly directly to the island via Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Penang, Singapore and Sydney. Dragonair, Malaysia Airlines, SilkAir and Singapore Airlines also operate international flights connecting Phuket with other destinations. Domestic flights from Bangkok only take one hour and 20 minutes with daily services provided by AirAsia, Bangkok Airways and THAI Airways.
Thailand’s climate is tropical, high both in temperature and humidity, and dominated by monsoons. April and May are the hottest months
of the year. June to October typically marks the rainy season. The best time to visit is between November and February when the climate cools with the onset of the northeast breeze.
As a general rule, visitors need a visa to enter the country. Visa on arrival is available for stays of 30 days or less. For more information, contact the Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Visas and Travel Documents Division at direct line 66 2 5751 0624 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thai is the official language but English is widely used in Bangkok and across the country.
TEAM BUILDING IDEA
The Baht Builder Challenge
This is a very unique challenge that can operate in any location in Thailand and works with groups of all ages, all nationalities and all positions. Normally run in a park, botanical garden or similar, the Baht Builder pits teams against each other and asks them to compete in earning the most money over a half-day period. Teams earn money by completing any of the 18 different challenges that are set up in the challenge area. Bonus money can be earned for completing a challenge on the first attempt, or within a given time frame, but the end result is always teams becoming very competitive and having fantastic fun.
Major attractions of this exercise: it can be staged in any location and it places tremendous emphasis on team skills such as planning, communication and leadership.
Iron Chefs of Phuket
A take-off from the popular TV show competition, this programme is excellent for all sizes of groups, but especially larger ones because the teams need to subdivide into several smaller teams, all with different responsibilities as they work together to create delicious meals (or just dessert for groups on tight schedules) and beautiful, themed table settings.
Corporate Cultural Creations
This programme is a fantastic way to test your group’s ability to be innovative while also learning about Thailand’s wonderful culture. After earning their supplies and checking out the experts’ products, the teams will need to come up with something as good or maybe even better. Then, it’s presentation time as various teams step up and show their creative synergy.
BHUKET INCENTIVE & CONVENTION PLANNERS
BOWEN TRAINING CO LTD
MICE MASTER CO LTD
TRACK OF THE TIGER TRD CO LTD
Emerging trends in corporate teambuilding
• Clients are starting to steer clear of the usual beach-related teambuilding challenges, simply because those challenges have been done 100 times and because even many of the participants have been to Phuket, Koh Samui and Pattaya already on their own holidays. Clients are therefore looking for more unique venues that can offer something original, but that also provide all the comforts they need.
• Teambuilding, and MICE events in general, will be downscaled in terms of their budget. Instead, the emphasis will be placed on what can be provided that offers originality and value for money, and that also involves community-based or ecotourism- focused activities.
• Teambuilding exercises that focus on more than just the benefits of the client, but also take into account a broader environmental or cultural theme. These include community development teambuilding (working in teams on a community project that has been funded by the client) or using ecotourism-focused venues.
• Advent of Core Team Development Programmes that use bespoke activities and facilitators. These programmes uniquely highlight to participants the importance of team dynamics and the stages of group development. Skills learned in this fun-filled workshop are skills they can take away with them and implement right away and see results from immediately.
DID YOU KNOW?
If you are on a hassle-free quest for a teambuilding venue in Phuket, check out the JW Marriot Phuket Resort & Spa. The property, which sits on 11ha of exquisite tropical gardens overlooking the Andaman Sea, offers dedicated corporate teambuilding programmes that are tailor-made to individual requirements.
Its most popular teambuilding programme is based on the Survivor reality show and takes guests out of the resort and their comfort zone. Teams navigate their way to different islands by speedboat and compete to complete various challenges. Other popular programmes include Phang Nga Explorer, Mai Khao Song Theaw Adventure and many more.
These programmes are handled by its in-house director of corporate teambuilding, who has been working in Asia for over 10 years.